Semeon Mulatu - "Transitioning from a Theological College to a Christian University"
8:12PM Jun 29, 2020
Jonathan J. Armstrong
Today it is our delight to be speaking with president president of Evangelical theological College in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. President Mulatu to earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Addis Ababa University, his bachelor of theology University, his bachelor of theology degree from evangelical theological college. He is masters of theology from Dallas Theological Seminary and his PhD degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. We will be discussing today President Mulatu's dissertation which is titled, Transitioning from a Theological College to a Christian University in East African Context: A Multi-Case Study. President Mulatu, to thank you so much for joining us today.
Thank you for having me talk. That was true. Thank you.
President will allow to your research focuses on the transition in institutional identity from a theological college to a Christian University. And in your dissertation you survey institutions in the countries of Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. How did you become interested in this trend of converting theological colleges to Christian universities?
You know, I, I have been attending different conferences, meetings, regional meetings, of leaders of different theological and we discuss our challenges and opportunities every chance we get. And I also interact with leaders of theological colleges, Bible colleges, seminaries in our country. So I keep hearing that there is a strong desire to to transition to from a theological college or seminary to a Christian University. So I found out that it's becoming a common interest among many, many institutions, both within Ethiopia and in the in the whole of Africa actually. And I just focused on East Africa, but this is a common from an even in other African countries. So when I see that, that was the idea that triggered this topic. And the other thing is our denomination, was also interested to start the Christian University and I was part of the brainstorming session at one time, and I found out there is a strong desire for starting a Christian University. Some of the issues we discussed. were, you know, how do we do that? Do we convert our theology constitutions into Christian Universities, where do we start them separately? So these were the issues discussed. And so again, the the need was even relevant right here where I am. And of course, from history, I have read how Western Bible colleges and seminaries have transitioned to Christian universities, and they faced lots of challenges, and some of them lost their Christian identity. So, I had that concern, too, will that be a challenge in Africa? You know, when when we consider this transition? So because of all that, I said, you know, maybe I was I worked for about seven, eight years continuously, and I needed a break, and I wanted to do my PhD studies. And that, to me was a very relevant issue. That's why
I pick the topic to do my dissertation research.
From the conversations that you describe the conferences that you attended and your other conversation partners. Has there been any particular story that's unfolded? Has there been a principal institution that has perhaps changed its identity as a as a Bible college to a Christian university that others like yourself are looking to as a model?
Yes, they found out that some of them have already transitioned, for example, Bible College in Uganda. That's was there for a very long time. transition to a Christian University and the number of students grew from 100 to 6000 or so. So it has become a big, a flourishing Christian University. And there were also others who have done the transition. And there were others who are considering it, some of them are in the process. So I found out there are different schools at different levels. Transition transitions and some of them have already become a Christian Christian universities. If I may ask what was
the name of the university in in Uganda that experienced this transition from Bible College into to Christian university and experience such rapid growth?
It's the Uganda Christian University.
Excellent. And President Lula to why is it precisely that you decided to study particularly the geographical region that you did? Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo?
My main reason is, these countries are close to Ethiopia. Kenya is our neighbor and Uganda is no far Democratic Republic of Congo. So basically, they were accessible to me. I was studying in the US and I came to Ethiopia to do the research. And this were the countries very close to us, and we share many common common things in Africa. So So that's the reason I picked these countries. If I had the time, I would go to other countries too. But with time limitations, I just focused on this four countries and five institutions.
Wonderful. Thank you. You conducted your research, while completing your PhD at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the United States. And at the same time, you were researching institutions in Africa. How does the transition from theological college to Christian university perhaps differ in the context of North America and Africa?
You know, the main thing is
it's very new in our context, in the West, it has been going on for a long time. There are actually Christian universities in our context that started as universities or liberal arts colleges, but the the The trend of transitioning from a theological college to a Christian University is a recent phenomenon that's taking place. Now. So one thing with a main difference I would say is it's a new thing. While in the West, it has been going on for a long time and there's history to look at. That's one. But you know, I so very similar reasons for such transitions. For example, some of them are financial. To get more income because maintaining a theological college is not easy. But by opening up your institution to a Christian liberal arts, you attract more students. So is a financial reason I found out in the West and it's also one of the reasons here, in fact, the number one reason the other thing is zero to x and the Christian influence in the society at first at least. It is They don't just training people for the ministry within the church. These institutions want to have a bigger impact in the society. And they can do that by opening up their school for to train more people for the marketplace and for other other ministries and work and job opportunities. Outside of the church, I saw those similarities. The other thing is, some of them seek accreditation from the government, the congregation from the government. recognition from the government makes the school attractive and graduate sometimes ask if the institution is recognized by the government specially in our context, and if you have a government recognized certificate or degree, you have more chance to get jobs outside of the church. So I see that also in the West. It's very strong here and In relation to government to cognition, there is also help from the government to get land to get different privileges. If you are registered with them, you get more advantages. in some contexts, you may get even financial help from the government. So I see common trends why these schools transitioned to Christian universities or to universities from purely theological schools or colleges.
