Competitive Kingdom Building

Competitive Kingdom Building

At the weekend, I was told a story about Rick Warren’s statement in a US conference. He said “The most important task we have, especially for those in church leadership is to pray for the success of our neighbouring churches”.

It is, of course, simplistic and over-stated, like much of Rick Warren’s work, but does the job intended – of making us think about a competitive spirit in Christian service. No-where does the issue raise its head more than in theological education. There is a limited pool of potential students out there and theological education does function like a market, although hopefully not so much as higher education today, at least in the UK. If Jonny goes to another college in your country, he will not come to your college. If too many Jonnys and Marys make that choice, your numbers go down and you get into trouble financially. That, of course, is why we spend so much money on publicity and quality brochures and our Principals go out preaching in churches up and down the country.

And yet. If you believe in your own vision, if you have worked hard to ensure that excellent theological education is well reflected in your college, you believe that you have something special to offer students. Surely then you can rejoice that they come to you rather than to a college that does things differently and quite possible not so well. Such a stance can be taken in all humility and a desire for the glory of God.

For instance, I can imagine an inter-denominational college amid a number of denominational colleges honestly believing that, in today’s church and society with all its separations and divisions and denominationalism, it is better that the future leaders of God’s people be trained together, regardless of their denominational affiliation, and encounter differing views in students and staff as an essential part of their preparation. Colleges governed by statements of faith that prescribe views on secondary issues and live within the culture of a particular denomination may well find it hard to offer such openness that is the best atmosphere for growth and unity. (OK, comments on this paragraph are expected.)

Nevertheless, our competitiveness is damaging for two reasons. Firstly, it is the extension of a business model into theological education, where it does not belong. We are not into growth projections, fighting for market share or other management mantras which have become connected with our leadership patterns. Secondly, whatever stance the other colleges take, theological education takes place whenever a teacher stands up in front of students or relates to them in other ways. Sometimes the most inspiring, free-ing teaching takes place in the least inspiring, least free colleges!

So, should we pray for our fellow colleges, regardless of our own particular vision? Yes. If it does nothing else, such prayer is an acknowledgment that the prosperity of the Kingdom of God is more important than the success of our college. And double grace on those colleges fighting to survive in a competitive market if they are able to so do.

[My apologies to those followers of this blog who received today a post I should have sent to a website through which I am tutoring some students. I hit the wrong button.]


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3 Comments on “Competitive Kingdom Building”

  1. perry Says:

    Both our external competitiveness with other colleges and the extent to which we emphasise grades and competition within the school’s study programmes profoundly train students that ministry is about competition – not cooperation for the extension of the Kingdom. This is one of the key negative features of the hidden curriculum that exists in many of our theological institutions and programmes.

  2. perryshaw Says:

    The external competitiveness of our schools and programmes, and the extent to which we promote grades and other forms of competition among students, profoundly train students through the hidden curriculum that ministry is about competition – not cooperation in the service of God’s Kingdom

  3. Drew Gibson Says:

    Here’s a quick illustration. Change your picture to something form the Tour de France. There were two types of group cooperation in the race. First there was SKY. Like the other teams, they chose to focus all of their attention on getting one person, in their case, Bradley Wiggins, to the final podium in first place. They put great financial resources into this (although not as much as other teams) but, mor importantly, they developed a holistic approach so that all team members knew that their individual roles only made sense in the context of the overall goal – Wiggins winning.

    On the other hand, in virtually every stage of the race there was a breakaway group ahead of the peloton. The members of this group knew that to maintain their advantage they had to cooperate, each rider taking his trun to lead. This cooperation was essential if one was to win but the limiting factor was that each rider wanted to be the one. It was a pragmatic cooperation that was always going to break down. SKY’s was a philosophical cooperation that was never going to break down.

    I’m not sure how to apply this to theological education, no doubt someone else can take baton from here (to mix a metaphor!)

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