Moore College confronts turbulent future’¨

John Woodhouse

It is a privilege greater than I can put into words to share in what the Lord our God is doing at Moore College. The Lord continues to send to the College the finest body of Christian men and women it has ever been my privilege to meet, to study and prepare for a life of Christian ministry. What is happening at Moore College is extraordinary.

Of course there is a foolishness in this kind of talk. But there is a time for us to soberly recognise the goodness of God's work among us, and its importance for the cause of Christ, for the cause of evangelical Christianity in this city and around the world, for the cause of growing and planting churches, for the cause of the light of the gospel shining in the darkness of this world, for the cause of sinners being saved.

The heart of Moore College is evangelical faithfulness, joined to theological seriousness, expressed in mission-mindedness.

By evangelical faithfulness, I mean a deep and personal commitment to the evangelical faith expressed in a real love for the Lord Jesus Christ and trust in his sin-bearing death, a firm confidence in the written word of God and a whole-hearted desire for Christ to be made known in all the world and that many might be saved.

By theological seriousness I mean intellectual integrity in which truth matters. Ours is not a piety that is threatened by genuine intellectual enquiry, nor does it shrink from hard questions, difficult data or challenging criticism, but deals with these things openly and honestly, confident that faith and truth are friends, not enemies.

By mission-mindedness I mean that all we learn is not knowledge simply for its own sake. Rather, our knowledge of God and his ways equips us to serve him, his people and the world by making him known.

With all this in mind I want to talk to you all about a difficult complex of challenges that is facing Moore College right now. Challenges are nothing new. And the God who is working among us, I have no doubt, is not daunted by them.

But from where I stand, I feel very deeply the need for wisdom, strength and even courage from above.

CHALLENGES

The complex of challenges consists of at least six crises that face us right now.

a. Global Financial Crisis

In 2010 we expect the College to begin to feel the serious effects of the global financial crisis.

The most obvious expression of this may be a cut in the Synod grant to the College, on which we depend for much that we do. Should this happen, there will need to be painful changes. For a time at least we will not be able to do everything we currently do in the way we currently do it.

In this, of course, we are sharing the difficulties of very many in our country, and around the world. We should not imagine that somehow we can remain unaffected by this crisis.

b. Enrolments

There has been a decline in first year enrolments for 2009 after many years of steady growth. It was only a few years ago (2006) that we had our largest enrolment ever: our present fourth year. When they leave us next year, there will be a further substantial drop in student numbers. This trend might continue for some years.

Hindsight is a marvelous thing, but the drop in first year enrolments was a surprise. If it does continue, I am concerned because the need for gospel ministers is not dropping. We are analysing, as best we can, the reasons for this drop and whether the drop in numbers will continue, or turn out to be a temporary blip. There are consequences (including financial) for how we do things.

c. Generational Culture Change

The whole world seems to be talking about the generational changes that our society is experiencing as so-called 'GenY' make their mark. The fact that so many of our students are those they label 'GenY' means that these changes are acutely relevant to us. 'GenY' sees the world and life very differently from the generations before them. There are weaknesses and strengths in this. But there is no dispute that as a result our students, and many of our potential students, have changing expectations of the Christian life and visions for Christian ministry.

I cannot analyse this further here, but these changes have brought pressure for change to the College that is, in my experience, unprecedented.

d. Reputation

For many years Moore College has relied on a strong reputation among the evangelical Christian community for the quality of the theological education and preparation for ministry provided. I believe we can no longer depend on that reputation, especially among 20 to 30 year olds, many of whom should at least be considering coming here. There is a perception that it is "too hard" or "too academic." This is partly related to the generational cultural changes. There are other factors.

However at the College we are committed to taking the steps needed to win hearts and minds to see the extraordinary importance and value of the evangelical faithfulness, theological seriousness and ministry/mission mindedness given to us at Moore College.

e. New Library Project

The long term planning for the new library project is about to bear fruit and we anticipate being ready to begin building, perhaps by the end of this year.

This project is undoubtedly vital for the long-term work of Moore College, but brings its own challenges.

f. From North America

With all of these things in the air (and adding energy to some of them) a new and powerful Christian movement from America is sweeping the evangelical scene in this country - or so it seems. Like many similar movements before it, it promises a great deal, is backed by massive enthusiasm and led by attractive and hugely gifted leaders. This time, however, it involves definite views about theological education.

This movement is very much part of the scene where we seek to serve the cause of Christ as best we can "” and it is a movement that has quite definite ideas about how we should be serving that cause. We are committed to listening, learning and carefully responding.

There are more things that could be said, but I wonder if you see what I mean by a quite extraordinary complex of challenges? None of the six phenomena mentioned is completely new, but my impression is that each one, in different ways, is 'coming to a head' this year. Together they create a quite extraordinary moment!

