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Mission and Theological Education

With all wisdom and insight, God has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Ephesians 1. 8b-10.

Theological Education: New Direction and Richer Resources

Until quite recently, little attention was given to mission studies, the formal study of mission and mission theology.  Conventional programs of theological education have separated mission from the whole Gospel and the whole church.  Past approaches to the study of mission have not equipped the church to grow in our knowledge of the biblical and theological bases for mission, both local and worldwide.[1]

The post Enlightenment pattern of theological formation, which was exported all over the world in the missionary expansion of the 19th and early 20th centuries, was based on a view of knowledge which separated knowing from doing.  The curriculum stressed the different branches of study, rather than their interconnections as part of a living whole.  This coincided with a time when the church in Europe saw itself as “sending” rather than “receiving” through the instruments of mission.  Mission, if it was studied at all, was considered as practical theology, alongside the other three separate streams of theological study:  biblical studies, church history, and systematic theology.  As part of the fourth stream, the emphasis in mission studies was on practical application and technique.[2]

This customary pattern has radically changed in recent times, as a mission focus and foundation asks new questions about the bases and priorities of theological education.  The Commission is aware that other work is being undertaken around the Communion with respect to theological education.  As part of its mandate to provide a facilitating and co-ordinating role with respect to mission and evangelism, IASCOME, at each of its meetings, has been engaging in reflection on the implications of a mission focus for theological education and leadership development.  This is being expressed in different ways in the theological colleges, dioceses and churches of the Communion. 

The mandate given to IASCOME by the Anglican Consultative Council at its meeting in Dundee, Scotland in 1999, notes the expanding diversity of mission connections within the Communion.  It also affirms the priority given to mission and evangelism by the Decade of Evangelism proposed by the 1998 Lambeth Conference.[3]  IASCOME seeks to encourage the Anglican Communion to see mission and evangelism as a Gospel imperative, not an optional activity.  Some of the implications of this commitment are suggestive for theological education.

Mission is the mother of theology and of the church

While the change is not everywhere, and not consistent, a new understanding is emerging.  Theologians of many schools of thought are coming to increasingly agree that mission lies at the very heart of the theological task, and therefore at the heart of theological education.  Martin Kahler’s dictum is often quoted and is well known, Mission is the mother of theology.  In 1908 his was almost a lone voice.  Now a century later, both within the Communion and ecumenically, a vision has grown for the foundational nature of God’s mission to underlie all theological work.   

The practical implications of this are very significant for the church and for those delivering theological education and leadership formation at all levels.  No longer is mission studies simply one separate and distinctive theological or practical subject.  Rather, for a mission formed church, a mission framework and orientation needs to be integrated with biblical studies, church history, systematic theology and the other disciplines of practical theology.  At the same time, mission studies have distinctive contributions to make within the theological curriculum and to the wider theological tasks facing the Communion and its constituent faith communities.

A mission framework for theological education is a keystone.  It is a mission purpose and a mission orientation which support shared action in proclamation of the Gospel, reconciliation, action for justice and economic and social sustainability.  We belong to a Communion held together through our mission relationships.  It is mission relationships, which undergird, support, and reorient our shared accountability and interdependence.

A Mission Framework is a priority and a foundation

Concern for leadership formation for mission was evident in the work of MISSIO[4], the predecessor to IASCOME.  IASCOME too has expressed its interest in supporting theological education across the Anglican Communion since our first meeting in South Africa in May 2001.  A member of the Commission was named to the original Theological Education Working Group that was convened in October 2001.  Further, the Anglican Consultative Council, at its 12th meeting in Dundee, Scotland in 2001, encouraged IASCOME to develop its work in the area of leadership training and formation for mission.[5]
IASCOME has consulted during the life of our Commission with the Anglican Communion task group on theological education and its successor, TEAC (Theological Education for the Anglican Communion).  TEAC now exercises some specific responsibilities and tasks with respect to theological education.  In all our work and conversations, IASCOME has had an abiding concern that leadership at all levels of the church needs to be equipped for mission.  For reasons made clear in this chapter of our report, it is our view that a mission framework is a priority and a foundation for theological education in the Anglican Communion today.

