When in 2000 the General Conference Executive Committee created the International Board for Ministerial and Theological Education (IBMTE), the response from one university president was to say that a sledgehammer had been created to swat a fly. The Board’s task seemed to be the weeding out of the few religion teachers who might not adhere to orthodoxy by creating an endorsement system for all. Plus, the Board inserted itself into the hiring process of Seventh-day Adventist college and university religion faculties.
The Board, with members representing all of the Adventist World Church’s thirteen divisions, then created a large, detailed handbook. Additionally IBMTE spawned similar Boards for each of the divisions. For the past fifteen years these divisional BMTEs have researched and defined the attributes of the ideal minister, envisioned as the outcome of the theological educational process, while monitoring the faculty who educate the ministers-to-be.
This year, sensing that the process is not working, the General Conference Education Department and the IBMTE initiated a rewriting of the handbook. A year-long process of meetings with university faculties is underway around the world. One of those meetings took place yesterday in Atlanta, Georgia where the deans and chairs of university religion schools and departments gathered.
Ben Schoun, assistant to the General Conference president and chair of the IBMTE, told the gathering of about three dozen people that the purpose of IBMTE is to work in cooperation with world divisions to professionally train pastors. He said the objective was to foster dynamic unity, focus on the Seventh-day Adventist message and mission, nurture cooperation between leadership and faculty and energize the spiritual life of the church. He explained that the reason for the Board was that some institutions have faculty who are not Adventist and students who are not Adventist. The Church leadership has lost confidence in some of our schools, he added, and graduates of our programs are not always being hired. Some conference presidents seem to prefer finding pastors in short-term evangelistic training programs rather than among those who have completed a full academic curriculum. Finally, he noted that external accrediting agencies that promote institutional autonomy can lead to a separation of educational institutions from the church.
With that introduction, Lisa M. Beardsley-Hardy, director of the General Conference Department of Education, moderated a discussion of proposed revisions to the IBMTE Handbook, which has been posted on the Education Department website. She began with chapter eight where the core competencies of the ideal ministerial candidate are listed, calling it the most fundamental chapter.
One of the first commenters noted the massive size of the document. Is there a way to edit it down he asked? There is no end to the list of things for a pastor to do. Are we going to be monitoring all these things a pastor does? “I’m not against the items,” he noted, “but we get lost in all the details. Pastors are not all the same. People have different abilities and spiritual gifts. Can we make a philosophical statement rather than all the particulars?”
Another commenter suggested that it would require a paradigm shift to bring the document down to size, not just rewriting a paragraph or two. Do you really want that he asked?
Dr. Beardsley-Hardy replied, “Oh, yes.” While the rewriting committee has no authority to change the bylaws, she said, they would not have initiated the conversation if not interested in making changes.
Are all of these characteristics prescriptive or descriptive was the next question. If it is meant to be prescriptive, any one of these could be a flashpoint that could be traumatic. Exerting a power dynamic into the process can be destructive of the goal, the commenter said.
Ninety minutes into the session, another commenter asked about the plan for the morning. The academics in the room were interested in discussing chapter four, which outlines the requirements and process by which religion faculty members receive an IBMTE endorsement in order to teach. By the time the question came, most of the allotted time had expired.
With that, the discussion moved to chapter four for the final thirty minutes of the meeting. Dr. Beardsley-Hardy explained that in terms of the IBMTE endorsement of faculty would be separate from hiring, a church credential that affirms the person’s calling. Ordination raises a question, she noted, because we certainly do want want women involved. However, as one commenter noted, it requires pastoral experience of all religion teachers.
The document reads, “Denominational endorsement reflects the commitment of a teacher to support Seventh-day Adventist fundamental beliefs and mission in teaching, and to abide by the voted denominational statements Pastoral Ethics, Academic and Theological Freedom and Accountability, 28 Fundamental Beliefs, Code of Ethics for Seventh-day Adventist Educators and Methods of Bible Study as they relate to teaching. This will be evidenced in the teacher’s track record of teaching and scholarship. The teacher is responsible to apply for and retain endorsement.”
More and more there is an attempt to put things under the General Conference, one of the commenters said, adding that is a dangerous thing to do. He noted our historical aversion to doing so. You need to trust people on the front lines of mission, hold them accountable, yes, but when a smaller and smaller group of people make the decisions, we go against our heritage. The rest of us are involved in mission. I would appeal to you to not to draw things so tight. The missional sense dies when it is taken away and handed to someone else to decide.
Drafters of the revised handbook were there taking notes on all that was said. The Executive Committee of the General Conference is the body that gives final approval to the IBMTE Handbook. The proposed changes will be taken to that body at its October 2016 meeting.
IBMTE Handbook, 2001 Edition - Chapter IV. by Jared Wright (Spectrum Magazine)
And this document details the proposed revisions to Chapter IV of the Handbook:
IBMTE Handbook Chapter 4 Track Changes 2015-2016 by Jared Wright (Spectrum Magazine)
Bonnie Dwyer is Editor of Spectrum Magazine.
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7198