RESPONSES

All this calls for a very careful response. Perceptions have to be distinguished from reality, while recognizing that perceptions have their own power. On the one hand there is danger in the knee jerk response to short term 'market pressures' that loses sight of the long-term vital role that I do not doubt Moore College has to play for the health of evangelical Christianity in this city and indeed in the world. Serious questions need to be asked about some aspects of the challenges I have tried to describe briefly. On the other hand there is danger in a conservative reaction that perpetuates a vision for the College formulated decades ago, but which fails to serve the cause of Christ in our very different day.

I can only indicate, in quite general terms, the kind of action I believe is needed.
Clarify, reaffirm and commit to what must not change

In a time of turbulent change it is all the more important to understand well that which must be kept and defended. What is it about Moore College that has enabled its remarkable influence for good over the years, by God's grace, in building and strengthening evangelical Christianity in this city and beyond?
As I have said already, the heart of Moore College is evangelical faithfulness, joined to theological seriousness, expressed in mission-mindedness.
If this is the essential heart of Moore College, then it is reasonable for us to be open to question, challenge or change anything we do so long as it is proper expression of what we believe we are here to do.

Plan now for major cuts to the usual sources of income

There will need to be substantial changes in the operations of the College in the wake of the financial crisis and the drop in student numbers "” even if this is (as I hope) temporary.We are working on the options available and evaluating their consequences.

Evaluate the possibilities for greater flexibility in our theological education

It is reasonably said that Moore College is unusually inflexible in the way in which we offer our main theological education program. "Full time, four year, residential theological education is what we do at Moore College." In the past this has been because we have considered that the model of theological education provided is in fact the 'best' model.

This model has served the cause very well.

However, while the content of the Moore College theological education is still highly desired, many are now telling us that the College's inflexibility does not meet the range of needs of potential students. Good as it may be, it may be accessed by a diminishing number.

The inflexibility of theological education at Moore College is seen in the following:
only available on campus (nothing on line)
only full time (nothing half-time, part-time or by intensives)
only with Greek
only the set curriculum with minimal specialisation or electives
only residential (although we are not currently able to provide accommodation for all students).

It is important to understand that the desire for 'flexibility' arises from a view of the role and nature of theological education for ministry and mission today, which itself needs evaluation. However the College is here to serve, and we want to listen and work through whether and how we should introduce greater flexibility.

Review the academic workload

The reputation of the College among some is that it is "crushingly academic."

The reputation is exaggerated, but arises in part from the commitment to intellectual integrity I mentioned earlier. However, there are matters to be addressed, and we will be carefully looking again at the matter of student workload and related concerns in a review of the whole BD program currently under way.

Commit to raising the standards of preaching

It is being put about by some that to learn to preach you do not go to Moore College.

This is one of a number of points where, in the things that are being said, there is a frustrating mixture of something true (namely, we do want our students and graduates to be better preachers) and alarming misunderstanding.

Whether Moore College prepares people well to be Christian preachers depends a lot on what you think preaching is (or ought to be). There are some worrying signs that a view of preaching is widely assumed that needs to be looked at more closely.

Here is not the place to develop this, but the making of a preacher involves at least four elements:
a. Handle the Bible wellc[Biblical Studies]
b. Know what you are talking about [Doctrine/Ethics]
c. Christian character "¨[Pastoral care]
d. Preparation and communication skills [Homiletics]

In my view Moore College is second to none in developing a, b and c. This has, rightly, been our priority. We also provide solid training in d.

However the focus of the current discussion is almost entirely on homiletics. It is, I think, assumed that training that does d best will be the best will be the best preparation for a preacher. I simply do not believe that is true.

Be that as it may, it is time that the College put more effort and energy into homiletics training. This is another matter that we will be addressing.

Commit to raising the awareness and concern for mission

Another often reported but equally disturbing assertion is that Moore College will not prepare you for mission. A glance at a world map showing where our graduates are serving and the fifty countries with our 5,000 External Studies students is enough to provide some response to what is being said. Likewise the numerous groups (initiated and led by students) committed to praying for various parts of the world is evidence a profound mission-heart in the College.

However, I do believe that there is always room for improvement in raising awareness among us of the many cultures of today's Sydney as well as the wider world, and a deeper appreciation of what is involved in taking the gospel of Christ into those cultures. Traditional theological education has had a very British 'context', a limitation that really needs to change. The current review of the whole BD program will attempt to address these issues seriously. More immediately there are a number of aspects of the College program that can be strengthened to serve the same end.

Commit to greater engagement with the Christian community

Moore College has always had its critics. It is, as always, important to us to listen to those who have criticisms today. We have much to learn, I do not doubt.

However, we need the reality, not the rumor, of Moore College to be better known. We will be taking steps to increase our presence among in the wider Christian community, particularly among the 20 to 30 year olds. I hope that we will be able to expand the involvement of students and Faculty in the churches of greater Sydney.

Having said all this it is important to pause again and recognise that, although the challenges are substantial, Moore College has a vital role in serving God's people and our needy world in these turbulent times. Please pray that the God on whom we depend for all things will provide the wisdom we seek for the challenges and opportunities before us.

The article has been adapted from an address given by the Principal, John Woodhouse, to the students at Moore College on March 20, 2009