Faculty Development for Post-Soviet Protestant Seminaries: With Special Reference to Ukraine

Scott D. Edgar

Negative and Positive Western Influences

In researching theological education in Eastern Europe, David Bohn addresses the concerns of national church leaders regarding unwanted Western influences. Western missionaries are said to be “carriers of dangerous theological ideas, for example, Calvinism with its emphasis on ‘eternalsecurity’.”1 Linda Eiders’ research exposes this flashpoint common in post-Soviet theological schools that use visiting North American professors who are Calvinist in their orientation.2 As an example of serious tensions since 1999 surrounding eternal security in Ukrainian institutions, Western faculty teaching at Zaporozhe Bible College have had to sign a document promising neither to defend this doctrine nor bring it up for discussion.3Bohn identifies other negative influences of Western instructors, such as cultural ineptness, the tendency to live and work independently from national believers, leading by controlling resources, and enticing gifted national students to study abroad – contributing to the “brain drain.” However, Bohn also identifies positive influences of foreign involvement, such as cooperative financial partnerships that facilitate theological education, bringing a wealth of experience and knowledge, and the provision of critical resources for theological education.4

Lack of Contextualization

While the investment of Western resources and faculty has been valuable to theological education in the former Soviet Union, a common weakness has been the lack of contextualization as educational models, methods, and goals have been imported from the West. Commenting on this situation, Paul Stevens maintains that, rather than theological contextualization, what is actually taking place is theological globalization. He observes: In theological education, globalization, according to my definition, would involve learning educationally and spiritually from younger churches as well as contributing with cultural sensitivity Western resources, perspectives, and the fruits of Western scholarship. I fully understand that this loaded term is usually defined differently. The current practice of globalization tends to work against contextualization. Insteadof mutual sharing and mutual learningthere is usually wholesale, uncriticalimporting and exporting of the Western model. In other words, globalization ofthe Western model with a minimum ofcontextualization.5

Stevens also identifies the growing reality thatWestern faculty members serving in schools in the former Soviet Union often lack ministry experience in the local church, contributing to the gap that already exists between church and seminary.6 While visiting faculty make worthwhile contributions, their frequent lack of ministry experience limits the effectiveness of their teaching.

Limiting Negative Western Influences

Initiatives to minimize financial dependence upon the West are certainly to be encouraged. A few seminaries are now pursuing aggressive campaigns to encourage national churches to contribute financially to their training efforts. Western Siberia Baptist College in Omsk, Russia, for example, has specific strategy for encouraging support from local churches. While teaching at this institution, I was encouraged to observe the positive response to this initiative. In addition, Western mission agencies are helping national churches start businesses that can provide long-term funding for Bible colleges and seminaries. SEND International has helped nationals start lumber mills, printing companies, and other businesses in order to reduce financial dependence upon the West.

Western faculty play an important role in the success or failure of contextualizing theological education. With this in mind, Western mission agencies should support individuals in faculty roles who have significant ministry experience in their sending countries, have cross-cultural competencies, are effective educational facilitators, and are engaged in ministry in the host country.7Furthermore, Western faculty should have preparation in contextual theology to avoid merely transferring pre-packaged Western content.

Developing Indigenous Faculty

Western experts and national church leaders are in agreement that the development of indigenous faculty is a critical step towards contextualizing theological education. However, efforts to prepare national faculty have encountered numerous obstacles. Manfred Kohl argues that while post-Soviet church leaders overwhelmingly support training theological educators in their own countries, the reality is that the lure of study opportunities in the West is often too strong for aspiring faculty to resist.8 Addressing this issue, Ralph Alexander recognizes the inherent problems of training potential faculty members in the West, arguing that The challenge of contextualization is exacerbated when “training is removed from the normal ministrycontext.”9 Identifying an additional danger, Mark Elliott states: Seminarians’ introduction to Western living standards and Western cultural values makes going home a difficult adjustment. The negative influences of narcissistic materialism and individualism are self-evident. But even defensible Western mores, such as the high premium placed on efficiency, productivity, and punctuality, pose problems for graduates attempting to re-enter societies that frequently value the building of relationships more highly than the completion of tasks by a set date.10Such a dynamic has contributed to many potential faculty members permanently staying in the West, following the completion of their academic training. According to Elliott, this brain drain of theological talent is “one of the biggest threats to [post-Soviet] Protestant church leadership and retaining Protestant seminary faculty.”11 Miriam Charter also maintains that those who do return to their home countries after studying abroad are often viewed with suspicion.12

