Shifting theological education in an era of Global South Christianity

For decades Christianity has been shifting from being a Global North religion centred on Europe and North America toward the Global South – South America, Africa and Asia. Since the 1980s, the majority of the world’s Christians have lived in the Global South.

Yet it is widely acknowledged that the numerical shift has not been matched by a coordinated shift in power and resources. For instance, theological education and money remain centred on the resources and influence of the Global North.1

How could we encourage shifts in theological education?

1. Remember that theological education is
part of mission

Jesus’ scope for disciple-making includes ‘teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28:20). Former OMF worker Martin Goldsmith, who has also been a lecturer at All Nations Christian College in the UK for over 50 years, points out that ‘holistic mission demands the use of the mind’. He explains, ‘despite the modern missiological emphasis on pioneer evangelism and church planting, the great commission clearly delineates a wider and fuller concept. The task of mission involves also the teaching and training of the Church.’2

Theological education is part of mission beyond evangelism. One key criterion for assessing our models of theological education is whether they serve the mission of God and equip the Church. Do they help the Church be a global community that, for example, hungers and thirsts for righteousness-justice?3 Do they make us increasingly alert to the shifts and reformations needed if we are to live as the new humanity the gospel creates?

2. Develop missional theological education

This means that instead of having a theological training course that includes a few optional modules on ‘mission’, the entire curriculum is taught with the recognition that every context is missional. We must also recognise we are now serving in an era of World Christianity. This model has been adopted in various places, developed most notably in the UK by All Nations Christian College.

Missional theological education will be theologically rich and diverse, as all parts of courses – from biblical studies to Church history and practical theology – are opened up to perspectives from the global Church. The more we do this in the Global North, the more we will value the global Church. This, in turn, will bring power imbalances into greater focus and help us see what must be done to share resources that generate interdependence.

3. Embrace theological education as a two-way street

I was struck by reflections shared recently by Easten Law, Assistant Director for Academic Programmes at the Overseas Ministries Study Centre at Princeton. Law says: ‘Two decades ago, I was still thinking about missions as a form of sending the so-called haves to teach and empower the have-nots. While I knew the world Church was growing, I wasn’t actively thinking about what the Global South could teach me… Twenty years later… I am thankful that God has shown me otherwise.’4

The apostle Paul saw ministry as a two-way street. This is clear from Romans 1:12, ‘that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith’, a verse on which John Calvin offers these comments:

‘[Paul] did not so occupy the place of a teacher, but that he wished to learn also from them … See to what degree of modesty his pious heart submitted itself, so that he disdained not to seek confirmation from unexperienced beginners…’5

We need one another in the global Church. No matter who we are, where we are, or what stage we are at in our Christian experience and theological understanding. Those of us in the Global North must resist the old paradigm of engaging in theological education to help ‘develop’ the churches in the Global South. Our need today is for an increase in reciprocal initiatives that demonstrate the mutuality of Romans 1:12.

It is with this two-way street in mind that OMF facilitated a theological education consultation in Singapore in September 2022, which I had the privilege of being part of.
A diverse group of around 50 people from within and outside OMF met to identify the key needs for theological education in East Asia. We are praying that the outcomes of this time of listening and learning will enable OMF to contribute strategically to missional theological education across East Asia. Our desire is to stimulate greater collaboration and resource sharing as we work with and serve the Church in East Asia in its witness to the gospel.

If you are interested in serving with OMF in missional theological education, we’d love to hear from you!

Dr. Peter Rowan
OMF (UK) Co-National Director


  1. Gina Zurlo interviewed on John Dickson’s Undeceptions Podcast 31 July 2022
  2. Martin Goldsmith, Matthew & Mission: The Gospel Through Jewish Eyes (Exeter: Paternoster, 2001), 204.
  3. Matthew 5:6
  4. Easten Law, ‘What Difference Does Twenty Years Make? Imagining the Future in Humble Hindsight’ in International Bulletin of Missionary Research Vol 46 No. 1 (2022), 9.
  5. John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to The Romans. Translated and Edited by Rev. John Owen. Accordance Bible Software.