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E-Mails to the Editor: Response To Media Changes
By : Harold Hayward (North Turramurra, NSW)
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As a subscriber to the The Australian Christian for over forty years (and my parents for 40/50 years before that) I view with concern this further transition in the life of the journal – not so much for the transition itself but for the underlying reasons for the change. I thank Craig for his efforts and wish National Media well during this time of transition. But some comments about the suitability of the electronic AC in furthering the identity aims of the National Council seem appropriate: * It has been difficult for the “grassroots” to have their voice heard. During 2007 only about ten emails letters from subscribers were published. This may reflect disinterest or the scariness of this medium to the mainly older subscribers. But it also appears that some letters and material has been “queued” well beyond its “use by” date. The immediacy of the medium is not being exploited.

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Comments / Feedback
Garnet Johnson
As a long term subscriber to The Australian Christian and once part-time employee of the National Media & Communications (NMC) I want to comment on recent and proposed changes to NMC and some of the comments by Harold Hayward .

Many subscribers and others are not aware that the NMC "Department" has had a total of the equivalent of one full-time and one part-time (0.6) staff over at least the past decade. More recently the part-time component has dropped in the face of reduced finances.

The computer equipment used to produce The Australian Christian (both in print and on-line format) and to perform administrative tasks has become increasingly un-reliable and very old in computer terms. Support for the equipment is expensive but replacement with more reliable, powerful and easy to use equipment was beyond the financial resources of the "Department".

So the NMC was run with only 1.6 people and budgets that were increasingly in deficit. As the number of subscribers reduced over time so the problem became worse. I believe that the recent changes were an attempt to address that situation and take advantage of the new communication technologies. The resultant on-line version of The Australian Christian is not perfect and I know that Craig has been frustrated by its limitations and the difficulties in taking it further. The proposed changes appear to have the ability to build on foundations already laid and produce an even better resource for churches.

With respect to Harald Haywood's comments (above), I want to offer the following thoughts.

1 The fact that only 10 E-mails to the Editor have been published in 2007 does not reflect the absence of the grassroots voice. If the number of Comments on articles that have been published is included as being representative of the grassroots voice there is probably more than in the old print edition. I don't know the exact number of comments published in 2007 but I expect it would be closer to 100 than the 10 formal E-mails.

2 A strict word 'limit' for articles applied in the print edition because of the constraints in the amount of available space. The on-line edition doesn't have the same space restrictions but it is structured for general use. From what I understand the new site will provide the space for articles that will permit the "development of detailed, analytical argument" or other relevant material for those who want it.

3 The "comment on political and social matters from a liberal humanist perspective" and any other material on The Australian Christian site provides readers with the opportunity to interact with the author and other readers by agreeing with or raising questions or objections to what has been written. This is a feature of the on-line format that was not available in the print format.

I congratulate Craig and National Council in taking this historic and challenging step.

Garnet Johnson
Ian and Marie Phillips
Thanks as always for your thoughts Harold.
Re: "palpable weaknesses in theological education."
One friend commented about 10 years ago about the 'dumming down' of Theological Education in Churches of Christ; which I think was his way of challenging a 'workplace skills' approach to ministry and training.
I can't say that I'm completely opposed to this approach though; just as the church desperately needs thinkers, we also need genuine skilled practitioners who are trained more than educated. Sometimes with a convergence of planets or whatever, the skill gift mix combines to provide us with 'Super Minister' :-) - but from what I've seen, the best pastors are people persons who value relationships above abstract ideas.
But - bring on those leaders of New Testament thinking that can apply both ancient truths and also living - Spirit inspired Faith in Jesus - to the world and church of today.
This really raises the issue of what Theological Education is for; and possibly what Harold longs for is in a different camp to where training belongs.
Harold Hayward
Harold Hayward

You’re always very gracious, Ian. My reference to theological education related to the erosion of theological values which once provided us with a sense of direction and cohesiveness. These problems were alluded to in the NMC Review.
It is very difficult to address them per medium of The AC.

In the absence of any kind of distinctive values, what are the implications of a Federal Council Constitution which seeks to “maintain a vision….promote unity…foster a positive public image”? How does a national media unit convey a sense of unity and direction among a “herd of cats” (to borrow a metaphor from NMC Review), particularly when there is such disarray about the federal structure itself?