Developing Respected Programs In-Country

One preferred approach to providing advanced training and credentials to potential national faculty is the development of respected programs in-country, which are accredited by the West. Toward this end, for example, Saint Petersburg Christian University offers a M.Th. program accredited by the University of Wales.13 Similarly, in order to train Ukrainian faculty, Kyiv Theological Seminary has launched cooperative educational program with Talbot Theological Seminary, La Mirada, California.14 In addition, accredited master’s level programs are available for Ukrainian Baptists through the Realism Center in conjunction with Alliance Theological Seminary, Nyack, New York,15 and Vienna-based TCM Institute.16

Study Abroad – But Minimizing the Length of Stay

While these in-country programs provide specialized training at the master’s level, programs at the doctoral level currently are not available, with the exception of those in religious studies at state universities. Proposing a different strategy, David Bohn suggests that the most effective – and safest – means of training potential national faculty involves “a rhythm of study abroad and ministry athome.”17 In such an approach, students do not lose contact with their ministry context. An educational process involving frequent trips home attempts to minimize the pitfalls of removing students from their own ministry and theological context. In adopting this approach, several options are currently available

within Europe for students from Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union to receive advanced training and credentials from accredited, evangelical institutions. Viable academic programs for Evangelicals in Europe include London School of Theology, European School of Evangelical Theology (Leuven, Belgium), and International Baptist Theological Seminary (Prague, Czech Republic). Although preparation of national faculty has been a slow process, some institutions such as Zaporozhe Bible College have made significant progress by partnering with Western theological schools in preparing promising scholars through short, intensive periods of study out-of-country. Several of its Ukrainian faculty members have received accredited master’s degrees at Columbia Biblical Seminary through a combination of distance education and one semester of residential study at the main campus in Columbia, South Carolina.18 Asks evident in the case at Zaporozhe Bible College, the preparation of national faculty must be an intentional strategy for all parties involved. Success will not only require financial assistance for national faculty to receive additional education, but will most likely require some initial financial support as they carry out their teaching ministries. As a result, schools like Odessa Theological Seminary have specific strategies to raise financial support for National faculty.19

In addition to providing advanced credentials to national faculty, Andrei Konovalchuk, an instructor at Zaporozhe and a product of the intentional strategy for developing Ukrainian faculty, maintains that the inclusion of additional Ukrainian faculty in pastoral preparation can be facilitated with the use of effective ministry practitioners supervised by faculty with higher academic credentials.20 Admittedly, this would require a broader definition of faculty and different system for academic supervision. However, pastors serving as teachers would strengthen ties between churches and schools and provide students with first-hand ministry applications for their studies. Broader initiatives have been launched to train national faculty in educational administration and teaching in theological schools. An initiative by Global Associates for Transformational Education(GATE), Columbia, South Carolina, launched a series of seminars for faculty development in 2004.

In cooperation with the Euro-Asian Accrediting Association, a team of North American specialists in theological education held a seminar on the campus of Ukrainian Theological Seminary in Kyiv, 2-4June 2004.21 This training provided broad exposure to a variety of topics related to teaching theological disciplines and educational administration.

