The great commission from our Lord Jesus, “Therefore go and make disciples,” (Matthew 28:19) was given to all His disciples, not only the early ones. As Christians, this should be the priority in our lives. Making disciples can be overwhelming, but it makes our lives very meaningful. This is certainly true when teaching theological education in a seminary.
As a theology teacher, I was privileged to teach in one of the theological training centers in the Chinese Adventist Seminary (CAS) for two years. Through interacting with theological students in and out of the classroom, I realized that discipleship, not a program nor a course, is most vital in terms of successful theological education. Discipleship helps students through a journey of transformation. There are several practices that have helped in my teaching ministry with my Chinese theology students.
- Be a Disciple of Christ – Being a disciple of Jesus is about more than an identity, lifestyle, or behavior. It reflects a life that comes from a connection with Christ. The visible behaviors will naturally flow from that connection. As Jesus said, “For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). A disciple-maker should be a disciple of Jesus first. Only a disciple of Jesus can carry out discipleship in a way that will influence others’ lives.
- Set an Example of Discipleship – Students need older roles models who demonstrate discipleship. Students are learning from their teacher both inside and outside the classroom. They are taught a lot of information about discipleship, but they need to see practical examples of how to live discipleship. By seeing positive examples from their teachers, they see that what they have learned in the class is real and are motivated to imitate their teachers.
- Spend Time with Students – Students are deeply influenced by their teachers’ care and sympathy for them. One of the critical indicators of caring for students is how much time you are willing to invest in being with them. Spending time outside of the classroom lets me share my Christian worldview and passion with them through discussion and answering their questions. My students have said that they learned even more out of class than in class.
- Leading and Teaching – While Jesus taught his disciples, he also led them wherever he went. As theological teachers, we are sometimes tempted to fall into the trap of solely teaching. However, leading is the great companion of teaching when it comes to discipleship. Seeing a teacher both leading in the ministry and teaching in the classroom encourages students to walk in the way of transformation.
Theological education requires us to transfer knowledge to our students. At the same time, it is an opportunity to help them form a Christ-like character and become faithful disciples of Jesus. Helping our students to connect with Jesus and become his disciples is a beautiful and exciting challenge that every teacher should prioritize in our teaching career.