I appreciate Garnet’s point about costs; NMC is undoubtedly under funded given its primary role in furthering the objectives of the Council. But income flowing to the Council and its agencies is also related to what we believe about ourselves, our structures and our message. What is often overlooked is the cost of the electronic medium to users as well. We should be able to put out a first class print publication into the hands of all (States and agencies manage to do this).

With regard to Comments on articles, these are always made in response to issues raised by others, the format constrains what one can say, and the responses tend to come from “all the usual suspects”.

Harold Hayward
Jason Potter
Hi guys, there have been some comments here about weaknesses of theological education in Churches of Christ that I have decided to respond to.

I studied at CCTC in Mulgrave from 1993 to 1998 and completed my theological degree there, I have almost completed a Masters program with ACOM and I am currently the Director of Vocational Education for ACOM.

I respect Harold's views on church life, he has been a constant commentator on Churches of Christ, particularily through the Australian Christian for many years (at least for the almost 20 years I have been reading it).

However I don't think our colleges could be described as weak, although they are quite different in their theological and methodological approaches.

Both of our theological colleges deliver rigorous theological training at all kinds of levels, that are designed to prepare people for ministry and leadership in all kinds of contexts.

Without putting words in your mouth Harold. You have not outlined what the weaknesses are that you see in theological education. You refer to an erosion of theological values. What does that actually mean? Do you think that our colleges do not teach appropriate values, do you think that they do not adequatly prepare people for ministry? And on what basis do you make those claims? What eveidence do you have for the claims you make?

Our colleges should not be academic castles in the sky, they need to prepare our leaders effectivly for ministry in the 21st century, an age where society is experiencing a massive transition into a digital culture that is characterised by constant change and a convergance of technology, that even in just the past 10 years has radically changed the way we live. We have young people in schools now who don't use email anymore becasue it is too slow a way to communicate. People don't just use the internet anymore, they live on it, via desktop, laptop and mobile phone. Their digital presence is just as important, as their physical one.

At ACOM this year we will train over 1200 students, based in local churches all over Australia, from disciples right through to leaders of churches, from a Cert III in Christian Ministry deleivered at High Schools, to the DMin Program from Fuller University in the USA.

I don't know the current figures for CCTC but I know when I studied there, that whilst it was controverisal at times in theological perspective, their heart is very much for the personal growth and development of students, to eqiup them to lead churches which at times can be quite complex emotional systems.

There is good and bad in both colleges, but I think they both serve and represent Churches of Christ well.
It has been great to read the reflections on theological education by Harold and Jason.

We are now living in a global environment of continuous change, and those of us who embrace the Movement known as Churches of Christ are a part of a heritage that emerged out of social and religious change and has been gifted with traditions that celebrate and embrace change. Theological education remains Christ centred, but the delivery of that education has become flexible and relevant to today's world as both CCTC and ACOM demonstrate. At CCTC, less than 10% of students are preparing for traditional local church-based ministry. The other 90% are engaging in a range of relevant missional activiites in our contrmporary society such as schools ministry, chapliancy in hospitals, aged care facilities and a range of other industry settings.

In our classes there are a majority of graduates in other disciplines such as nursing, medicine, law, psychology, teaching, business, and a range of practical trades. Some of our students are combining an Arts degree at Monash University with their theological degree at CCTC. The CCTC faculty also participate in the wider church arena as consultants in their areas of expertise, sowing Gospel seeds and yeasting the bread God shares with all humanity. The missional vision within Churches of Christ has no boundaries and the willingness of our people to engage with God in traditionally unexpected places is inspiring.

The education received by Harold and Jason has been appropriate for their ministries and lifestyles. They have been able to build upon their educational foundation and now serve God productively and relevantly using the gifts they have been given in the places to which they have been called.

Let's rejoice in the fact that theological education is not a neatly wrapped and sealed package, but is a Spirit filled, lifelong process that allows us to encounter God in Christ over and over again, both within our churches and also in God's wider world.

Merrill Kitchen
Harold Hayward
Thank you, Jason.

