Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Process of Learning

In the discussion of the relevancy of theological education, character development, and ministry skills, one must consider the actual role of the seminary. Dr Eddy Ho, from Malaysia Bible Seminary, wrote an excellent article about how seminary learning is actually a process of acquiring skills and techniques to research answers to our questions.

by Rev. Dr. Eddy Ho

I remember when I was young my father would tell us stories from China. I used to enjoy these stories, but one story I still remember very well is that of a martial arts teacher. One day a young man came to this martial arts teacher and asked him to teach him some martial arts. The master agreed and so for 2 years the young man stayed with the master. However, the young man was asked several times a day to go down the hill to bring back 2 pails of water.

This continued for 2 years and finally the young man was tired of it and went to confront the master. He told the master in no uncertain terms that he was there to learn martial arts and not to carry water. So far he felt he had not learned any martial arts from the master and he wanted to go home. The master then said that the young man can go home if he can find him a piece of bamboo that he cannot break with his hands. Tried as hard as he did he could not find a piece of bamboo he could not break with his hands. Then he realized what had happened. During the 2 years the master had been training him to build up his strength in the most menial task of carrying water. On realizing that the young man stayed on with the master.

As I reflect on theological education I think we are like the young man in the story. We want to be trained in the actual ministry which we expect to use for every situation in the ministry of the church. I think it is appropriate for us to quote from Confucius, who said: "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats a lifetime."

We who are in theological education (but I think it should be so for every form of education) is always in a dilemma as to what subjects to teach our students. Ultimately we have to ask the question: Do we teach our students to fish or do we give a fish for our students?

Sometimes alumni complain that they do not have the material for their ministries. However we need to look at the overall picture. Have we developed the tools whereby we can handle the ministry better? Have I developed the expertise to work out the solution to the problems I encounter?

Like the young man in the story above he did not realize that all through the 2 years he had been training his strength and energy through his routine task of carrying water up the hill. As we prepare papers for our assignments and do our readings we are developing our technique in doing research so that we can do our own research when we are in the ministry. We learn to find answers for the problems our members are facing instead of giving them pet answers that our lecturers gave us, some of which may not be relevant to the situation.

This had been the case in many situations in the mission field. Some missionaries had just imported their styles of ministry into the mission field without studying the context and contextualize their approach. The seminary cannot provide solutions to every situation or problem in the ministry.

However, this is not to absolve the seminary of the responsibility of giving the appropriate training to our students. We have to move with the times and too often we let the past determine the present. What we have done in the past in other seminaries may be not appropriate for the present time and in the present context. We hope to be relevant in our training for the ministry and to do that we need your help too. May we work together for the expansion of the kingdom of God and not for what we individually want.

We hope to train our students to be able to serve well in the ministry of the Lord and to do it well. If our training is not relevant we hope that you will tell us and we will see what we can do to make it relevant. We hope to work with you in building the kingdom of God.

Thank you for the partnership.

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