September 24, 2018
This article was originally published in the Summer 2018 issue of NAB Onward Magazine:
As NAB seminaries in North America, we are finding new ways to serve in international missions as we discover new and better opportunities to serve alongside our sister seminaries in Cameroon.
When thinking about seminaries, people often only think about academic programs and not the systems, processes, and educational philosophies that undergird them. In order for seminaries to be good partners in the missional work of the church, these systems, processes, and philosophies often need to be redeveloped. Seminaries around the world are at a crossroads: either change their relationships with local churches or become irrelevant.
In 2015, leaders from the NAB Conference, Taylor Seminary, Sioux Falls Seminary, the Cameroon Baptist Convention (CBC), Cameroon Baptist Theological Seminary, and Cameroon Baptist Seminary Kumba discussed this reality. These conversations led to a new way of conceptualizing and implementing global partnerships focused on the flow of theological education from the local church.
Each partner took seriously the reality that all members have an equal amount of wisdom to share. Now, three years later, everyone involved has been strengthened by their participation. We have all made strong progress, particularly in four key areas.
North American faculty work with a growing number of students from diverse backgrounds and cultures, and the faculty at Sioux Falls and Taylor understand the need to develop cross-cultural teaching skills. In Cameroon, the faculty face an overwhelming teaching load and need to invest in their credentials to meet accreditation requirements. In response, all four of the seminaries created a means for North American faculty to gain teaching experience in cross-cultural contexts while, simultaneously, the Cameroonian faculty receive training. Over thirty faculty have already participated in this initiative.
Innovation must be informed by a local context. What works well for one seminary may not work well for another. Context is an even greater issue when thinking about global innovation. However, key concepts are often transferrable. With the CBC, two principles have been mutually beneficial.
First, the concept of non-geographically bound collaboration has been important in both Cameroon and North America. The seminaries in Cameroon are physically and culturally separated, with unique programs, constituencies, and learning opportunities, yet they are learning to function together in a more integrated and intentional way. The same is true for Sioux Falls and Taylor.
Second, helping students remain in context has been important. In both Cameroon and North America, fewer students want to disconnect from their ministry contexts in order to pursue theological education. As a result, we are all thinking differently about meeting students where they are. In Cameroon, it is taking shape through extension sites and modular courses. In North America, focus is on helping students learn and serve in their ministry contexts while working with a mentor team to customize their educational journey.
Alongside the need for faculty development came an opportunity to experiment with a reimagined doctor of ministry (DMin) program. For many years, students from Cameroon have pursued a DMin from Sioux Falls Seminary by spending up to a year in South Dakota, but they did not interact with Taylor Seminary. A new context-based DMin program allows students to remain in their contexts, enables faculty in Cameroon and North America to engage in meaningful faculty development, and sees all four seminaries working together.
The program was built through a collaboration that included the executive president of the Cameroon Baptist Convention and the executive leadership and faculties of all four seminaries. Thus far, eight Cameroonian faculty and six North American faculty have engaged in the program. Remarking on the experience, Samuel Ndeley, CBC director of Theological and Christian Education and chairman of the CBC seminaries board of governors, said, “I count it a real joy, privilege, and blessing to receive this twenty-first century DMin training from our mentors. This is the Lord at work toward the enhancement in living and teaching to be more contextually relevant for the Cameroon Baptist seminaries. We are being taught by the best team of evangelical, world-class professors drawn from Sioux Falls and Taylor Seminaries. We remain eternally grateful that God placed these ideas in the minds of faithful leaders. He is being glorified as they focus on empowering these Cameroonians. Gloria!”
Larry Caldwell, chief academic officer and dean of Sioux Falls Seminary, said that it has been “a real privilege to help develop theological educators for the CBC churches of Cameroon. These Cameroonian DMin candidates have a passion for teaching relevant, contextualized courses for the pastors and ministry leaders in their churches.” He has also expressed that he is “excited about the positive impact these professors will have on the entire CBC as they implement their studies.”
Finally, the partnership is helping all four schools think creatively about the function of administration in a system that is efficient and effective. The CBC created the Theological and Christian Education Department that now oversees and integrates the work of both seminaries in Cameroon. In North America, Taylor and Sioux Falls now share a registrar and work together in online education, as well as the Kairos Project, a context-based approach to theological education. In each case, we are learning from each other as we create new ways to administer the work of theological education.
International missions will forever be linked with theological education through this common foundation: share the Gospel by exposing people to the transforming reality of the Kingdom of God and by developing disciples of King Jesus. By the power of the Spirit, theological education has the potential to transform lives, churches, and entire communities. We are blessed to partner with our brothers and sisters around the world to create contextually relevant systems that support this endeavor!