In previous responses, I explained that by “weaknesses in theological education” I meant the general debasement of the biblically sound ideas once commonly held among us. I have also indicated that this is not the appropriate medium for theological debate because the format prescribes what you can say, denies immediate feedback and leads to simplifications and misunderstandings which can’t easily be corrected. However, as limited as it is, this has been the only vehicle available to many of us to voice an opinion.

But because I have been challenged, my credibility requires that I make a general comment. With some reluctance, here goes.

Theological education, defined as the “systematic illumination of the nature of God and His church”, is the responsibility of the whole church. To the extent we seek to edify and relate the Word of God, we engage in theological education every time we preach, preside, pray and reflect, and undertake bible study. The failure to do this well locally, makes the job of centralized “ministerial training” (as some quaintly refer to it) so much harder. The breakdown in our networks resulting from theological drift makes the task of socialization into formal ministry much more difficult. What ministerial candidates see and experience locally, and in communional association, greatly influences the models they take into ministry.

Participation in both arenas is important. This is how an understanding of the church as a community grows – and when things go bad locally it’s nice to know there’s a wider community which cares, and that even a small congregation can make a useful contribution to the wider ministries in which they have a stake.

Organizations are held together by structures of power and control, and by cultures and values. Our movement evolved around principles of local church autonomy and voluntary co-operation which we believed were biblically based. We achieved what our movement largely failed to do elsewhere in the world. However, as unifying theological and cultural values erode, there is a tendency to replace them with systems of power and control as the bases of association. The drift into elitism and managerialism lead to further dislocation.

We were once well placed as a communion to navigate the Scylla of liberalism and modernism, and Charybdis of mindless fundamentalism. There was enough basic commonsense to not be overwhelmed by cultural relativism and to distinguish between “essentials” and “non-essentials”. We were proud of both being catholic and evangelical, and of combining theological insight with social sensitivity. My perception, however, is that the centre no longer holds. Comments in the NMC Review seemed to confirm this, and triggered my recent responses. I apologize if I’ve offended anybody.

I mourn, not for the loss of a heritage but for the disappearance of a contribution that is still desperately needed within the wider church and the community. Unless we can identify what that contribution is, we have no right to a separate existence.

I would be glad to unpack some of this in formal or informal discussions with anybody who is seriously interested.
Harold Hayward
Thank you, Merrill. I did not want to be drawn on the function of our theological colleges – certainly not through these columns. But you’ll see from my earlier response to Jason Potter that I take a broad view of the role of theological education and acknowledge its importance.

I thought we always did recognize that ministry was broader than the pulpit or manse and that we always aspired to a form of “missionalism” even though we never used that code word. So I am delighted that so many are now including formal theological education as part of their vocational preparation.

However, in the light of increasing college diversity and a declining core membership, I am wondering (1) what the distinctive ideas are that our colleges contribute to general theological education; (2) how do we maintain our coherence without a distinctive contribution to the understanding of God’s church and society; (3) in the absence of such coherence, how long can we make any kind of contribution; (4) how do our theological colleges relate to the confessional bases of our communion; (5) to what extent the officially promoted Stanwell Tops Declaration still influences our thinking about ministry; and (6) to what extent our theological ( doctrinal ?) understanding of the church and society informs the way we conduct the state and national ministries of our communion.

In respect of the latter, we need to give thought as to the implications for the independence and accountability of CCTC if the proposal that states take over the day-to-day management of our national agencies gains acceptance. We all need to talk SOON.
Merrill Kitchen
Harold raises some interesting and important questions. In fact, the focus of most of his questions form the substance of much of the vigorous theological discussions held in classrooms, the student dining room and the faculty gathering spaces at CCTC.

We are finding that some people who have given up on the church in the past are now returning using different pathways. Frequently, they take a first step by enrolling in theological studies in order to explore their faith understanding, and to search for a spiritual identity that is life-giving. Not many of these 'pilgrims' come from a Churches of Christ background, but they seem to value the welcome, freedom and respect that they find in us.

CCTC faculty are all actively involved in dialogue with other Christian traditions. Along with representatives from all other mainstream Christian traditions, we participate in, and contribute to, the academic life of the Melbourne College of Divinity and the Australia New Zealand Association of Theological Schools as well as a range of other ecumenical endeavours. We might be relatively small in number but we still ‘box above our weight’! Let’s keep encouraging each other!

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