Both IASCOME and the Theological Education for the Anglican Communion task group are aware that theological education for mission is now wide ranging.  It is also too diverse and too full of life to be contained in any single structure. 

Early in our work, the Commission identified the need for a renovated framework for understanding leadership formation.  This framework identifies mission formation, theological education, and ordination training as interconnected elements with interconnected relationships.  It is a mission intention which links the elements of this framework together in the preparing, forming and empowering of the people of God in the mission of God for the life of the world.

Mission formation

Mission formation is understood as the empowering of the people of God in holiness, truth, wisdom, spirituality and knowledge, for participation in God’s mission in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.  In our vocation as Christians, all are called and all are sent.  Thus mission formation includes leadership training across all levels of the church - in parishes and dioceses, in voluntary organisations, and for church-wide agencies and their leaders.

Mission formation is also understood in terms of fulfilling the baptismal vocation of all believers.  Formation in mission, and the ongoing education and training of all Christians being built up into maturity, is a key part of the upbuilding of the church.

These dimensions of education and equipping require us to look beyond clerical preparation as the only horizon for theological education and formation.  An understanding of the whole Gospel for the whole world asks new questions about theological education.  This is because mission formation is for the whole people of God in diverse contexts, and is not exclusively linked to the three orders of ministry of the church.

Theological education

Theological education is an overarching term to describe the study of God, and it includes the study of the scriptures and the service of the church.  Such intentional inquiry, study and reflection are conducted within the academy, within the church, and in and for wider public discourse.

The Commission has observed that theological education within the Communion is now less oriented to the structures of the church itself and increasingly takes place beyond the bounds of the academy.  A key theme of this report is that it is in and through our relationships that we find and experience communion.  But it is also true that our mission relationships provide opportunities for theological education and the advancement of our understandings of God, the scriptures and the service of the church. 

The Primates, in their recent Communiqué, have recognised that theological education can be developed and improved by sharing resources across the Communion[6].  IASCOME agrees wholeheartedly, and points to our existing mission relationships as an important way in which this sharing of resources is already happening.

Educational resources are already being shared in a variety of ways, which reflect mutual accountability and mutual learning and benefit.  Specific examples include the sharing of print and video resources, the sending and hosting of personnel, short term visits both formal and informal, pilgrimages, ecumenical collaboration and diocesan companionships.  Companion diocesan links are one of the most important mission relationships of our time.  This shared enterprise of many, which is widespread throughout the Communion, gives new dignity and potency to individuals, to churches and to dioceses in a web of shared life.  All of these ways of relating result in transformative learning for participants, and underline our common need to grow in our knowledge of the biblical and theological bases for mission, both local and worldwide.  .

Ordination training

Ordination training is the specific training of the current and future ordained ministers of the church (bishops, priests and deacons).  It includes pre-ordination training and supervision, and also life long learning and development. 

These three orders share a servant leadership role, as a sign and witness to the church and beyond.  Ordained leadership also encourages and organises shared action for the mission of the people of God, by the people of God, for the life of the world.  The church exists by mission as fire exists by burning.[7] The vocation of the church is not to live for itself, but to live with and for the other.  The mission of God calls the church to live with and for others in the life of the world. 

The Commission acknowledges that there are a range of models in the Anglican Communion today for ordination training.  While the European model of residential seminary training continues in most places, other models such as extension courses and one-on-one mentoring are also widespread.  These models need to be supported and encouraged

We note the work of TEAC in this regard in developing resources and guidelines with respect to what constitutes the Anglican Way and providing accessible documentation on Anglican history, theology, liturgy and pastoral practice.  We support and appreciate this work.  However, in the assessment of the Commission, it is clear that this approach does not fully prepare the whole people of God for mission.  Nor do fixed and habitual patterns prepare and equip the church for contextual and local understandings and applications of mission and mission practices which convert and transform the people of God.  We would seek to be included as a partner and companion in the work and deliberations of TEAC, to inform and encourage a mission dimension.

