Dr. John Stackhouse has written an excellent article that decries the way that Christians pay guest speakers. He says too often speakers are expected to speak “as a ministry”. He writes:
I was once asked to speak to a national convention of Christian lawyers whose president inquired as to what was my fee–”if any.” In reply, I was sorely tempted to ask him to draw up my will, arrange for the sale of my house, and defend me on my next parking ticket, and then ask him what his fee would be–”if any.”
This attitude of not paying for spiritual work seems to have carried over into Africa, where pastors are not always paid consistently (this varies from country to country). Now the way a seminary treats its faculty and staff greatly influences the church, because it is a model of theological education. If the seminary is not biblical in its treatment of workers, this will have a trickle down effect into every aspect of church life.
My challenge here is also for organizations like Overseas Council International, Langham Partnership and our Barnabas Venture, who are deeply involved in theological education in Africa. Now we can pat ourselves on the back because we have built beautiful buildings in Africa and we have trained many wonderful leaders all the way to the PhD. But then we expect that they go and work for next to nothing in the seminary because it is a ministry? There are long term consequences of this kind of stewardship. The brain drain is one part of the problem. We must think strategically and as one body how to over come this problem. Here are some the issues:
Worldwide credential: An African with a PhD has a worldwide credential and can get a job at a university or seminary anywhere. Therefore, it is short-sighted to say that because they are in Africa they shouldn’t be paid too much. What’s too much? I don’t know a single professor who is overpaid. Most are barely scraping by. What they should be paid is a salary and benefits which are competitive in the world market to keep them in their position. This actually means that we may have to pay them as well as what only certain high-level government workers get paid.
Health care: Many of the countries in Africa do not have good health care. Do we have a provision to help faculty and their families with health care? What good does it do if we pay several hundreds of thousands of dollars to train a professor and he arrives in Africa only to die because he didn’t have access to good health care? Or if a family member is sick, he can’t do his job from worry?
Education of children: A professor has a duty to make sure that his or her children receive an education. The rabbis said that a man who does not teach his son a trade teaches him to steal. One of the main worries that African professors have is how their own children will receive an adequate education.
Research and Professional Development: This issue is starting to be recognized at doctoral consultations that have taken place in Nairobi and Lomé. Because we want our professors to teach at the PhD level, they must themselves do research beyond the PhD level. Until now, very little attention is given to the continuing education and professional develpment of African teachers.
Crumbling Infrastructure: Electricity, health care, water, communication (internet, telephone), transportation and education are not always stable or adequate in African cities. This can be a serious issue for professors who need these things to do a good job. It may be necessary to move faculties to cities with better infrastructure.
Insecurity: Several seminaries in Africa are located in the biggest war zone on the planet that stretches across the continent, involving Central African Republic, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan, Chad, Congo-Kinshasa, and Congo-Brazzaville. Millions have died and are dying. There must be a plan to deal with seminaries that are in war zones. I learned from my friend Reuben, who worked for Exxon in Chad, that the oil company has a 24 hour plan, worked out to the minute, to evacuate ex-patriot workers. I know of no similar plan for seminaries for their faculty, staff and students. In some ways our support of infrastructure (buildings) in war zones is short sighted. Would it not be better to support seminaries in places that are more stable? I would also recommend developing mobile libraries through scanning technology so that bibliographic resources can be stored in second location–lest we see our precious books being sold in the open market at Kilometer 5.
It is heartless to expect a professor to live and risk his family in a country which has lousy infrastructure and is in a war zone.
Retirement: I don’t know of any seminary that has a good retirement plan for its faculty. Many live on campus housing, so that when they leave the seminary they will also be homeless.
I commend organizations like Overseas Council and Langham Partnership (JSM). They do wonderful work. But building buildings and making PhDs is only the first steps for solving the issues of theological education in Africa. We must think strategically about how to improve the conditions of professors when they return to their jobs in Africa or risk losing them.
But the answer doesn’t only involve outside partners. The adminstration and boards of seminaries must also think what they can do to improve conditions. One of our doctoral scholars returned to Africa and complained to me that the seminary had failed to provide a bed for him and his wife for six months. Others have complained that they didn’ t even have a decent computer. Others have complained to me that there is no employment contract indicating their responsibilities and benefits. As a western partner to African theological education, I don’t know all the issues, and I am sure that some of you can bring them up. What I do know is that schools and their boards can take concrete measures to solve some of these issues.