East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 8, No. 4, Fall 2000, Covering the Former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe

Hard-Earned Counsel for Assisting Post-Soviet Seminaries

Judith Berling

Editor's Note: In two recent articles seminary professor Judith A. Berling has offered a wealth of quite practical advice for the incorporation of global perspectives and cross-cultural experience in theological education.1 While the author's recommendations, derived from the experience of various seminaries that have undertaken globalization initiatives, were published for the benefit of North American seminaries, the advice is readily transferable to Western ministries serving new Bible schools and seminaries in the former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe.

Developing Institutional Commitment and Preparation
1. Any Western organization should "make a hard assessment of its depth of commitment and available resources before starting down the road of cross-cultural relationships. A willingness to commit the financial and human resources necessary for the program is essential. Moreover, a cross-cultural relationship cannot be a one-year experiment. Cross-cultural relationships take time and resources to develop, to implement, and to assess."2"Globalization and cross-cultural training are expensive. They demand . . . time and energy."3

2. "Cross-cultural relationships and programs will founder if not integrally related to the mission and self-understanding of the school."4

3. "Faculty, students, and leadership of the school need to understand what is entailed in global perspectives and cross-cultural understanding. . . . Workshops, seminars, or conferences on cross-cultural skills and sensitivities can help to develop the conceptual tools necessary for success in this field."5

4. "Schools find it wise to foster the cross-cultural experience of the faculty . . . well before committing to programs for students. Institutional ownership comes from actual cross-cultural experience."6 Denver Seminary requires all new faculty to "participate in a cross-cultural immersion before tenure."7

5. Denver Seminary also requires a "ten-day immersion component" of all M.Div. students.8 "A genuinely successful program will be integrated into the curriculum. Mere enrichment opportunities are fine, but the experience of seminaries is that enrichment opportunities are unlikely to be sustained over time--more likely to be tied to the enthusiasm of a single individual and less likely to be 'owned' by the school."9

Developing Trust and Mutuality with Partners
6. A school "must commit to a process of exploration with the partner (the other cultural group or community). Representatives of the seminary will need to spend time with the partnerand build mutual relationships, entering into ongoing conversations to learn and explore mutual interests. Time must be spent at the site(s) where programmatic aspect(s) of the relationship will be implemented. . . . Most Euro-American institutions have relatively 'short-term' goals and think of relationships as quickly realizable. Many non-Euro-American cultures have a different sense of time and see relationships as developing slowly over a long history of give and take. The 'time frame' of the other culture needs to be understood and respected in order to build a sound relationship. Good cross-cultural relationships develop organically and are nurtured slowly and over the long term by means of steady personal contact."10

7. "Seminaries need to be particularly wary of using other communities for their own purposes. Both parties should benefit from a cross-cultural relationship and each should understand the needs and the stakes of the other. Before committing to a short-term experience, school decision-makers should consider seriously any long-term expectations from its partner communities or cultures."11

8. "Many cultural groups have had histories of unfortunate or unreliable relationships with mainstream North American institutions. North American money has too often created asymmetry in relationships. A sense of indebtedness or of being the client of a wealthy patron has inhibited international or cross-cultural partners from expressing their needs, concerns, and stakes. North American schools need to be aware of this historical dynamic and exert discipline to refrain from using their considerable resources to shape a one-sided relationship. Cross-cultural partners from outside North America seek a long-term reliable commitment and relationship. . . . It takes patience and hard work to create genuine mutuality in the power dynamics of the relationship."12 Partners abroad are often too polite to assert their own agenda or challenge the unconscious assertion of privilege, which can so easily come with the resources and good intentions of North American institutions."13

  1. Judith A. Berling, "Collective Wisdom: What ATS Schools Have Learned about Establishing, Sustaining, and Evaluating Cross-cultural Relationships," Theological Education 35 (Spring 1999): 85-98; Judith A. Berling, "Getting Down to Cases: Reponses to Globalization in ATS Schools," ibid., 99-139.
  2. Berling, "Collective Wisdom," 88-89.
  3. Berling, "Getting Down," 136.
  4. Berling, "Collective Wisdom," 87.
  5. Ibid., 88.
  6. Ibid., 87.
  7. Berling, "Getting Down," 109.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Berling, "Collective Wisdom," 92.
  10. Ibid., 89.
  11. Ibid., 90.
  12. Ibid., 90-91.
  13. Berling, "Getting Down," 111.
Judith Berling, who served as director of the Incarnating Globalization Project of the Association of Theological Schools, teaches at Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA.

Edited excerpt reprinted with permission from Theological Education 35 (Spring 1999).

Judith Berling, "Hard-Earned Counsel for Assisting Post-Soviet Seminaries," East-West Church & Ministry Report 8 (Fall  2000), 8-9.

Written permission is required for reprinting or electronic distribution of any portion of the East-West Church & Ministry Report.

2000 East-West Church and Ministry Report
ISSN 1069-5664

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