Travel plans

View across the hills near Baguio - envy us!

I realise I have not posted here about our travel plans for later this year. We will be visiting and teaching in (at least)1 two places:

  • View across the hills near Baguio - envy us!

    View across the hills near Baguio – envy us!

    Asia Pacific Theological Seminary, Baguio Philippines. Where Barbara and I will each teach a course (OT Intro for me and Pastoral Counseling for her). I visited APTS as Menzies lecturer last year and am really looking forward to returning to a lovely place and people. Since Barbara will be going too, this time we hope to see a bit more of the northern part of the Philippines as well.

  • Sri Lanka produces much of the best high grown tea in the world.

    Sri Lanka produces much of the best high grown tea in the world.

    Colombo Theological Seminary, Sri Lanka. Where again both of us will teach, in my case on 1 Samuel as an introduction to reading biblical narrative texts. We’ve both visited CTS before and had a lovely holiday seeing more of the country last time. Christians in Sri Lanka (though still smarting from loss of status following the colonial period) have a special place as a religious minority that includes both ethnic groups in a strife torn land.

We will leave towards the end of July and return in late September. We have a nice family (with experience on a lifestyle block in the UK) from Bethlehem College to look after the house and animals while we are away.

  1. Teaching in Thailand is also possible. []

Theological librarian needed

Colombo Theological Seminary, a fine interdenominational seminary teaching in English, Sinhala and Tamil both in Colombo (the capital) and in centres around the country (in both Sinhala and Tamil areas) is looking for a theological librarian to work in their Colombo main building.

Colombo Theological Seminary is a fine institution and Sri Lanka a really beautiful island full of friendly people so this would make a dream appointment for someone that would also enable them to serve the church in a place where Christian churches are one of the few community institutions that really cross the ethnic and political divides that led to the many years of civil war.

If you know a theological librarian who is willing to travel and work in a beautiful tropical location please pass on these details:


Wayback machine: Theological education and outdoctrination

Here’s a post from five years ago that I wish had generated more conversation… I wonder if it will this time ;)

Linking to Geoff’s “Creativity in Theological Education” post and then watching the brilliant presentation (in just 20 minutes) by Sugata Mitra the Indian “Hole in the Wall” man (on TED) “Can kids teach themselves?” has got me thinking (again) about how we do theological education the wrong way round.

[By the way if you have only heard about Sugata Mitra’s work it is well worth spending 20 minutes to watch the man himself, whether you agree with him or not, he is a fine presenter!]

He calls his suggestions “outdoctrination” because they are the opposite of indoctrination. In indoctrination a teacher who “knows better” tells a student the answers. Most theological education is built from the ground up on an indoctrination model. Teachers (or possibly the school boards who govern the teachers – quis custodiet custodes) decide the curriculum. They then decide how it is to be taught and how success is to be measured. Students then are fitted into this mold. Evidently, despite our efforts to steer clear of “imposing” our conclusions on students, this is indoctrination. After all, though we may seek to avoid imposing answers, we did impose the questions!

Why not a system designed the other way up. Start from real issues and situations and get teachers to asist students to learn what they need/want to approach these issues. There would be severe difficulties creating “suitable” learning outcomes, and perhaps worse ones working out how to measure them – but I suspect the real measure of success would be seen when students “leave college” and really start to learn!

[I suspect Dr Mitra, a professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle, thinks his work only applies to kids, and that adults are too far calcified in the cortext, but I wonder, humans have more capacity to make do and adapt, I believe that even “mature students” can still learn if we offered them “minimally invasive theological education”!]

What’s wrong with higher education?

Since I signed up as a MOOC student, I’m seeing MOOCs everywhere ;)

Clay Shirkey, always a provocative and often a prescient commentator has an interesting take on the state of higher education. His starting point is cost benefit. In the USA the cost of a basic bachelor’s degree rose 75% in the first ten years of this century while the income of graduates has dropped 15% (both figures adjusted to 2000 dollars). That’s hardly a powerful selling-point! In NZ a Statistics NZ report in 2007 found that already then “Debt [was] increasing proportionally faster than income”, this is not merely an American tale.

