Sneak Peek: Church-Based Theological Education

Here is an article written for the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Christian Education, called “Church-Based Theological Education” by Stephen Kemp, Academic Dean of the Antioch School.  We thought you might enjoy an early sneak peek. 

Church-Based Theological Education (CBTE) is training for ministry leadership that is rooted in local churches. Those being trained emerge from within a church or become part of a church. Those doing the training are the leaders of a church. Participation in the real life of a local church is the essential core.

It may be best to understand CBTE in light of its contrast with other types of training programs that take place in churches. For instance, “Church-Based Christian Education” tends to focus on discipleship training for everyone in a church whereas CBTE is generally understood to refer to the higher levels of training for church leaders.

Most distance education and extension programs of traditional academic institutions may use the facilities of a church or allow students to remain in their churches rather than relocate to a campus, but these are usually still “school-based” and only “church-housed” because the training is not truly rooted in the churches and church leaders are not truly central to the training. Those being trained must still be admitted by the academic institution to take part in the training, trainers must be approved according to academic criteria, and curriculum is firmly controlled by the academic institution. Those being trained in CBTE programs are selected by the church leaders and trained by the church leaders according to training processes that they develop and control.

Many traditional academic institutions grew out of CBTE programs, such as groups of pastors gathering regionally for informal continuing education. Some students enrolled in traditional academic institutions have educational experiences with CBTE features. For instance, some students are on staff with local churches or have extensive ministry experiences within local churches while enrolled. Others maintain mentoring and accountability relationships with leaders of local churches while they pursue traditional school-based forms of theological education.

“Nonformal” is often used to describe CBTE because it is based in a real church situation and relies extensively on real relationships outside the formal structures of traditional academic institutions. The curriculum is composed largely of mentoring and in-service apprenticeships with intentionally designed goals and assessments regarding character development, ministry skills, and biblical and theological understanding.

Increasingly, CBTE is being used as an alternative to traditional campus-based and school-based distance education forms of education, particularly for those experiencing mid-career changes and early retirements from non-ministry vocations. It often is tied to ordination and other ministry credentialing processes as high levels of leadership development are achieved. It is also being used extensively to support the in-service training of church planters and leaders emerging from church planting movements. Entire networks of churches in India are using CBTE to train all of their existing and emerging leaders.

Biblically and historically, CBTE refers to the manner in which leaders were developed in the first few centuries as described in II Timothy 2:2. Paul was not merely mentoring Timothy one-on-one to take his place, but guiding him in a process of in-service learning as he participated with Paul in ministry that included the training of others to train others in a manner that supported an apostolic movement of exponential church growth.