It is the view of this Commission that ordination training, and other forms of theological education, need to reflect a commitment to mission.  Mission is at the heart of our shared life and our companion relationships.  A shared commitment to God’s mission is the responsibility of every member of the Body of Christ.  The implications for theological education and leadership development connect discipleship of Christ to the transforming dimensions of a missional grounding.  Discipleship equipping which is isolated from a mission footing is likely to be a deficient discipleship, with loss to the church.

The Primates, in their recent Communiqué of February 2005, have issued their own strong commitment, as leaders of our Anglican Communion, to God’s mission in world.

Indeed, in the course of our meeting, we have become even more mindful of the indissoluble link between Christian unity and Christian mission, as this is expressed in Jesus’ own prayer that his disciples should be one that the world may believe (John 17.21).  Accordingly, we pray for the continuing blessing of God’s unity and peace as we recommit ourselves to the mission of the Anglican Communion, which we share with the whole people of God, in the transformation of our troubled world.[8]

The Vocation of all Believers for Knowledge and Learning

We all share a common vocation sealed by baptism.  What follows are examples of how theological education and leadership training take many forms in the life of the churches of the Communion.  These includes Sunday Schools, children and youth, adult education, the work of Mothers’ Union and local churches.  Missionary presence and work continues to occur through a host of educational and medical institutions, including schools and hospitals.  Diocesan schools, and medical institutions including those staffed by mission organisations, play an important role in health and education provision in many countries.

The stories which follow describe a variety of ways to strengthen the capacity of the church through a more broadly based understanding of theological education informed by a mission mandate and a mission priority.  They describe leadership formation, theological education and ordination training all of which are grounded in the priority of mission.  This gives a fuller Gospel approach and a wider variety of opportunities at all levels.  In our work and reflection on leadership development and theological formation across the span of the Communion, IASCOME has sought to build in a mission dimension and a mission intention.

What the greater diversity of service in the life of the Communion is clearly pointing to is that leaders equip others.  As the servant people of God in Christ, it is incumbent on the leadership of the church to be equipped and to provide for the equipping of others.  This includes, but is not limited to bishops, clergy and lay leadership who work alongside those designated as theological educators. 

Ministry and lay training

Materials made available to the Commission informed us of creative and intelligent work happening in many local contexts.  These include training manuals for evangelists and lay pastoral assistants in the Solomon Islands which have been well received in the Pacific.  In Melanesia, educational and development processes are the responsibility of the whole community.  Everybody’s efforts, be it in training or learning, are all a socialisation process both for the benefit of the community and the individuals. 

Locally developed theological education and methods in Papua New Guinea also connect Christian formation and mission with community living in local contexts.  An example is discipleship training for young adults, including parenting training.  Particular ministries, especially those of teachers and leaders, need to be integrated into the church’s overall vision and planning for mission and evangelism.

In the dioceses of Manicaland (Zimbabwe) and Accra (Ghana), lay training centres have been established with great effect.  Their main function is to equip the laity with theological education and so create effective members of the church.  Training is provided for evangelists, lay readers, and newly elected members of Parish Councils and Synods to equip them in their respective roles.  In addition, continuation and enrichment training is provided for those engaged in baptismal preparation, confirmation training, teaching Sunday School, organising stewardship campaigns, leading Mothers’ Union groups, serving as special chaplains in schools and counselling those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS.  Such lay training, once established, soon becomes crucial to mission and evangelism within the life of the church.

The Anglican Church of the Central American Region provides formal training to students seeking ordination through the Anglican Centre for Higher Theological Education.  Students come from the various countries which form the Province.  The students who come together for formal ordination training are already doing mission work in their own dioceses, for example in charge of a mission centre or establishing a new one.  The training program includes regular coming together to reflect on experience, to share resources and learnings from different contexts, and to grow in pastoral effectiveness and biblical literacy.  This is an experiential learning process, where those appointed to ordained office also have the confidence of the Christian communities where they serve, or the ability to plant new communities of mission.