At this point, having established that bachelor’s degree study is under critical economic pressure Shirkey turns to MOOCs writing:

This is the background to the entire conversation around higher education: Things that can’t last don’t. This is why MOOCs matter. Not because distance learning is some big new thing or because online lectures are a solution to all our problems, but because they’ve come along at a time when students and parents are willing to ask themselves, “Isn’t there some other way to do this?”

MOOCs are a lightning strike on a rotten tree. Most stories have focused on the lightning, on MOOCs as the flashy new thing. I want to talk about the tree.

He points also to a changing student demographic, this may not yet be paralleled across NZ, but it is a familiar picture at institutions like Carey:

If you want to know what college is actually like in this country, forget Swarthmore, with 1500 students. Think Houston Community College, with 63,000. Think rolling admissions. Think commuter school. Think older. Think poorer. Think child-rearing, part-time, night class.

It is no wonder, given this context, that there is rising interest in MOOCs:

Though educational materials have been online for as long as there’s been an online, and though the term ‘MOOC’ was coined half a decade ago, it was only last year that they stopped being regarded as a curiosity, and started being thought of as a significant alternative to traditional college classes.

His conclusions run like this:

I’ve been thinking about the effects of the internet for a couple of decades now. I’ve watched industry after industry forced to renegotiate their methods and models, in the face of a medium that allows for perfect copying, global distribution, zero incremental cost, ridiculously easy group-forming: The music business. Newspapers. Travel agents. Publishers. Hotel owners. And while watching, I’ve always wondered what I’d do when my turn came.

And now here it is. And it turns out my job is to tell you not to trust us when we claim that there’s something sacred and irreplaceable about what we academics do. What we do is run institutions whose only rationale—whose only excuse for existing—is to make people smarter.

Sometimes we try to make ourselves smarter. We call that research. Sometimes we try to make our peers smarter. We call that publishing. Sometimes we try to make our students smarter. We call that teaching. And that’s it. That’s all there is. These are important jobs for sure, and they are hard jobs at times, but they’re not magic. And neither are we.

The competition from upstart organizations will make things worse for many of us. (I like the experiments we’ve got going at NYU, but I don’t fantasize that we’ll be unscathed.) After two decades of watching, though, I also know that that’s how these changes go. No industry has ever organized an orderly sharing of power with newcomers, no matter how interesting or valuable their ideas are, unless under mortal threat.

Instead, like every threatened profession, I see my peers arguing that we, uniquely, deserve a permanent bulwark against insurgents, that we must be left in charge of our destiny, or society will suffer the consequences. Even the record store clerks tried that argument, back in the day. In the academy, we have a lot of good ideas and a lot of practice at making people smarter, but it’s not obvious that we have the best ideas, and it is obvious that we don’t have all the ideas. For us to behave as if we have—or should have—a monopoly on educating adults is just ridiculous.

For background on the more cultural and less economic reasoning that led me to think similar but different thoughts see my:

Tim Bulkeley, “Back to the Future: Virtual Theologising as RecapitulationColloquium 37,2 2005, 115-130

What I did not quite factor into the discussion then was MOOCs. Now I must think about if or how they might change things…

All Black church leadership (lesson eight)

World War I recruitment poster (1915)

Ian Foster’s eighth point went like this:

  • Courage is contagious
    you doing something right/well can inspire others
    at times we need heroes/role models to follow

In some ways this is the positive opposite of #6, and underlines the real importance of leaders modeling the behaviours they want to see in others. I think in churches this applies particularly in finding ways to allow/encourage people to share with each other what they do. Unless John knows how Jim manages to gently speak about Jesus over lunch at his work John may never try…

All Black church leadership (lesson seven)

  1. Trust your plan/each other
    review regularly
    open and honest communication
    if you are all to trust you all have to do your job reliably

There are obvious connections here:

  • Churches often fail to “really” review their objectives, or the extent to which they are actually working towards the stated goals.
  • Open communication, which “should” be one of our strengths is often a weakness, and in its absence the rumour mills seem to work overtime (the problem here is that often the people making decisions forget (or don’t really think about) who is “in the loop” and/or how to ensure the others are up to date. (This ties back to the vision thing, and how often this needs repeating and reinforcing in different ways.)
  • If we want to rely on people doing their job reliably, we need to reinforce their value and the value of what they do. This does not need a major production, but more frequent small reinforcement. Too often the non-public or less visible workers can feel taken for granted…

