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Henan Bible School Adjusts to Changing Times and Needs

Written by Doug & Liz Searles
October 3, 2006

Doug & Liz Searles – China

Traditionally, the Chinese approach to education has emphasized a teacher-centered approach, the acquisition of knowledge and rote-learning, and has overlooked the development of the whole person and life skills.

Taken from Amity Newservice Newsletter June 2006:

This traditional approach has also been followed and practiced by theological educators in the church, and is still prevalent in many of China's seminaries and Bible schools today. However, times and needs are changing, and the church's Bible schools are starting to respond to these changes. In issue 281 of Tian Feng, the editor, Mei Kangjun, reports on how one theological training institute, Henan Bible School, is seeking to adjust its ways in order to better provide for the needs of the flock it seeks to serve.

Henan boasts a Christian population of at least two million, which accounts for roughly one-seventh of all Christians in China, and the province also has over 6,000 points of worship. However, there are only around 100 ordained pastors serving this huge flock, and as a result, their workload is exceptionally heavy. Henan Bible School was founded in 1980 and has so far trained over 1,200 theological graduates who are now scattered over 18 cities and 150 counties throughout the province, and go some way towards helping ease the situation. However, the fact remains that Henan is in great need of trained and competent church workers, and the Bible School has recently been adjusting its approaches in order to meet this need.

The needs of Christians in Henan are certainly acute. It is estimated that some 90% of churches in Henan lack personnel with formal theological training, while some 80% of believers in the Henan church have a low level of education and a very basic understanding of their faith. For these reasons, since the 1990s, heretical sects have been taking hold and wreaking havoc in various locations throughout the province.

Combating such problems is not only a question of getting more theologically-trained church workers out into the field, but also ensuring that these graduates have received adequate training which equips them to pastor their flocks. In order to do this, the Henan Bible School has been making changes in terms of its management, its curriculum and course content and its pedagogical approach. For example, the 2 year students' present syllabus now contains over 40 different courses, and the proportion of biblically-based and practically applicable courses has been revised. Meanwhile, the school is constantly seeking to develop new courses; for example, "Politics and Three-Self Principles," "Worship Studies," "Pastoral Counseling" and so on, which specifically target the particular conditions and situations in which the students will later find themselves.

The school currently has nine full-time teachers and, with the exception of the political studies teacher, they are all theological graduates from major institutes in China and Asia, and they are all continuously encouraged to update their own qualifications whenever the opportunity presents itself. In order to raise standards at the Bible school, a new evaluation system has been introduced for both teachers and management, which fosters a greater sense of responsibility among staff towards their own work, and which serves as a good example to students to take their own studies more seriously.

Perhaps the greatest change made at the Henan Bible School in recent times is the attitude towards students. There is now a greater emphasis in the school on recognizing students' individuality in terms of their aptitude, abilities, backgrounds, skills, and personalities. The school strives to follow Bishop Ting's call to treat theological students like parents treat their children, not being too demanding nor trying to "force" the growth of the students. Developing the students' all-around abilities, analytical and problem-solving skills, and innate talents is now seen as just as important as acquiring knowledge. Various activities have been introduced to foster more joint group activities, such as organizing devotions together or serving one another through hair-cutting, tailoring, making repairs, each according to the students' skills and talents.

Such adjustments in the life and work of Henan Bible School are already starting to bear fruit. In the 1980s, a church was opened in a county in the eastern part of Henan but lacked any theologically-trained workers to pastor it, so church work has more or less been paralyzed and stagnated in this location for many years. Recently, a graduate from Henan Bible School was sent to that church and very quickly was able to adapt, analyze the situation, and provide relevant services and teaching to the Christians there. The principal of Henan Bible School, Reverend Hu Junjie, believes that such a success story is only possible due to the reforms and adjustments that have been made in the training offered at the Bible school in recent years.

Such considerations are not unique to the situation in Henan. According to statistics from 2005, there are currently a total of 24 theological seminaries and Bible schools in China, with over 150 full-time staff currently training around 1,700 students. Six thousand students have graduated from such institutes in the past and some 5,000 of these are still working in local congregations. Efforts are continually being sought to raise the overall quality of theological education throughout the whole of China, such as working in collaboration with teacher training colleges and universities on research projects and advanced studies, and finding ways for the qualifications of theological graduates to be more widely recognized within the overall education system. The efforts on the part of Henan Bible School to raise its own standards in order to meet current local needs is one part of this wider movement to raise the quality of theological education in China.

Doug and Liz Searles

Doug and Elizabeth Searles work with the Sichuan TV and Radio University in Chengdu, China. They both serve as English teachers.

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