Attention to a holistic understanding of theological formation and education develops and promotes cohesion between the community, the person, and the vocation of all believers.  Such training seeks the development of personal character, in engagement with the community.  It is through the equipping of the saints in their gifts and skills, that the body of Christ is fed, clothed, encouraged-in-hope and built up. 

Growth in numbers in the South and growth in discipleship training for all

This Mission Commission and other Commissions over the past two decades have rejoiced that in the Global South the Anglican Communion is growing rapidly.  The numbers of new people coming to Christian faith bring both challenges and opportunities for discipleship development, leadership formation and theological education.  We heard concern from our African members about how this rapid growth has resulted in a gap in discipleship training, and also in a shortage of trained clergy.

However, the Commission also heard that the report Anglicans in mission: a transforming journey, received by the ACC at its meeting in Edinburgh Scotland in 1999, has filled a gap and a need. [9]  Its linkages of mission to Anglican settings, and the impact of its stories, have been widely appreciated.  We are aware that the report has been widely used in a variety of educational settings.  For example, we heard how the Anglicans in Mission report was used with students preparing for ordination at a seminary in Tanzania.  Through reading and reflecting on the stories in the report, students, many of whom had never left Tanzania, were introduced to Anglican life in other parts of the Communion.  They were also invited to compare the narrative accounts with Christian community life as they experienced it in their own settings.  Stories like this one from Tanzania have informed the way the Commission has prepared this report.

Theological colleges and seminaries have significant roles to play in the provision of a range of programs alongside other diocesan initiatives and programs.  Seminary training can and does range from degree programs at University level, to accredited diplomas or certificate training programs.  Auditing of courses, the development of programs at local levels in response to need, and theological education by extension (TEE) have also been very valuable in many places to equip and sustain mission.

New networks have emerged

The forms of relational connections are now very diverse within the Communion.  These includes personal links, and formal and informal networking now made possible for those with access to electronic resources.  Some new examples of more formalised networks are important and relevant to theological education and its intersections with mission and evangelism.  Recent developments include a network of parish theologians and the Anglican Contextual Theologians network (ACTs).

The following example is illustrative.  The Anglican Contextual Theologians network came into being at the initiative of a group of theologians from around the Anglican Communion who saw the need for ongoing theological conversations across the Communion that wrestle with, and celebrate the richness of the many and diverse cultural and geographic contexts of contemporary Anglicanism.  An initial consultation was held in the USA in May 2003[10]Following this, with the leadership of the African Network of Institutions of Theological Education Preparing Anglicans for Ministry (ANITEPAM), a second consultation was held in South Africa, with most of the participants on this occasion from Africa.  The primary value of the consultations was the building of relationships across the Communion, across cultural and theological frontiers, such that weak bonds of affection were strengthened.  IASCOME sees such networks as rich resources for the building up of relationships in mission across the many and diverse contexts of the Anglican Communion.

Other examples of networking are given throughout this chapter, as the ways of theological formation multiply and the shape of discipleship formation becomes more diverse.

Outcomes-based learning rather than inputs-based teaching

In many places in the world, new systems of accreditation now link theological education institutions to new and more rigorous criteria for curriculum development and assessment.  For example, in South Africa, post apartheid educational standards require education and training at all levels, to integrate knowledge and understanding with skills and values/attitudes.  This outcomes-based approach has reshaped the curriculum for theological colleges.  It places stricter requirements on demonstrating outcomes-based assessments.  This means close attention is given to what learners value and can do, as well as what they know.  In South Africa, theological colleges seeking accreditation were required to decide what outcomes they sought in properly equipped learners of theology and ministry.  In designing the curriculum, they made a mission focus foundational to the qualifications.[11]

These mandated changes impact not only South Africa, but also those outside South Africa who were previously linked in an ecumenical body set up by the South African Council for Theological Education, who now face being less resourced.  At the same time, South African educational institutions, if they are to achieve accreditation, must revise their curricula and justify their standards to more rigorous criteria.  As a result many South African theological colleges are closing,  amalgamating or exploring different options.[12]

