Learning together: theological education in the Philippines

Though the Philippines is well known for its majority Catholic population, the nation also has a large population of Christians from other traditions including independent Evangelicals, Pentecostals and those who belong to mainline Protestant denominations. This figure is reckoned at 10-14% of the population, which translates, approximately, to a population of around 10-15 million people.

That makes for a large population of evangelical Christians in the Philippines and one that is very active in evangelism and church planting. That is one reason why we now have very few OMF Philippines workers serving as church planters across the islands. However, an increasing number of our team now serve as trainers. Some of this is grassroots-level training of church planters and leaders, personal mentoring and discipleship, and some is training in the more formal settings of Bible colleges and seminaries.

Priscila & Aquila

Theological training, whether in an informal or more formal setting, is essential to the missional life of the church. It is a vital component of the church’s mission which has its precedent in the early New Testament church. A wonderful example of missionary, theological educators, are the lives of Priscilla and Aquila, who we meet in the book of Acts and the apostle Paul’s letters. As refugees from Rome, this couple found a safe haven in Corinth, where they met and got to know Paul. Not content with just learning to survive as displaced people, they put themselves at the service of the new, emerging church. They eventually left Corinth with Paul, for Ephesus, and stayed on when Paul left Ephesus for Syria.

In Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila shine as theological mentors to the Egyptian Christian Apollos. Apollos was a bold, fervent evangelist, but one, we are told, with an inadequate understanding of the ‘way of God’ (Acts 18:26). Time with Priscilla and Aquila allowed Apollos to reflect on his message, to deepen and strengthen his own understanding and to make corrections in his thinking. In time, Apollos left Ephesus for Corinth where we are told he served the new church. Paul refers to Apollos as someone who watered what he—Paul—had planted (1 Corinthians 3:6); Apollos served within a new emerging church by providing theological instruction to new Christians, thus reproducing the fruitful missionary-minded ministry of his mentors in Ephesus.

Life at Koinonia Theological Seminary

Apollos’ time with Priscilla and Aquila has some parallels to the context in which I serve at Koinonia Theological Seminary (KTS) in Davao City, southern Philippines.

Firstly, like Apollos, most of our students are already serving full time as Christian workers; some as pastors within congregations, some as staff within Christian organizations, and others as cross-cultural missionaries. Enrolling at KTS provides them with what Apollos got from Priscilla and Aquila—time to reflect, time to think more deeply about the theological framework that undergirds their activities, and time to challenge the assumptions that shape so much of what they do; and time also perhaps, to be re-equipped and made ready for something new. In our southern Philippine context, the disruption to life caused by Covid-19 has also increased these opportunities for workers to remain active in their ministry while making time for study. Our student numbers have increased since the onset of the pandemic, with more workers enrolling from cities in Mindanao that are a long way from Davao, and some enrolling from other parts of Southeast Asia, such as Thailand and Vietnam.

Secondly, there are core attitudes at play in this incident involving Apollos that are crucial for the success of theological training in East Asia today. Apollos was willing to learn; always a vital ingredient. We are told he was a ‘learned man’, a fact that does not always mean the person concerned is willing to learn; but Apollos was willing to humble himself and receive from Priscilla and Aquila. The teachers, Priscilla and Aquila, are also humble; witness their flexibility and willingness to be where they are needed and where the Spirit is active; placing themselves at the service of a young church coming to birth in an often unfriendly environment.

If our context in southern Philippines is anything to go by, there is an abundance of gifted Christian workers across East Asia, willing and eager to develop themselves through a period of transformative learning. OMF members, with the appropriate training and qualifications, and a serving, flexible attitude, similar to that of Priscilla and Aquila, have the potential to be a huge blessing to local mission movements across East Asia.

Wilson McMahon
OMF Philippines

Together with his wife Irene, who is OMF Philippines Field Director, Wilson has served with OMF since 1989. Find out more about the Philippines and their openness to God’s call here.

Explore opportunities to serve in theological education in East Asia here.