Measuring Success

Measuring Success

How do you describe the success of a theological college or seminary? The answer to this question is often pulled around by the pressures of the times and even staying afloat financially is often success of a sort these days.

Let me describe a way of looking at the question and afterwards, feel free to respond.

At the centre of each human being, there is a small core set of attitudes that makes them what they are and do what they do. This applies to Christians and non-Christians alike. Above all else, a college is in the business of forming and growing a key central basket of attitudes in students. To the extent that it does so, it is successful.

What are the key factors involved?

  1. The students themselves often come to the college at a liminal moment in their lives – just at a point when they are open to attitude change. We know this to be true of the student who comes up from school to higher education. It is also true of our students who have entered college in preparation for a change of employment or ministry – or because of a sense of need to work things out, grow or start again.
  2. The selection process, if run within this understanding of what a college is to do, will often be able to select those students who are already disposed towards these key attitudes or have them in embryo or as a growing presence in their hearts.
  3. The college is a teaching institution where truth and ideas which, if they are grasped and accepted become the soil in which new attitudes grow. Despite the despair of many about views of the significance of theology today by our students, the glorious moment of “seeing” a truth is still the basis for adopting an attitude and turning round a life.
  4. Staff can, and sometimes do, attractively embody a set of attitudes – show what it means to live by a core of key attitudes blended together in a life. Students are moved by lived truth, by seeing what they want to be as much as by what they know.
  5. College life can provide the atmosphere where the key attitudes are affirmed, expected, grown and embedded in a student’s soul and thereafter in his or her life. This is especially true of colleges which create intense, family like communities based on a clear ethos.

It is not surprising then that, historically, colleges have been very effective in moulding that core basket of key attitudes in students. Certainly this was so in my case. But what are the key attitudes at the centre of this vision of success? The tendency nowadays in accreditation is to emphasise the process whereby a college manufactures and achieves its objectives rather than the objectives themselves. And it is true that the college staff must get together and sort out what attitudes it wishes to inculcate in the students, but there are key attitudes which make a student both pleasing and useful to God which have a certain universality.

These would include; the fundamental authority of the Word of God – handled with good and open hermeneutical skill; the division between gospel fundamentals and secondary opinions; the importance of hard thinking about theology and the world; the richness of the Christian community of all of God’s people; the centrality of the personal spiritual godly life; the great purpose of serving God with your life; the pleasant task of being a joyful human being. If our students go out with these attitudes occupying the central place in their souls, we have been a success.

A college then is a powerful institution. But the power of the tool cuts both ways. We can exemplify and inculcate attitudes which, when lodged in the soul are deeply damaging and I have seen times in the life of outwardly “successful” colleges when staff have done just that. What did Jesus say about millstones and necks?

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2 Comments on “Measuring Success”

  1. Campbell Hamilton Says:

    Graham,
    as usual a very perceptive and profoundly important meditation. I am so deeply convinced of the need for our colleges/training & discipleship bodies/institutions to be chiefly committed to the growth of christian character and awareness of the Spirit as the first principles of our raison detre. Everything else has to follow on from that and the extent to which we can enthuse, motivate, inspire and pastor our charges in that direction has got to be at the very core of any evaluation of our success.

    Many of us have witnessed the most incredible potential in some students simply not being fulfilled for whatever reason(s) and there may be grounds to see that being considered as much our failing as theirs.

  2. Jim Murdoch Says:

    Graham,
    Thanks for another insightful paper. As colleges begin to interview applicants for training for next college/university year these thoughts of yours are particularly pertinent.

    Those in training and all teachers need to have God given goals and Holy Spirit anointing as we seek together to serve Christ and His Kingdom. We in the position of teaching are highly privileged to have an input into other’s lives. God forbid any of us seek to produce images of ourselves, with our particular ‘hang-ups’ and by His grace may we in even a small way help equip servants of the King.


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