A Crucial Theological School

Josophat Mwale Theological Institute (JMTI)


 The Presbyterian Church in Malawi is a giant. But, she's a sleeping giant. Thankfully, every Presbyterian pastor, unlike most other African pastors, must go to a theological school. However their training may or may not be all that good, and they are often overburdened with massive congregations which average 5000 members. Combine this with multiple funerals to conduct every week (a result of Malaria, AIDS, and famine), and you can see the challenge pastors face. More pastors are needed, discipleship in congregations is desperately needed, and current pastors need to be supported.

     This is what makes the health of theological institutes like Josophat Mwale Theological Institute crucial as they:

  • shape an entire denomination
  • support current pastors
  • strengthen a small faculty
  • value academic excellence as a faculty
  • are a truly African institution

-Shaping a Denomination: To become a Presbyterian pastor in this central region you must go to this school. From over 200 applications every year, the Synod selects 10 students to admit into their fully funded pastoral training program. Upon graduation every one of them will be placed by the Synod into a church. This means that they train almost every single Presbyterian pastor in this central region of Malawi. The quality of the faculty, the instruction, and the culture of the school will have a direct impact on the future of the Church in Malawi.

- Supporting Current Pastors: JMTI also hosts free in-service training retreats for current pastors. These offer a means of encouraging and further forming current pastors and their churches. This is a great doorway for blessing our overworked brothers.

- Strengthening A Small Faculty: 
I was able to sit in on a JMTI faculty meeting. While they have some visiting instructors, to my surprise there were only five full-time lecturers (including the Dean and Principal). Each was overloaded with teaching responsibilities.

Additionally, the Synod is already strapped for money, so the lecturers are required to raise funds from local Malawian churches to supplement their income. We could be an enormous help in taking on some of the teaching load and raising our own support from the US.

- An Academic Faculty: The picture above is their library display of all the research papers written by their past and current faculty members. Most of the full-time faculty have research master's degrees, and are looking into doctoral studies. It's clear that they want the best for their seminaries and pastoral training, just like we do. Joining their faculty with a Ph.D in hand would go a long way to bolster the institute itself, as well as honor their desire to become an excellent faculty.

- Truly African Institutions: The Malawian Church of Central Africa Presbyterian has been run by local Malawians for 50 years now. Joining the work here at JMTI would be the opposite of Western Paternalism; we'd be going to work under the authority and oversight of the Malawian Church, doing our best to benefit her on her own terms. Of course working with African institutions brings its own challenges. But here we have a real opportunity to partner with and invest a denomination, and seek its revival.

A Crucial Work. 

Humble? Certainly.  Tucked away in a corner of one of the poorest countries in the world, not likely to gain much attention? Certainly. Important for the kingdom? Without a doubt. Its schools like this one which faithfully serve and powerfully shape the Church for ages to come. 

One Seminary Doing it Right, Pt.2

A Huge Opportunity Is in Front of Us

In the previous post, we talked about how compelling the work of ARTS is. How could we join this great work? This a huge opportunity, but what would it take to get there?

Ph.D Required: Do Not Pass 'Go'

We would love to be involved teaching at ARTS, but to teach at a Master's level I have to either have a Ph.D or have begun my doctoral studies. This is a sign of health in the Seminary: they are taking seriously their own role as  an educational institution. Having a Ph.D would allow me to have real expertise, and to invest in their work for the long-term. 

Module Format Allows Visiting Instructors

Their classes are formatted as 2-3 week intensive modules. This means we could be involved in teaching modules at ARTS while pursuing doctoral studies, or even if we end up serving as full-time faculty somewhere else in Africa.

Meet my long-time friend John Stambolie. He's a pastor in Zimbabwe, and has been a student at ARTS since he began his pastoral office. 

One Seminary Doing It Right

Africa Reformation Theological Seminary (ARTS)

We stayed with Dave and Darlene Eby, the founders of the seminary. It was a delight to get to know them. Most encouraging of all was to see the community being shaped at the seminary. This is a really special work because:

  • they are geographically strategic
  • they have rich and warm theological teaching
  • they are academically strategic and relevant
  • they are serving the church
  • they are locally overseen

- Geographically Strategic: Uganda is at the nexus of the three dominant cultures and regions of Africa. To the North is the Arabic-Muslim influenced area (Sudan, Ethiopia, Chad, etc.) To the West is Francophone Catholic and Protestant Africa (Congo, Burundi, etc.). To the East and the South is English speaking Anglican and Presbyterian Africa. Students come to ARTS from each of these regions. Many of these students, especially North Africans, return to minister and teach in regions white Westerners could never reach.

MTW Missionary Bruce Sinclair teaching New Testament Greek. Some students were using 4 languages at once: learning Greek through English instruction which they then compared to an additional Greek textbook in Arabic which made more sense to their native tribal tongue.

MTW Missionary Bruce Sinclair teaching New Testament Greek. Some students were using 4 languages at once: learning Greek through English instruction which they then compared to an additional Greek textbook in Arabic which made more sense to their native tribal tongue.

- Rich and Warm Theological Teaching: When grace shapes your life together at a seminary it will shape the churches where those seminarians end up. Getting to hear one of the MTW missionaries teach Greek was a treat. He exemplified what I love about the PCA and others: a hearty love for rigorous deep theology colored and driven God's love. This is exactly the kind of gospel-shaped culture which is hard to find in Africa. 

- Academically Strategic: University education is highly valued in Uganda; they are seeing roughly 400,000 Ugandas earn their bachelor's degree every year now. This also means that most of the students at ARTS have already found jobs, or begun their ministry in churches, and are ready to pursue theological education at a Master's level as a professional degree. They are more stable financially, and better students all around. These credentialed leaders will become great assets for the Church (see below).

Dave Eby meeting with two South Sudanese Presbyterian Pastors who had begun their own theological institute back in Sudan to train other pastors, elders, and lay people

Dave Eby meeting with two South Sudanese Presbyterian Pastors who had begun their own theological institute back in Sudan to train other pastors, elders, and lay people

- Serving the Church: Each ARTS grad will be able to return to their won country and minster the grace of God effectively to their own churches (which can often be quite large; 1000-5000). On top of that, with a Master's degree they can start their own Bible Colleges to train their fellow pastors, elders and lay people, the very people who would otherwise never receive the riches of theological formation. (Two South Sudanese Pastors pictured above are making plans with Dave Eby along these lines). As well, though they are a Reformed Presbyterian school, they have church partnerships across many denominational lines.
     The teaching at ARTS is teaching is churchly and practical. Thankfully they are well complimented by the Mission to the World team on the ground. We met another MTW missionary, Steven Edging, who is walks with alumni after graduation to help them practically work out their education in the nitty gritty details of ministry.

- Locally Overseen: Paternalism is a constant danger when Americans and American money is involved in the church overseas. ARTS exemplifies many of the virtues we long to see in Missions organizations: local oversight, trusting partnership with and submission to Africans, African leadership and ownership of the organization, in the service of the Church on African terms (not Western agendas).  They began the work at the request and invitation of the Presbyterian Church in Uganda (PCU), and though now no longer directly under the PCU, their board of directors is composed of a number of local Ugandas from the PCU and other denominations, all of whom must subscribe to the Westminster Standards.


A Very Compelling Work

All in all ARTS was a very compelling work. They are doing so many things right, and so much of their organized and institutional life bears the marks of grace and love for God that we would love to be a part of the work. Now..... How to get there? See the next Post.


Meet Dave Eby, the Principal