All Black church leadership (lessons five and six)

Daniel’s Answer to the King by Briton Rivière (1840–1920)

  1. Attitude is everything
    it’s infectious
    in rugby you have to want to go into collisions
    inspire your mate
  2. Perseverance
    there will be obstacles and failures
    your opponent is also preparing as thoroughly as you

On the infectious nature of attitude one element he stressed was that if a player is not willing to go all out into hard tackles the others know it and it will affect their play, at the very least the way they respond to him. The story of Daniel provides one of many biblical examples of how one person’s attitude can strengthen and encourage others. Again Russell Watts (pastor of Ranui Baptist Church, a church that aims to baptise a new convert every week)  speaking in the evening exemplified this, he expects his people to chat about Jesus, God and the empowering Spirit all the time, his own infectious witness provides an example of this attitude others will follow.

All Black church leadership (lessons three and four)

Sébastien Chabal by .elf (not the ABs, but hey it’s a dramatic photo)

  1. Zero to 100 each week
    Processes/habits are important
    Physical/mental recovery
    What’s the edge this week? (For the ABs this suggests particular motivational videos, like watching what went wrong or right last game.)
  2. Little things matter big
    Everyone’s role is vital
    There’s a small margin between winning and losing

These two obviously transfer to church, except does your church only think of the pastor for #3? What about #2 (the team first) perhaps we could think more about how the whole team, worship, Sunday school, welcomers… get from 0-100 each week…

Which leads into #4, if everyone’s role is vital then we need to remember and take time to appreciate and thank people. Faithful welcoming or newsletter copying as well as the more “glamorous” and obvious contributions.

On vision and team (Tim’s reflections)

All Black Haka (Photo by Kiwi Flickr)

I’ll also post my responses to Ian Foster‘s points rather than just make this a listing.

On vision it seems to me that while most NZ Baptist church leaders have got and run with the need for a clear vision. We have often been less good at the vital follow up work. It neither matches Ian’s advice, example or Scripture to simple work out and announce a vision. It must be shared, and for this there must be buy in, and usually for buy in people need to feel involved.

Sometimes like in Acts 15 the vision does not come initially from the leaders (the conclusion James announces there was almost certainly not what he would have wanted when the “Jerusalem council” started. But he and the others listened and prayed until the conclusion was clear, articulated pretty much by one respected “elder”, Peter (another who was perhaps “on the other side” when the meeting started, cf. Gal 2), and then announced by James. Like in Acts, or in the All Blacks, it is worth taking time and listening so that the final “vision” is shared. “We all agree to make sacrifices for it” in Ian’s words.

Unless the vision is repeatedly reinforced people will forget or drift off to follow their personal goals. Russell Watts (pastor of Ranui Baptist Church, a church that aims to baptise a new convert every week) exemplified this as he spoke about efforts to ensure that all his people remember to gossip the gospel1 all the time. Since in our “secular” Western world this no longer comes naturally he keeps finding neat simple ways to remind people, or draw attention to examples.

On “team first” I have little to add, except to underline how surprised I was that “humility” should be listed as the first quality mentioned when an All Black coach is asked what makes Richie McCaw a great captain. Rugby stars and humility are not naturally associated in my mind ;) Though it seems they should have been!

  1. My term not his. Russell is not a great one for programs, and is not really sold on “evangelism” in the style of the Open Air Campaigners, but he does believe we should all let slip comments in our daily conversations that witness to God at work and the gospel. More on this probably in a future post. []

All Black church leadership (lessons one and two)

Richie McCaw from Wikipedia

Ryan asked about the main points in Ian Foster’s talk, seems fair enough :)

  1. You must have vision
    This was the “obvious” stuff about needing a clear purpose and goal, but also the sometimes less noticed fact that we also need “buy-in” to that vision, unless the vision is a common one the team will falter. But if there is real buy-in then people will sacrifice to achieve the goal.
  2. Team first
    In rugby even the most brilliant player is only really useful if they put the team first. This does not come naturally but needs training and encouragement. It also depends on example. (He cited Richie McCaw, suggesting that this on top of his “humility” were what made him a great All Black and a great captain.)

More later, it’s time to make breakfast for the team now ;)