You’ve heard them. So have I. They’re our friends, family, maybe even church workers, who frankly don’t think an Avondale theology degree is worth the paper it’s printed on. Worse, some go so far as to say studying theology at Avondale actually inhibits rather than enhances ministry. Are they right?
Before we throw the baby out with the bath water, just think for a minute about how Avondale has contributed to our Church. No, I’m not talking about all the marriages—though it’s true that, but for Avondale, there’s a reasonable chance someone in your family wouldn’t have been born! But what I’m talking about is the giants of our Church in the South Pacific who studied theology at Avondale.
Young and older women and men need to prepare for ministry in a changing world . . .
There’s Barry—Oliver and Gane. There’s the Townend clan including Calvyn, Bill, Brett and Glenn, as well as Glenn’s children Amy and Travis. There’s Pratt, Pratt, Pratt and Pratt. Possibly half of the Kent family. There’s Price, senior and junior; Heise, senior and junior. The Stanley family—three generations of Avondale pastors ministering today. Then there’s the legends of mission aviation: Andrew Stewart, Len Barnard and Colin Winch. Now think of all the Avondale theology graduates you are miffed that I’ve left off this list. Add them. And many wonderful, humble, hard-working ministers who you haven’t heard of, but whose fidelity and perseverance God blessed to build our Church.
When we think for a minute about what God has done through Avondale theology graduates, it’s awesome. And there’s good reason for that. The Avondale Seminary wasn’t established on a whim. It was set up under the guidance of Ellen White to follow the biblical model of instruction.
The school of the prophets was set up because parents were failing in their responsibilities to lead their children in a righteous path (1 Samuel 19:18-20; 2 Kings 2:1-7; 4:38-44; Education, 46–48; PK 223). The school of the prophets was the norm for at least 300 years from the time of Samuel to at least the time of Elisha. The disciples were trained by Jesus for three and-a-half years (Mark 3:13-19; Acts 4:13) and then experienced the empowering of Pentecost (Acts 2:1) to launch the Christian church. Seventh-day Adventist colleges were established to train ministers. While I could draw on many statements here are just two from Mrs White:
The youth should be encouraged to attend our training schools for Christian workers, which should become more and more like the schools of the prophets. These institutions have been established by the Lord, and if they are conducted in harmony with His purpose, the youth sent to them will quickly be prepared to engage in various lines of missionary work. Some will be trained to enter the field as missionary nurses, some as canvassers and some as gospel ministers (Testimonies for the Church 8:229, 230).
Young men who desire to enter the field as ministers, colporteurs or canvassers, should first receive a suitable degree of mental training, as well as a special preparation for their calling. Those who are uneducated, untrained and unrefined are not prepared to enter a field in which the powerful influences of talent and education combat the truths of God’s Word. Neither can they successfully meet the strange forms of error, religious and philosophical combined, to expose which requires a knowledge of scientific as well as scriptural truth (RH May 23, 1912, par. 6).
Women and men who come to Avondale will have the opportunity to be shaped and moulded by the Holy Spirit. They study Scripture, Ellen White, church history, systematic theology and practical theology. Students are exposed to the rich tradition of scholarship in the Adventist and wider Christian church. I am often surprised, indeed shocked, that so few students really know their Bible well. Students are encouraged to grow in their walk with the Lord and to have a vibrant devotional life. It’s crucial they learn to think biblically in this complex world. God grows students in beautiful ways over the four year undergraduate or two year post-graduate program.
Students serve in a church placement from their first year and get to work with a pastoral mentor. They learn valuable ministry lessons as they serve at their church placement. The student-pastoral mentor relationship has clear expectations and guidelines to enhance learning opportunities for the student. They take two subjects on ministry practice and leadership. Among a range of ministry competencies, students learn how to give Bible studies (in fact they prepare their own), learn how to preach the gospel faithfully, chair church meetings, creatively lead small groups and effectively disciple others.
Winning souls to Christ is the core of being a minister of the gospel. Students are involved in door-to-door evangelism and local public evangelism. They take two subjects on personal and public evangelism. Short public evangelistic series have been conducted in Melbourne and Sydney in recent years. Over the past few years we have developed a cross-cultural mission immersion experience. Students have travelled to Fiji (2012), Solomon Islands (2013) and Malaysia (2014), with more than 500 baptisms.
Students often struggle with time management and maintaining healthy relational and social boundaries. Let’s not forget we were all young once! We provide guidance on time management and put processes in place to assist students to develop their capacity. In the course of their study they learn lessons in punctuality, goal-setting, deportment and social awareness. The rich benefit of studying with other students over two or four years from varying cross-cultural perspectives creates a depth and broadness to student perspectives. The college provides a healthy balance between social and spiritual development. In fact our Festival of Faith is unique in the global Adventist education system as the worship service is not mandatory for students yet the meetings are very well attended.
Ellen White encourages us to be thinkers and not mere reflectors of other people’s thoughts. She states, “God does not want us to be content with lazy, undisciplined minds, dull thoughts and loose memories” (CT 506.1). Students learn to think critically and analytically. Their writing skills develop as they write sermons, essays, workbooks and reading reports. Students’ Adventist worldview is further developed and strengthened. It is crucial that students have the tools to think theologically and critically and have the ability to analyse complex problems and provide biblical solutions.
Field Education program
In communication with other Christian colleges in Australia and New Zealand, Avondale’s Field Education profile and activities are very highly regarded. In fact our Field Education program is second to none on a global scale. Our staff interact and network with national and international colleagues and are constantly seeking to create new avenues for students to grow in their preparation for ministry. Other avenues in which students are able to develop include the new Ministry Readiness Panel. Students are given a 30-minute interview in their second year to assess their growth and preparation for ministry. A report is given to the student and they have an opportunity to track their growth and development.
The staff of the seminary are scholar-practitioners. They join the pulpit and the classroom, evangelism and education, mission and meditation, and pastoral care and academic rigour. Staff are producing world-class research that is acknowledged by international experts. Research includes issues related to the Sabbath, the fall of Babylon, the great controversy, studies in the New Testament and the Old Testament, sociology of religion, discipleship, Ellen White in her social and historical context, and mission and identity. Staff have written and edited eight books and more than 20 peer-reviewed articles in the past two years.
The Avondale Seminary provides a MA (Coursework), MA (Research) and PhD. Pastors have an opportunity to gain new skills in pastoral leadership, family ministry, youth ministry and other related ministry fields. The research degrees prepare pastors to engage in a major research project and develop their writing, research and study capacity. By furthering their education pastors have an opportunity to deepen and extend their skills to become more effective and dynamic workers for God.
Young and older women and men need to prepare for ministry in a changing world and a changing Church so that God can use their best for His glory.
Dr Kayle de Waal is head of The Avondale Seminary.