President Lula to from your research the most commonly cited reason for the transition from theological college to Christian university was financial sustainability, as far as you are aware, have these goals for financial stability and they've been met following the transition.
I know I I worked on my my research on five institutions and I asked that question Sa seed financial sustainability was the main reason, the number one reason for these institutions to consider transition, but asked, how has it been, you know, has have your financial situation improved. And all the five institutions I did my research on said it hasn't. It hasn't really helped with the financial situation. The reasons are
when they open up
with a transition to a Christian university,
they need to have more facilities. They have to expand their libraries, they have to hire more people. So they need more, they needed more money to do all those things. So it created even a heavier burden, financial burden on the institutions. And the time most of these institutions were doing the transition was when there was a financial crisis in the West, it's around 2008 910. And getting funds from the West was not easy. So
they have to
patient. So at this, at least at this level, at the beginning level, they what I understood is their financial situation hasn't improved, much for for most of these institutions.
President moolaade to you completed your PhD dissertation and the study for that the research for that in 2012. What's happened in the last five years have these institutions that have been seeking financial sustainability through this transition to Christian university? Have they experienced an upswing or improved financial state?
You know, I did my research several years ago, I haven't really went back to check on those institutions in a formal way. So I don't I'm not really sure the situation at the schools now, but I have some correspondence ask. I think things have improved in some institutions, their finances are, are getting better for example, in one of the institutions, because of the increased income they have now they are able to give scholarship to the students who are studying theology. So the theological school was struggling, but once they added the liberal arts colleges in many programs opened, their income eventually improved. So they were able to strengthen even the theological department or school within the university. So they saw some good things, but there are also negative things you know, more government required for example, in Ethiopia, there were institution, several of them who are considering to transition to Christian universities. But when they consider the law of the land, what they are required to do, some of them have really stopped the process of transitioning. Because there are, there are strict laws from the government how they function. For example, in your curriculum, you can include the Bible and theology as required courses. You have to be open to to all students, you can't discriminate based on religion. You have to be open to iron anybody you can't say only Christians. So there are many things that definitely affect how you function as a Christian institutions. So in our case in Ethiopia, many of the institutions have paused the process of transitioning and see you know how things will change in the future. But to give you an exact answer, I haven't really went back to this institution to see how things have changed.
One of the questions that you ask all of the institutional leaders that you interviewed for your PhD dissertation was concerning the overall impact that this transition from Bible college to, to Christian university had made on the institution. What was this overall impact that came about through this transition?
One of the impacts I was very much interested in, for example in in how that transition affected the the Bible, the theological training program was in the institutions. These schools were originally established to train ministers. They were theological institutions, but when they became universities, the theology department or literally just couldn't become just one school, or one department within the larger Christian University. So I wanted to to see how This transition has affected the theological program of the institution. What I found out was, you know, in it became a very small school within a big, the bigger institution. The liberal arts and the other programs grow very fast. They hire more faculty members, they have more stuff. But the theology school doesn't grow as fast as the other schools. And the income they generate is not also as the others are bringing. Where there are leaders who are keen to keep the theology and institutions alive and well. They keep the balance in fact, they use the income generated from other schools to help the theological institutions. In other cases. The theology department felt that they are now sideline they don't have the say they used to have in the past For example, they want to require chapel to all students within the campus that changed. And it was hard to require all the university students to attend chapel regularly requiring some courses. So things changed when this schools transition to Christian universities, in some cases, the the Bible College used to have more mature older students doing their graduate programs. But when they opened up the liberal arts programs, they started taking young, very young, fresh graduates of high school. So the campus life itself has changed from a seminary to a university. And some of the students are not even Christians. So the whole dynamic within the call the campus also change. So in some cases, there was also one idea crisis What are we are we a university? He probably Bible College, especially when there is a strong regulation from the government to keep things as secular as possible. So it has affected lots of things some of them learn through through those difficult times. And I've settled. Some, as I said, in Ethiopian case, they said, Maybe we should stop this process, and think carefully and see if there is a better time in the future to reconsider this. So it's different from school to school.
President will want to ask a poignant question in the introduction to you your work, and that is this, as many theological college and seminaries in Africa are rushing to transition to Christian universities is secularization, a possible unintended consequence for these institutions? Now, now, looking back some five years after the completion of your research, how would you answer your own question?
