Posted by: Petros | March 25, 2009

A challenge to African Seminaries and their financial partners

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.

Closing comments:

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.



  1. I had the following Skype chat with an African friend who is on staff at a seminary in a war zone; my friend’s comments are in italic, my responses in plain text :

    I downloaded your article about the situation of Seminaries in Africa. All you wrote are facts but what can be done now that a lot has been spent on those Scholars and the Institutions in the war zones ?

    Scholars can move elsewhere. It is more difficult to move buildings.

    That is right Peter. Suppose seminaries are moved to Europe or America let me say, will it be easy to take students from Africa to the number that can meet the needs of Churches in Africa ?

    No. That would be by far too expensive and step backwards instead of foward. We cannot move back to the earlier generation who studied in France. Rather, we should try to do two things: (1) Find peaceful places in Africa to build a pan-African graduate seminary (for the MA and PhD); (2) Make sure that the structures are mobile, so that it can move to new place if necessary. (3) Encourage local colleges which can teach to the level of the BA (“license”) in each region.

    As you mentioned in the article, most of our African countries are in war right now or sooner. In your proposal which country now in Africa do you think can be suitable to move to ?

    For now, Togo is calm. Burkina Faso. Cameroon. No place is ideal, but there are places that are better than others. It may also be possible to put a French seminary in an English country such as Ghana, perhaps elsewhere.

    Did you share this ideas with other donors or theologians ? What reaction did you get in regard to this idea ?

    So far, I’ve posted the note on Palabre. I’ve not e-mailed the leaders from the organizations yet, in hope that I may get some feedback from Africans. So they are probably as yet unaware of my article, but they must, to a degree be aware of some of the problems.
    In some ways, it is to give into pessimism to say that we should no longer try to maintain a Pan-African, graduate seminary in that war-torn region. But perhaps it is practical too.

    Peter, what you have written are basic truth. I suggest that you send out this article so that the future of Seminaries in Africa are rescued. France had a well-equipped cultural Center in [our city] but I was saddened to see that during the 1996-98 conflicts, the building was reduced to nothing and some of the books are still on the street. We once got [one of our] books in [local market and had to] buy it and bring it back to the Libraray. I appreciate and accept your ideas.

    Thank you for your feedback. I appreciate it. I will post your comments if you don’t mind.

    You are welcome Peter.

  2. Congratulations Peter! Your analysis is right. I started to write on that subject and I am glad to realize that we have the same thought. The problems are clearly identified but I think that the reflection needs to deepen as far as viable solutions are concerned.
    Once again, congratulations!

  3. […] I would like to give a partial feedback to Peter Dunn’s post, “A challenge to African Seminaries and their Financial Partners“. Thank you, Dr. Dunn, for your thoughtful […]

  4. The analysis is very sound. You raised some issues I am struggling with. We, as Africans, have the full responsiblities to find solution, but not only in the context of theological education. We need to widen our approach. Theological institutions cannot be like isolated islands in the midst of broken society.

  5. Thank you Dr. Nupanga for your gracious response. You have the burden of leading a seminary so your input in a discussion like this is important.

  6. Peter, I just found your site and find it very interesting and stimulating. I agree with your analysis, and I agree that these are goals which must be pursued. However, as you know, a goal without a plan is just a wish. I’d be interested in hearing more of your thoughts regarding how best to effect the changes which need to be made.

    From a practical standpoint regarding the Insecurity portion: If established institutions that are currently in war zones move to less volitile countries, what are we to do with the existing facilities? There is a lot of time and money invested in those facilites-do we just walk away and leave it to whomever? Then what happens if we move to a “safer” area only to find in five years that that country is now a war zone itself?

    Again, I am enjoying Palabre and look forward to hearing more of your thoughts as well as the thoughts of other posters.

  7. Thanks John, for the comment; it is good to hear from you.

    I don’t have any precise plans nor the power to implement them. I hope only with the above post to stimulate dialogue rather than to change the status quo. Such dialogue could then lead potentially to change.

