A Giant Step for Theological Education

Illustrations by Kevin Whipple

As Jesus was preparing to ascend into heaven, according to the Gospel of Mark, he looked at his apostles and gave them the missionary mandate: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” As recipients and bearers of that mandate, theological schools in North America are doing just that to realize an expansive vision that embraces the global community.

The Association of Theological Schools (ATS) includes 280 member schools, nearly half of whose mission statements include the words: “world,” “global,” “international,” and “all people/humankind.” These provide context for the Global Awareness and Engagement Initiative (GAEI), formally established in 2013 by ATS and the Commission on Accrediting, to conduct practical research and conversations “enabling schools to develop new skills or perspectives and to enhance public understanding of theological education.”

A Giant Step for Theological Education

The vision is grounded in three value propositions: quality of and accountability in accredited graduate theological education, including “how the school attends to global awareness and engagement within the context of its mission, theological commitments, and resources;” global awareness and engagement in learning, teaching, and research as demonstrated “by helping students respect, engage, and learn from global perspectives and sources, understand the global connectedness and mutuality of theological education, and increase their capacities for service and learning in interconnected contexts;” and committing to a future of mutuality in educating each other about global awareness and engagement for and in their respective and shared contexts.

To operationalize these propositions, the GAEI has engaged strategically and programmatically in six areas: understanding effective partnerships; global engagement in North America; cultivating scholarly and programmatic “trade routes;” contributing to a pan-Christian conversation on theological education; educational degree programs of study; and continuing research and care.

Programmatic challenges the GAEI is committed to address include: a growing consensus that global awareness and engagement must be understood both as geographical reach and as cultural, educational, and theological practices related to diversity, intercultural competence, contextuality, and change; a need to embrace education as “learning together” among the member schools and their publics; a need to align its programs with the growing conviction and disposition that ATS is a hybrid learning organization committed to technical and adaptive change in different delivery modalities; and documenting and disseminating that learning more widely as institutional values.

...a number of cultural challenges have risen, namely understanding effective global partnerships and global engagement.

In engaging these, a number of cultural challenges have risen, namely understanding effective global partnerships and the implications of global engagement for a school’s mission, and exploring the need for globally oriented student learning and formation and the services these require.

To address these cultural challenges, Lester Edwin J. Ruiz, Ph.D., ATS Director of Accreditation and Global Engagement and a member of the GAEI initial planning group, explained that ATS has, through its New Century Fund, approved a two-year pilot consisting of three working groups, one in response to each challenge, of around a dozen participants each.

The pilot seeks to develop a participatory process that defines and cultivates global awareness and engagement among ATS member schools and their publics, but also builds models for producing and disseminating new knowledge of global awareness and engagement. The hope is that these working groups will reflect the diversities of ATS, and include its global partners.

GAEI acknowledges that there are ways for ATS member schools to meet these challenges together in light of the expectations already expressed in the member schools’ mission statements, even as the pilot and other programs are underway. Speaking at the breakfast hosted by the GAEI during the 2022 ATS Biennial meeting, the Most Rev. Dr. Rufus Ositelu, Aladura Patriarch & Primate of The Church of the Lord (TCL) Worldwide, and a founding member of the Global Forum of Theological Educators, suggested five opportunities:


School Partnerships

With 280 member schools, a dozen of which have international extension sites and most of which have international students in the United States or online at home, ATS schools have fertile partnering opportunities with theological schools in the Global South.


Learning Resources

While Christianity is flourishing in the Global South, access to theological resources is difficult. Electronic databases that can deliver asynchronous content help to reduce barriers to access such as delivery time, postal expense, government censorship, and import duties.


Connected Classrooms

Theological schools in North America are particularly well-positioned for sharing classroom lectures and content electronically via Zoom and/or learning management systems, allowing students in the Global South to access North American theological education without the costs of travel or displacement from their discrete ministerial contexts.


Knowledge Sharing

Theological faculty in the Global North might consider participating in communities of faith and learning with theological faculty colleagues in the Global South, collaborating in teaching, co-publication, and co-editorship of new journals designed to form global communities of praxis.



While engaging with institutions, faculty, and students in the Global South, ATS member schools can share their experiences with quality assurance and accreditation to demonstrate sustainable development goals for theological education. In turn, Global South schools can help ATS member schools understand ways to be more transformatively engaged in global theological education within their individual contexts. ATS and its GAEI are convinced that the future of good theological education in North America, at least in the context of ATS, requires that member schools commit to a process of educating each other about what global awareness and engagement means for and in their respective and shared contexts.

In these efforts, ATS reminds itself that this can only be realized in collaboration with larger missional and missionary partnerships across the planet, notably the Global South.

To learn more about how your school can get involved, contact Dr. Lester Edwin J. Ruiz, Director of Accreditation and Global Engagement for ATS, at ruiz@ats.edu

You also can learn more at The Association of Theological Schools.


For a full list of task force members: Click Here

Top Topics
Roles & Responsibilities
Board Essentials

Back to Issue  Read Previous Article Read Next Article

Advertise With Us

Reach thousands of seminary administrators, trustees, and others in positions of leadership in North American theological schools — an audience that cares about good governance, effective leadership, and current religious issues — by advertising in In Trust!

Learn More