I would say it's too early to give a definite answer to that question. But there are, but there are signs that it could be a challenge in the future. For example, when a school transitions to a Christian university and gets recognition from the government, many lows in the country that applies to universities start applying to these institutions to in the past, are stolen, they will be treated as church related theological schools. But when you open up yourself and become Christian universities, there are many government laws and regulations that start applying to you. For example, you cannot dis terminate this accept. So you have to accept students from any religion and you cannot impose your religious views require chalk alone this students that lo me say that. And so you can't have a Christian focused curriculum, chapel and all these programs that we really value will slowly disappear from from your program. And that's, I think, a beginning of a secularization process. And if you the other thing is you can't discriminate who we hire as faculty members. I mean, if you open up because of the lack of Christian professionals in all these areas, some of these institutions started hiring non Christians, both part time and full time. That's just the beginning. But if that trend continues, and if the majority of the faculty eventually become non believers, and when they have a strong say in the leadership and all that, that is also how the western institutions slowly moved away from their initial Religious focus. And when became right, so I see those signs now. The other thing I observed in the West, from my research is the relationship between the institution and the church. When this institutions transitioned, they were founded by denominations or Christian groups, but slowly they separated, detach themselves from this founding church and became independent, so far in the institution size. So here, there is still a close relationship between the founding churches and this institutions. But in the future, that relationship maybe become weaker and weaker depending on who is in the leadership. What kind of faculty members there are. So I wouldn't say that secularization has started because it's too early to say that, but the challenges that the western institutions faced are also coming here. So, we may have to wait 1020 years to really see that secularization becomes, and of course, because of all of these decisions that we are making today, in my opinion, if we are very careful and if we learn from the west, the mistakes that were done there and move slowly, I think we we can avoid many of the problems and we may avoid becoming a secular institutions, the future, but at this time, you know, I see the challenges coming. If we handle it, well, we may survive. But still the challenge will will not stop they will keep growing
President Lula to I understand that many theological college are working through this question, shall we transition to become a Christian liberal arts university? For those colleges, those theological colleges that decide not to go the direction of a Christian university? What is the what are what are the other strategic options that such an institution faces to increase its financial sustainability, and also increases influence on society to grow its number of students, etc.
As I'm leading now, a Bible College, a theological college, and I share this challenge with many of my colleagues in other places, you know, leaders of other institutions. It's very hard to raise funds for theological schools. Because of the financial situations within our countries in Ethiopia, for example, it's hard to charge higher tuition for students, because many of the students come from areas that have economic challenge, so They can't really pay higher fees. And it's really hard to manage your expenses just by the tuition we collect from our students and our church also face financial challenge. Our churches are growing really fast. shirts are planted, you know, in a very fast rate, and the church try to keep up with the growth, they have to have a building structures to accommodate the needs. So meeting all that need in supporting a theological school is becoming a challenge. So institutions that haven't transitioned are trying different things. For example, in our case, we are we have mounted a building project. One it will give us enough space to increase the number of students we have. And the other thing is it will help us to generate income it's hard to raise the funds at the beginning. But once you have the building part of it will be used to To expand your ministry, and part of it will be used to generate income by renting out the space, you have the extra space you have to generate funds. And I know university I know, Bible schools and seminaries that have dramatically improved their financial situation, following that method. So that's one thing we do to to improve our financial situation without transitioning to a Christian University. The other thing is, you know, without becoming a Christian university, we're trying to train people. Stephen was in the seminary context for different areas. For example, in our school, we have started a graduate program in in holistic child development. So we train people for the children ministry within the church, within the schools within different non government organs. positions Christian organizations that help children. So we're expanding our impact by by starting program like that. The other one we have is a graduate program, a program in Educational Leadership, which we train leaders of theological schools, theological institutions, but also the same training can help people who are teaching in high schools and Christian high schools, Christian elementary schools, and those who administer. So by starting those programs still within the context of a theological training school. We're trying to expand our impact within the society without going fully into the Christian University.
becoming a Christian University.
Thank you for that response. President Lula to President moolah to technology is changing everything in our world today, including telecommunication and we assume that it We'll also change education deeply. What what new possibilities Do you see for a theological College in Africa to connect itself to the larger life of the church through decentralized forms of education?