    Existing facilities may be used for regional theological schools, be rented to governments, or if a reasonable price can be obtained, be sold. This is to say the local usefulness of such facilities remains. I would however think it best to prefer stabler countries for the placement of a pan-African graduate school. As outside donors, our main concern is to help build faculty capable of offering a doctoral degree on Africa soil. Thus, we are thinking about how this might best be done given the unstable conditions currently plaguing much of Africa.

  8. The question of existing facilities is real. Although their local usefulness may remain, this does not solve the problem from the point of view of an investor. To rent or sale them supposes that the situation is still stable enough for potential renters or buyers to invest their money in them, which then raises the question, why rent or sale the facilities in this case?

    But it is good to distinguish between activities than can coexist with a war situation without too much impairement, and those that would be severely handicaped by an ongoing war. By nature higher education and academic research activity can hardly flourish in a situation of instability which continues for too long, so the reconversion of existing facilities in that case could be a reasonable approach. If the institution is to continue to function without reconversion, it would be difficult to avoid losing its “raison d’être” unless adjustments to its vision and mission are made (to be true to itself and to others).

    At a deeper level, were are talking about chosing between protecting an investment (that is, finding ways to continue using existing facilities) and pursuing a vision/mission. This is not an easy decision to make when colossal investments have been made, and perhaps the answer to this problem is not an “either/or” one. Alternatives often exist if one is willing to explore options. But should one be forced to chose between facilities and vision I would like to remark that facilities exist for a vision/mission, so if the goal they have been created to support is seriously threatened their very existence becomes pointless as far as the vision is concerned; either the facilities are reconverted or the vision is redefined (I guess the two options are, eventually, the same).

    It is true that an institution can move to a safer area and a few years down the road this region also become unsafe. But moving to a safer area is always a good approach to take in the first place if the activity requires a minimum of stability, so the decision should not be based on the fear that something MIGHT erupt in the future. Second, there are areas with a history of conflicts, those that have experienced a “limited instability,” and places with no history of war. My point is that the question of stability is not the same all across Africa: safer areas are better than already instable regions.

    One last comment: it is still possible to give preference to portable buildings, just in case.

  9. Elisee:

    Thanks for your comments.

    Some schools of theology continue to operate in war-torn regions because the local people and church remain: they have little choice about the matter. Also, while relentless and pervasively destructive in the long run, war is often sporadic, intermingled with moments where life grinds on and people continue to exist. The church definitely has a mission in such places.

    But as for running a pan-African seminary, it is, as you say, nigh on impossible, and as I indicate in my post, cruel to expect foreign nationals to move their families permanently to such regions.

    When I started going to central Africa, wars were beginning their devastating effect. The Rwandan massacre had taken place only a few years before. Over the course of the next decade, hope that things would get better was lost as millions of people died in the conflicts in Congo, Sudan, Central African Republic, and Chad. The region is becoming worse not better. Central Africa has become like feudal Europe where chaos reigns outside the “walls” of specific cities (Bangui, Bounia, Ndjamena), and barbarian hordes, in the form of armed rebel gangs (often transnational in character) and also national armies too, continuously threaten the stability of even these urban pockets of political stability.

    This continued degradation of conditions makes it unreasonable to centralize and pool the resources of theological education in faculties located within the war zone. It has become nigh on impossible to recruit and maintain students and faculty from regions outside the war zone, for those who live in peaceful countries will hardly leave to study or teach in a war zone.

    Ideally, francophone Africa could use an excellent evangelical faculty of theology which offers degrees in biblical studies, systematic theology, and practical theology (with both pastoral and worship studies) up to the PhD. This is the premise. But the current status quo places the most likely candidates for such a school within the war zone. This is untenable.

    As for portable buildings: we have seen that war can break out just about anywhere in Africa, especially with the surprise in Cote d’Ivoire. We should therefore maintain flexible and portable structures as much as possible. It calls not so much for portable buildings but a portable faculty.

  10. “Portable faculty”–that’s a nice phrase. Soon we will be talking about “portable students” as well (laugh). Yes, war may break out anytime in Africa, but there are often short periods of relative stability during which portable buildings may be moved. Or the buildings can move before the conflict actually hits where they are located. In the case of Cote d’Ivoire for instance, as is often the case, the war started in a remote area and it wasn’t until later that major cities like Bouake were taken.

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