On Training Competent Pastors: A Professor’s Perspective

Many pastors in North America have complained that the college or seminary that they attended didn’t adequately prepare them for the realities of pastoral ministry—when they graduated, they didn’t feel competent for all aspects of the “job.” Hence, last year, Horizon College & Seminary (where I teach!) made a significant change from time-based education (i.e., finish a course and get a grade, good or bad) to Competency-Based Education (CBE).

36e4ba1Our shift to CBE is what Jim Collins calls a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal)—so it is totally awesome, but also a little hairy at times (so we will continue to trim some hair off as we prepare for next year).

Usually when schools make significant changes to curriculum it only means changing the courses that they offer. But Horizon has done significantly more than that. We have re-envisioned our learning outcomes, changed the very way we educate our students, how we assess them, and, ultimately, the “product” that we produce. Learn more about CBE here.

Unlike most institutions, at Horizon College students can no longer pass a course with a 50% (which is only 1% from failing!). Rather, we expect our students to actually demonstrate competency (a novel idea!…and yet common sense). This means, for example, that they can’t just skip assignments if they feel they have already racked up enough ‘points’ to pass a course.

The change doesn’t simply mean that we expect students to get higher grades. Rather, regardless of whether a student would have had an A or a C grade under the “old guard,” if there is an aspect of the course where they are not yet competent, we will keep working with them.

board_meetingSometimes it’s easy to see how this can work. For example, in a course on Leadership and Administration, if a student can’t demonstrate that they can produce a meeting agenda and lead a board meeting, they haven’t yet passed their course, even if they can motivate volunteers better than Donald Trump.

It might not be quite as obvious how CBE works in a less practice-oriented course, like a course in theology. Under CBE, our students are expected not only to write about other people’s theology, but to be able to verbally discuss theology as they would in the “real world.” Hence, I had one student who I had interviewed regarding theology. After the first interview, it was clear that there were still a number of areas that the student needed to demonstrate better understanding. We made a plan to improve understanding, and the student came back for another interview and did much better. I asked the student if it was frustrating not just to be able to take a low grade and move on. The student indicated being quite happy to have had the opportunity to keep learning and said they now had a much better grasp of the material and the ability to express theology better. And, to top it all off, the student now had a better grade in the course than what would have been given based on the first performance.

If you would like to support Horizon College & Seminary as we continue our transition into CBE, you can support Horizon here.

If you live on the prairies, I encourage you to come learn more about CBE and support us by attending one of our upcoming galas, either at our Winnipeg Gala (Friday, May 13) or at our Saskatoon Gala (Thursday, May 19). If you can’t attend, you can also support us in absentia here.

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