I see huge, huge possibilities. You know, there are many things that technology communications is bringing to to education. Unfortunately, in our case, for example, in Ethiopia, the coverage of internet is still very low.
fewer percentage of the population has access to internet, good internet, to use it effectively for theological education. Internet can't be done even with within the big cities and it affects what what we are we are doing. But you know, things are changing, things are changing and technology is developing. And in Africa, it's in Kenya and other countries, they have better internet, better access, and some of them are even using cell phones now to to study theology, some kind of, you know, correspondence kind of theological training. So I see huge opportunity for us in the future. In our case, we have an extension campus about, I think, under 60 miles from here. There are also other schools that are asking us to start extension programs or satellite campuses, within local churches. If we have good internet connection, if we can be online, we You know, lecture from here and have a teacher teach a course to students in all these sites without really having to go there. So, we hope we're expecting change in the area of telecommunication and internet. And when it's ready, when it's available, we want to take the advantage of that. The other challenge we have is, it's good to have this to work with local church to train more people for theological education that's possible for the lower level. But when you come to a higher level, a bachelor's level or a master's level, we need good libraries, good resources, which are not really available in those locations. Using ebooks, you know, for example, students need they have their own laptops or you know, tablets or things like that, even to have access to them. As ebooks, and getting those ebooks by itself is a challenge. So without a proper library and research, for students to do research to do more reading in those areas, it's going to be very hard. We have a decent library here, but you know, we can bring students from all over to do their research here. So we we still have, we still face lots of challenges, but I think eventually maybe in the next five to 10 years, things would, would change. And in partnering with other institutions in the West, we can we can improve the situation and we can make theological education available for for many people. I mean, there are so many churches, for example, in my denomination, we have over 9000 local congregations. If we partner with local church, we can provide a very solid theological training Maybe it is but technology is still a challenge. We're hoping that things will improve in the future.
President will argue I'm also very excited when I think about the opportunities for distinctly theological colleges to partner with local congregations in providing theology, serious study of theology for every parishioner, and that does open up an enormous community of potential people who would be interested in studying theology. Are you aware of any significant efforts being made in Ethiopia or the broader African context where seminaries are partnering effectively with local churches to deliver theological education?
I'm not, I'm not in in our case.
Our in our institution is owned by a denomination called the Ethiopian Kala he was church. And it has about 160 of those lower level Bible schools. Most of them fail. are found in local churches. Some of them are bounded by several local churches in the same area. So most of the teachers in those Bible schools are our graduates. oudy The leaders of these institutions are graduates of our school, our institution. So we have that kind of relationship. We train faculty members and leaders for these institutions. But other than that we don't really have in the country. network that uses technology to to to do that to network. But, you know, hopefully, we'll we'll do more of that in the coming years. And probably there are cases in other African countries, but I'm not aware of the situation.
President will have to if I can close with our final question, and that is this. What would it mean for the church To be united today, how would we recognize this unity? And what is it that we can do to pursue Christian unity?
You know, when I think of Christian unity, I think of what God has done to bring that unity. As the Bible says, In Ephesians, four, there is one body, one spirit, just as you were called to one hope, when you were called one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is overall, and through all, any and all. So, you know, that's something that binds us together, I travel sometimes to different countries, and attend some international conferences. And when I see people who love the Lord, who believe in the same Lord Jesus Christ, I believe in their death and in His death and resurrection, and then salvation that's offered We share the same Lord, we share the same spirit that lives in us. from whatever context we come from the same spirit in dwells us. We have the same Lord, we have the same God. We share the same baptism, though there are different forms of baptism, and one God and Father of four. So we have so many common things that is already given to us by the Lord. And that's the bone. That's the foundation for for the Unity we have. So that excites me. And every time there is a problem of unity within a local church within a denomination, I think we have to focus back. You know, God has done all this. We're united in everything in all these things that are mentioned in the Bible. So we have to focus back on what unites us and there is no institution in the world that has that kind of connection. You know, you can bring many groups of people in different organizations. But there's nothing like this, you know, so that excites me. But again, to, to have Unity we have to have also a main purpose of focus of our purpose, as Paul says, In Philippians, to have the same love being in one in the spirit in purpose, having the same purpose is what unites us. And I think the purpose is already given by Christ, which is the Great Commission, to go into all the world into to, to tell about Christ and to teach people everything Christ has taught to baptize them and make them disciples of the Lord. And that's equal given to the church, to the International Church wherever we are, and we can partner and work together to fulfill this purpose, this permission that's given to us by the Lord. So if we focus on what unites us what God has already made, and also the main purpose, we're honored, why we're left here and what commission Christ has given us. I think those things come to my mind when I think of when I think of the unity within the church, and when we lose our focus, from why we are here, the main commission The Lord has given us and focus on what makes us different. I think we lose that unity. When we lose focus on what God has done for us, and focus on where we are from within a group and all the other things that make us different. We lose that unity God has given us so I think we have to go back to the foundation for all unity, and then also focus on the purpose. Christ has given us If we focus on those things, I think our unity will be more stronger, or partnership will expand and we can have more impact together for the glory of God and for the expansion of his kingdom.
It's been a delight today to be speaking with President Simone moolah to President of evangelical theological college and add us Ababa and author of the dissertation from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, transitioning from a theological college to a Christian University in East African context, a multi case study president we're allowed to thank you for being with us today. Thank you.