In Summary

As a whole, the training and credentialing of national faculty for Russian and Ukrainian seminaries has been slow to develop. Western faculty often have superior degrees, serve at educational institutions at no cost, and are a valuable link to additional financial resources. Nevertheless, the vast majority of Western supporters and national leaders recognize the crucial importance of developing indigenous faculty. The pitfalls of study abroad may be theological, financial, cross-cultural, or geographic (loss of faculty to the West). All these concerns underscore the necessity for training faculty at home, close to home, or at least away from home for as short a time as possible. F


1 David Bohn, “The Perspectives on Theological Education Evident Among Evangelical Church Leaders in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Russia,” Ph.D. dissertation, Trinity International University, 1997, 181-82.

2 Linda Eilers, “When Calvinist and Arminian Beliefs Collide: Facilitating Communication Between North American Professors and Russian Bible Students,” M.A. thesis, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1998, 1-4, 54-74.

3 Mark Elliott, e-mail to author, 7 September 2007.

4 Bohn, “Perspectives on Theological Education,” 188-98.

5 Paul Stevens, “Marketing the Faith – A Reflection on the Importing and Exporting of Western Theological Education,” Crux 28 (June 1992), 7.

6 Ibid., 9-10.

7 A valuable resource for Western faculty is Judith E. and Sherwood G. Lingenfelter, Teaching Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Learningand Teaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic,2003).

8 Manfred Kohl, “Towards Globalization of Theological Education: Feasibility Study on Extending Theological Education into Eastern Europe and Parts of the Former USSR,” thesis prospectus, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary,15 October 1992, Appendix, p. 1.

9 Ralph H. Alexander, “Assessment of Leadership in Post-Communist Europe,” paper presented at the Consultation on Theological Education and Development in Post-Communist Europe, Oradea, Romania, 5 October 1994.

10 Mark Elliott, “Theological Education After Communism: The Mixed Blessing of Western Assistance,” Asbury Theological Journal 50 (Spring

1995), 69.11 Mark Elliott, e-mail to author, 7 September 2007. 12 Miriam L. Charter, “Theological Education for New Protestant Churches of Russia: Indigenous Judgments on the Appropriateness of Educational Methods and Styles,” Ph.D. dissertation, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1997, 145.

13 http://www.spcu.spb.ru/master.php (accessed 12April 2007).

14 Dr. Anatoly Prokopchuk, President, Kyiv Theological Seminary, interview by author, Kyiv,Ukraine, 18 September 2006. Educational goalsand objectives for this M.A. program may be found at Kyiv Theological Seminary “Programs,”http://www.ktsonline.org/new/content/view/38/204/lang.en/(accessed 12 April 2007).

15 Alliance Theological Seminary, “M.A. Program Description,” Realis Christian Center, http://realis.org/en/vesor.htm (accessed 17 May 2007).

16 TCM Institute, “Program Information,” http://www.tcmi.eu/templates/System/details.asp?id=38337&PID=431811#07CLschedule (accessed 17 May 2007). M.A. program offered in Ukraine. The acronym TCM stands for “taking Christ to the millions.”

17 Bohn, “Perspectives on Theological Education,”232.

18 Gordon Snyder, Academic Dean, Zaporozhe Bible College, interview by author, Zaporozhe, Ukraine,19 September 2006.

19 “Calling: Quarterly Newsletter of Odessa Theological Seminary,” (Summer 2006). The Local

Teachers Assistance Fund is designed to support national faculty.

20 Andrey  Konovalchuk, instructor, Zaporozhe Bible College, e-mail to author, 11 May 2007.

21 Euro-Asian Accrediting Association, “Faculty Development Seminar held in Kyiv,”http://www.e-aaa.org/d/e/news/27/3E.htm (accessed 3 May 2007).

Edited excerpt published with permission from ScottD. Edgar, “Pastoral Training Among Baptists in Ukraine: Conversation Between Indigenous Voices and Theoretical Perspectives,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wales, 2007.

Scott D. Edgar is professor of religious studies, University of Phoenix, Columbia, South Carolina campus, and professor of ministry leadership at Crown College Graduate School, St. Bonifacius, Minnesota. He is also an educator with Equipper’s Network International, an organization that trains pastors in the former Soviet Union