Education as Transformation: A Look into Nazarene Theological Education

Education as Transformation: A Look into Nazarene Theological Education

When education is implemented and practiced correctly, both instructors and students can grow from the experience. 

The Church of the Nazarene has always been known for its commitment to higher theological education. It believes in the purposeful and active preparation of men and women for ministry in the Church and for faithful engagement in the world. The Church invests time and resources in helping people to learn and appreciate their biblical and theological roots and to provide space for people to grow spiritually.

As an international church, our denomination extends its presence to different countries, supporting more than 50 educational institutions and more than 50,000 students around the world.1 This makes a huge impact in all kinds of spheres of life and society. From my own learning and teaching experience, I have observed that theological education makes a noticeable and lasting impact on individuals and churches.

I often compare my life with the life of the apostle Paul in an attempt to understand how he faced different situations and remained committed to God. Paul’s drastic and worldview-changing encounter with Christ was just the beginning of his long and fruitful journey of learning through prayer, reflection, and evaluation of past knowledge and traditions as he met and engaged with believers and taught many. I can confidently declare that education was a significant part of Paul’s life.

The concept of learning how to live our lives as believers is embedded in Scripture.

As a matter of fact, when we become Christians, we come to the point of asking ourselves what it means for us to live as followers of Christ: What does Christian faith really mean?

This questioning usually leads people to consider a path of deeper theological reflection and engagement with others who can help them to find answers. Theological schools are meant to provide such opportunities that in turn can nurture those who want to grow in their understanding of their relationship with God and help prepare them for Kingdom ministry.

My experience of studying at European Nazarene Bible College (EuNC) in Germany, Nazarene Theological Seminary (NTS) in the USA, and Nazarene Theological College (NTC) in the UK was one of great enrichment. I learned to love God and others in practical ways and began to deeply appreciate my education, even to the degree that I wanted to help others recognize the significance of a learning community through my own call to teach. I wanted to support students in understanding and applying their faith. I became an educator who believes that theological education must be closely related to our practice as Christians.

Education makes a profound difference in us and in our relationship with others.

Nazarene education takes many different forms, varying from part-time to full-time, from long terms to intensives, from learning in class settings to completing courses online, and from obtaining certificates and diplomas in certain subjects to completing various degrees. As a result, the learning process, experience, and outcome differ among students and teachers. There are a number of important factors that make education valuable for students and communities in all of these settings.

Key Factors in Education

First and foremost, studying at Nazarene institutions allows students to realize and appreciate the sense of belonging to a global church: as students and colleagues of mine have put it, “to see a bigger picture in the light of a great cloud of witnesses” and “to be part of the wider Nazarene family.” Moreover, a Nazarene theological education is rooted in Wesleyan holiness, and in that, it “sustains the voice of Wesley.” As Professor Nabil Habiby at Nazarene Theological College remarks, “In a time when various Christian voices compete to be heard, it is good to raise leaders who can speak with Wesleyan grace.”

Nazarene educational institutions attract students by creating learning spaces that encourage studying together, developing friendships, dreaming big, and exploring the possibilities of a student’s call to ministry. Students are more than just learners; they are participants and contributors. “Teachers and other students around me,” reflects Sasha (a EuNC student), “motivated me to study further and go beyond the curriculum; they shared their experience with me, and many became my friends.”

The impact of education is greater when teachers are not only instructors but also mentors and ministers to their students.

Tatyana at EuNC states: “I like the high level of professionalism in the teachers combined with their genuine interest in us and in our spiritual growth. This shapes me as a Christian and helps me to better understand the doctrines and the Scripture and to use acquired knowledge in life and ministry.” In other words, the presence of a supportive community makes a huge difference in the life of a student. Gift, a former student at NTC and now a professor at Africa Nazarene University, believes that the atmosphere of mutual respect he experienced at NTC (Manchester) is an excellent model of proper education.

Good education expands our horizons and helps us to develop necessary skills to become effective professionals. Students at Nazarene colleges value the level of preparation, knowledge, and understanding that they gain. Denise, another NTC student states: “NTC has lovingly stretched me out of my comfort zone, enabling me to be more confident in presenting, sharing my views, facilitating groups, and many more skills. Although I have been working with children and young people since I was a teenager, studies at NTC have truly equipped me to be a professional youth worker, assured me of my vocation, and have given me more knowledge to be able to share my faith.”

Beyond Raw Knowledge

To have knowledge is not enough to make an impact on others. Theological education that combines learning with practicing of Christian faith and empowers students to apply what is learned makes a key difference in the lives of learners. This approach to education transforms students and prepares them to make a difference in their own communities and in the world. A European Nazarene College (EuNC) student told me: “Our teachers were all genuinely interested in passing their knowledge to us and didn't shy away from difficult questions. They helped us to wrestle with difficult questions. Such an approach is extremely important, because I think we all can grow from discussions.”

Studying is never easy. It requires commitment, energy, resources, and a sacrifice of time. Sometimes, it does not go as smoothly as we wish, but those who take theological education seriously testify to its transformational power. The Church’s ongoing investment in higher education is an investment in the future.

We need believers who are excited about learning and about rediscovering the truths of the Bible.

We need those who want to be analytical yet passionate about theology and who are able to evaluate information skilfully. The Church is a multi-faceted community of believers. Together, we live out what we believe with a unified goal: leading others to Christ.

Svetlana Khobnya is a lecturer in Biblical Studies at Nazarene Theological College in Manchester, United Kingdom.

[1] According to a Global Education and Clergy Development report shown at the 2019 General Board.