Along with a few other men from ACC — Kurt, Truman, Lynn, Bheki, and Luke — I spent the weekend in Nelspruit, South Africa at an annual men’s retreat. Coordinated by Dennis Malepa of the African Centre for Theological Studies (Botswana), the retreat moves locations each year and brings together Church of Christ men from Southern Africa (though predominantly black South Africans).
[Don’t tell them, but I also took my wife and family. We made a little vacation out of the two days before and the afternoon after, and they enjoyed the lodge while I attended the retreat.]
A major theme was repeated by the 80+ attendees of the retreat: our Bible colleges need to be relevant and actually graduate people who are equipped to do something worthwhile. To my surprise, many of the practical suggestions they offered were things we were already (unknowingly to them) doing at ACC. This reveals a different issue: lack of communication about ACC rather than lack of (complete) irrelevance. This may help explain why so few of our students are currently from Southern Africa (only 1 from South Africa, 1 from Lesotho, 5 from Swaziland of our 35 students; 13 are from Kenya).
Despite this communication problem (which we’re working to address), we must design an appropriate, relevant, practical, and thorough curriculum for our students. This is no easy task.
Africa is a large, changing continent
Poverty is improving in Africa, but not as fast as other continents. By 2015, Africa is expected to be home to 60% of the world’s poverty and poverty will be seen as primarily as an African problem (Brookings Institute, 2011). One in every four Swazi adults is infected with HIV/AIDS. Urbanization is increasing which also means that traditions and families are being torn apart. Yet witch doctors, animism, and ancestor worship continue to play a prevalent role. Divorce is increasing. And the Church of Christ is largely unprepared for any of it (not sure yet about the other Christians in Southern Africa).
The short list above is simply that: a short list of challenges facing our graduates as they return home as leaders in congregations, communities and families.
What are we doing to be relevant?
Earlier this year, we took a hard look at our curriculum and made many difficult choices about what we could include and could not include (we can’t do it all — especially with one bachelor’s program). Despite our limitations, we came out with a stellar plan (though I’m admittedly biased).
Our Core Curriculum includes 27 courses that provide a solid foundation for graduates in the Bible, theology, math, English, computer skills, entrepreneurship, and spiritual formation. From there we added 13 courses in each of three majors:
- Ministry – for those desiring full-time work with a congregation as a minister or leader
- Counselling – for those preparing to become proficient as counsellors in churches, schools, or with organizations
- Leadership – for community, church, and business leaders learning effective, holistic community development and organizational management
Our majors get deep into the heart of these areas to prepare for a variety of situations and gain thorough knowledge. But, we’ve tried not to stop there. We know that keeping our students in the ivory towers of academia will not adequately prepare them. So, we continue to seek effective ways for Contextual Education.
Contextual Education includes practical coursework and hands-on learning as well as co-curricular and extra-curricular learning opportunities for our students. Students take classroom theories and immediately practice them in local congregations, communities, and within the ACC community as project leaders and Student Representatives. Here’s three important areas of Contextual Education added to our curriculum.
- A unique and exciting partnership with World Christian Broadcasting that will be intentionally integrated into numerous courses. Rather than simply writing an essay or paper, students will write and record audio lessons for radio broadcast across Africa teaching the concepts, lessons, or principles they are studying themselves in class. They’ll be teaching Bible lessons, strengthening families, and providing practical lessons to prevent the spread of HIV to Africans across the continent through this partnership.
- We’ve added internships and supervised practice of ministry to our graduation requirements. Our students have always been extremely active in local congregations, but this change is an attempt to ensure that practical, skilled learning is taking place while our students are serving. Experience working with congregations better prepares relevant leaders.
- Since the beginning (when African Christian College was deep in the bush and was called Manzini Bible School), students have been active in evangelistic programs in Swaziland. This continues today. As I said at the retreat this past weekend, “We’ve been talking about the need for planting churches with new believers. Well, right now while we’ve been sitting here ACC students have been out doing evangelism in a neighborhood in Swaziland where there is no church. They are actively planting a new congregation in cooperation with the Matsapha church and Brother Mamba. Our graduates will leave with experience and know-how.”
At one point, a well-respected leader in the group said, “I want to thank ACC for being relevant.” In the midst of discussing many of the challenges facing these leaders, this was a compliment not taken lightly. We are certainly striving for relevance and attempting to do the best we can to honour God and prepare visionary leaders who are led by the Spirit to face the many challenges before them.
If you have a chance to review our curriculum and Contextual Education plans, I’d love your feedback. Other eyes are extremely helpful as we strive for excellence and relevance. What’s missing from our curriculum? What stands out to you as excellent (or at least on the right path)? There’s always room for improvement and your feedback can help us accomplish God’s dream in Africa.