Restructuring, new partnerships and ecumenical linkages

In England a major reform of theological training is underway.  The church has 11 theological colleges for residential training of its clergy, and a larger number of non-residential courses.  These are being amalgamated into a series of Regional Training Partnerships (RTPs) spread across the country, to make better use of resources of money and people.  The intention is that these Regional Training Partnerships will provide pre and post ordination training as well as Continuing Ministerial Education for clergy and lay readers (and other accredited ministries).  A new syllabus and curriculum is under consideration, with a greater stress on the mission calling of the church and of the clergy.  There is a particular focus on training for clergy and evangelists who are called to be church planters and pioneers. 

In Australia a key trend has been for theological colleges to link with university partnerships for accreditation.  National (and international) distance education has entered theological education through one such partnership, based in Canberra.  Thus a wide variety of degree levels and programs and subjects are offered by extension.  These cover both Anglican clergy training and ecumenical theological education for lay leadership, both in and beyond the church. 

Theological education by extension (sometimes referred to as TEE) is now an important way that teaching and learning are delivered in many parts of the world.  It is common to most parts of Africa, including, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Gambia, and is also widely used in Canada. 

In South America, co-operation to achieve workable networks of students and resources operates at provincial levels, linking dioceses in different countries. 

Theological cross fertilisation across the Communion

Together what these stories indicate is that creative new linkages have emerged within the Communion.  For example, in the past few years the African Network of Institutions of Theological Education Preparing Anglicans for Ministry (ANITEPAM) has managed to arrange a South-to-South program in which theological tutors were exchanged.  Some examples of this cross fertilisation include Ghana and Zimbabwe, Uganda and South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia, Uganda and Tanzania.  Funds are presently being sought to run parallel programs for student exchanges.

Initiatives like these have brought some key theological issues, which cut across the Continent to the attention of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa.  Cross linkages have assisted in the development of syllabi on HIV and AIDS, for Theological Education by Extension (TEE), and to provide resources for colleges which have not been in a position to develop their own.  Support for New Bishops Training Courses has emerged, and joint efforts makes lecture programs and the publication of journals possible.  These raise consciousness about key African theological issues and concerns.  Discussion has also raised the need to support African heads of institutions as well as women involved in theological education.  Networking and support for those facing crisis situations (e.g. Rwanda, Sudan and Congo) has also been strengthened for mutual benefit.

Such initiatives are not confined to regional groups.  Creative cross fertilisation also occurs regularly across the Communion.  For example the Anglican Church of Canada has a theological student internship program that places students for three months in some other part of the Communion.  The participating theological colleges accept overseas placements as credits in the overall training of students.

Aboriginal clergy in Canada can earn a Master of Divinity degree by attending summer courses in Native Ministries at the Vancouver School of Theology.  Similar in-service training is provided in several dioceses by bringing lecturers and students into rural centres in isolated northern areas.  Particular programs of enrichment and empowerment for indigenous people are also provided in New Zealand and Australia.

In the United States, the Seminary Consultation on Mission (SCOM) operates as a network of seminary faculty and deans of Episcopal seminaries in the United States.  The network is dedicated to supporting American seminary faculty and students who participate in cross cultural mission internships and experiences in other churches of the Anglican Communion.  Over the last twenty-five years SCOM has supported over four hundred faculty/students in their learning in other parts of the Communion.  It also encourages the development of missiology and mission studies in American seminaries and across the Communion.  For example, ANITEPAM grew out of a consultation that SCOM sponsored in Zimbabwe.[13] 

At its December 2003 meeting, IASCOME discussed the idea of ‘floating faculties’ to support theological education across the Anglican Communion.  We imagined such a ‘floating faculty’ as a list of current or former seminary and university professors and teachers from around the Anglican Communion who might make themselves available for short-term teaching assignments as mission partners in under-resourced theological education institutions in the Communion.  However, we also noted that such faculty members should be sensitive to the local contexts, perceiving themselves as “learning missiologists” (not as exporters of particular national theologies), who can later assist their home churches to look beyond local boundaries.  IASCOME is aware of the survey of theological education institutions being undertaken by Colleges and Universities of the Anglican Communion (CUAC).  Such a survey could be most useful in determining both the faculty resources for the imagined  ‘floating faculties’ as well as the needs of seminaries and theological institutions around the Anglican Communion.

