Student Futures

Student Futures

Predicting how a student will turn out in life, in usefulness to the Kingdom, is impossible.

The future constantly surprises us. Add to this the problem of chronology – each student blossoms intellectually and spiritually at different times in his or her life – add the tendency on our part to choose the strong as opposed to the tendency of the Lord to choose the weak; and it is clear that we had better steer well clear of predictions.

Yet are there indicators which could lead to fair assumptions about a student’s future? Yes, if we look in the right places.

  1. Academics. I know of no statistics to prove this but, from my experience of 30 years in theological education, the high achievers are no more likely to be of use to the lord than others, possibly less so. And yet God rarely uses the stupid. Reasonable ability to process information and make good decisions, right thinking, in depth understanding of scripture and world, are all necessary for effective ministry.
  2. Gifting is similar. Five talent people have to struggle with the tendency to crash and burn and with the need for humility. The kingdom is mostly advanced by hard working two talent servants. Yet where academic distinction meets great talents in a humble heart, then God has given another John  Stott to his church.
  3. Which brings us to the key point – a sense of in-sufficiency, inability, even an anxiety that what they have will not be enough for the task required. In a good heart, this leads to lively prayer, humility and the best position to be in for God to bless their efforts.
  4. The ability to move from words to deeds. Theological education is dominated by the use, reading, manipulation and writing of words. Get stuck entirely inside that bubble and only in a few circumstances (such as the professional theologian working for the Kingdom and even then Liberation theology would say that this is doubtful) do you remain useful for God. Those students who do not just say the right things but go out and do things for God and others are the ones to watch. In the beginning was the Word, but at the end, for students, must be the deed.
  5. A sense of life. Even of fun. So many of God’s useful servants have this characteristic that it surely becomes an indicator of usefulness. It radiates reality, warms others, helps towards a happy marriage and carries the servant of God through difficult times.
  6. Gentleness with people. This too comes from a humble, patient relationship before God, an emotional recognition that this is how God has dealt with them. If a person is to achieve things for God through others, it is vital, especially for long term ministry in one place.

By God’s grace, what a student is now may bear little relation to what he or she will be when God develops that person for his work, if these indicators are not very visible now, it is no guarantee that they will not characterise that person later in life. So very very rarely reject a student. History shows that God has a tendency to use the stone that was rejected by the builder to be the cornerstone of some work for Him. Let us show respect for God’s work in God’s time in a life that may be, at the moment, frustrating to us.

Sometimes our efforts bear fruit while the student is at college and we can see characteristics developing which give indications of real potential. Sometimes the seeds germinate later, but they will be seeds we have sown as theological educators and we have the satisfaction of knowing that the fruit is at least partly ours.

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2 Comments on “Student Futures”

  1. Kenn Iskov Says:

    As always, the wisdom of experience speaks. Helpful perspective Graham, thanks!

    Kenn Iskov

  2. Campbell Hamilton Says:

    Thank you Graham, another stimulating post. It is certainly true that God rarely uses the stupid, and yet He frequently uses the uneducated and the non-academic, which provides a welcome call to humility for those of us who have the privilege of working, in any capacity, in theological education.
    Paul did warn the Corinthian believers of the limitations of wisdom and remind them that not many of them had been wise.
    And finally, I have told my students many times that theology that does not arise out of the crucible of life and the rigors of a life of service is almost certainly not particularly useful theology at all!
    I think it has been when I have been most aware of what strengths I bring to the table that I have actually ended up being least useful to the cause of the Kingdom.

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