I am happy for you, that you have taken that leap of faith. Your decision to go off to prepare for the future that you sense God is leading you towards reminds me of my own journey. When I was considering going to Bible college, I wasn’t very sure what to expect. All I knew was that I had a Jeremiah-like “fire in my bones” about learning the scriptures that had literally breathed new life into my bones. I had wrestled for many months with the decision to depart Engineering for theological training. The difficulty was that the two were not seen as friends. Additionally, most of those at the Bible college were already well-experienced pastors. I felt like I was staring into the eyes of a giant.
God is at work to shape the church of Africa today and for tomorrow.
I worked for many years in the marketplace. At the same time, I served in my local church. In between I moved to a different city for work and participated in a new local church, which was a time of spiritual growth. Eventually, in 2017 I joined the pastoral staff of my current church in Nairobi, after resigning from a rather “stable” and “secure” job as an Engineer. I use those two words advisedly, because if there is anything that we have learnt over the past two years of COVID it is that the only stability is found in a life submitted to God. So what can I share for those considering Bible college?
Aim at Christlikeness above Theological Comprehension
It is interesting that in our emerging generation, many more people are desirous of a deeper engagement with biblical and theological studies. Though various and conflicting reasons might stand behind this trend, I believe that God is at work to shape the church of Africa today and for tomorrow.
However, this pursuit of depth can unassumingly have a close marriage with pride. What that can look like is the urge to always correct others. We might use unnecessarily big words to show off our learning, looking down on those who don’t speak about “sanctification” or “ecclesiology.” This pride may also look like joining a particular theological “tribe” and cutting of contact from “those people” (1 Corinthians 3:4-9).
Our best learning happens within the context of prayer and a servant-like attitude.
A corrective to this pride is to remember that theology is always for the church and Christian life. As one of the earliest theologians, Evagrius Ponticus (345–399 AD), reminds us: “A theologian is one who prays, and one who prays is a theologian.” So our education should aid our formation into Christlikeness (Romans 8:28-30). As John Frame puts it, study theology as a servant of Jesus. This means that our best learning happens within the context of prayer, a growing devotional life, the cultivation of healthy relationships, and a servant-like attitude.
Continue Learning like Everyone Else in the Local Church
There is no better place for spiritual growth and character formation than the body of Christ (Ephesians 3:10-12). Sitting under the ministry of faithful pastors and serving in the church has challenged, changed, and grown my theological convictions. The work of preaching, teaching, and counselling in the local church has often driven me to prayer, greater dependence on God. I have been edified by the counsel of mature Christians, who are everyday theologians and whose theology has weathered many years. My shortcomings have been covered by the wisdom, prayer and encouragement of others.
The best place to apply, deepen, and expand theological education is the local church.
Belonging to the local church will keep us from reducing theology to a merely academic, detached activity or exercise. The primary aim of the knowledge of God is to be of service to the people of God who comprise the church of God (2 Timothy 2:14-15). The point is that theology belongs to the Church.
People like Augustine, Athanasius, Calvin, Bediako, though imperfect in their own ways, as we all are, developed their thinking in the context of Christian life and ministry. In fact, the works they are remembered for were written as responses or reflections from their own Christian pilgrimages. The best theology is always theology that moves from the head and can stir hearts and spur on hands. The best place to apply, deepen, and expand theological education is the local church.
Invest Time and Work Hard at Bible College
There are two extremes I have observed in my own pilgrimage through theological education. In many African spaces there are those who dismember the head from the heart, in matters of Christian life and education. To this group of people, developing the mind is not a spiritual endeavour. After all, “the Spirit is sufficient for all things.” But the lack of theological education, formal or informal, is what leads to sects and cults, who major on minor doctrines (or even wrong doctrines) and minor on major things. The knowledge of God is a primary safeguard against false teaching (1 Timothy 6:3-5). After all, new revelations are often nothing more than expressions of old heresies.
However, because you’re considering theological study, you likely don’t fall into the above group. So you should be aware of the second extreme: engaging theological study in a casual way. Some students claim that what they’re doing doesn’t have any relevance to practical ministry. When this attitude carries over into practical ministry, church leaders will take a casual approach to sermon preparation, neglect biblical counselling, and ultimately grow lazy in the discharge of ministry duties.
The difficult subjects at Bible college have a direct impact on practical ministry.
But the difficult subjects within theological studies have a direct impact on practical ministry. Biblical and systematic theology will deepen your sermon preparation and teaching delivery. Practical ministry units will help you to ably apply these truths to real life issues, with remarkable and humbling fruit in God’s work.
Seek the Lord and Trust in His Leading
As you consider life during and beyond Bible college, remember: every life and experience is always in the hands of our sovereign Father. Even though none of us know the future, we can rest in the Lord’s character as a faithful Father (Matthew 6:25-34). Ultimately, our lives are in his hands. He knows what is best for us and for his kingdom, through our faithful and humble obedience.
Even though none of us know the future, we can rest in the Lord’s character as a faithful Father.
What this means is that perhaps God may call you to use your theological education in a different area than what you currently expect. The Lord may lead you to shepherd a local congregation. He may call you to teach others in a classroom setting. He may lead you to community work, public service, or back into the marketplace. For some, the Lord may lead you to a combination of these. As the Lord leads, watch the open doors, look to the closed doors with assurance of God’s leading and wait for tomorrow with an abiding confidence that the Lord never sleeps or slumbers (Psalm 121:4-5; Proverbs 3:5-6).
May the Lord lead you each step of the way.