Ministry to young people and families: Ministry through schools

A growing emphasis across the Communion on the vocation of all baptised believers has led to many forms of Christian service and training, both within the church and associated with it.

A ministry with and for children, families and youth is a key area of concern in many places.  Women and children can be among the most vulnerable groups in many contexts, and the incorporation of young people into the life of the church is a key, and frequently challenging issue.  The Commission is aware that from the early 20th century, work with children and youth in many places was conducted separately from the main body of the church.  The result in some of those contexts that adopted this model, has been that over the long term, children and youth became socialised out of church. Adherence has dropped and churches are now working hard to re-incorporate families and young people back into the life of the Body of Christ.  IASCOME recognises that youth work and its importance is recognised in different ways.  In the North, detached, fringe and/or integrated approaches apply.

The varied linkages of formation and training set out in this chapter are illustrated in Papua New Guinea.  Here community development and cohesion is aided by trained pastoral work by the church with families.  The curriculum in an Anglican secondary school includes training with respect to HIV and AIDS, with partnership links to schools and programs being developed in Zimbabwe.  Environmental sustainability is modelled and taught through the school’s farm and vegetable garden.  Linkages in terms of personal contacts, and support by outside mission institutions and dioceses were reported both from Australia and across the Pacific.

Given the diversity of ministry and service offered by local churches and dioceses, the Commission endorses the principle that appropriate training be provided for specialised ministries (for example chaplaincies) wherever practicable.  In addition we note that particular practices, training, supervision and safeguards with reference to working with all vulnerable groups need to be implemented, respected and observed. 


We recommend that IASCOME continue to co-operate with Theological Education for the Anglican Communion so that mission and evangelism can become an integral part of its work.

Questions for Discussion

  • This chapter argues that all ordained and lay leadership formation in the church should have a mission orientation.  What do you think of this idea?
  • What types of leadership formation are you aware of in your church, and to what extent do these have a strong mission orientation?
  • Discuss the difference between outcomes-based learning and inputs-based teaching.  What outcomes would improve the training of clergy in your church?

1. See Bosch, David J.  Theological education in missionary perspective.  Missiology X/1 (January 1982), 13-34.

2. Farley, E.  Theologia: The Fragmentation and Unity of Theological Education.  1983.  Philadelphia, Fortress Press.

3. See Chapter One for the IASCOME mandate.

4. See Anglicans in Mission: A Transforming Journey, Chapter 5, Training Leadership for Mission.

5. See the report of ACC-12, Resolution 12, p. 465.

6. Paragraph 21 of the Primates’ Communiqué of February, 2005 states: “Two whole sessions of our meeting were devoted to the important work of the discernment of theological truth and the development and improvement of theological education through the sharing of resources across the Communion.  The Archbishop of Canterbury has identified this as a priority concern during the period of his leadership.”

7. Emile Brunner, citation will be found in bibliography of D Bosch, Transforming Mission.

8. Primates’ Communiqué, February 2005, paragraph 22.

9. MISSIO, Anglicans in Mission: a Transforming Journey, London, SPCK: 2000.

10. See Appendix 2.

11. McCoy, Michael.  Restoring mission to the heart of theological education: A South African perspective, p. 4.  Unpublished paper provided to IASCOME Cyprus meeting, 2005.  Used with permission.

12. Ibid., pp.  2-4.

13. The recently published vision statement Companions in transformation: the Episcopal church’s world mission in a new century, presented by the Standing Commission on World Mission to the 2003 General Convention of ECUSA, proposes an increase in support for such cross-cultural mission internships and experiences.