Theological education is not just about learning more stuff. It is not simply about the head. Any theological education worth the name is concerned with the whole person—the head, the heart, the hands. We often speak about being soaked in God’s word so that we are shaped in character, deepened in convictions, and prepared to serve God’s people and those who are lost. At Moore College, the teaching provided by trusted elders contributes to that, and so do the many opportunities to ask questions, research answers, and reflect on processes. Yet just as critical is the community of faith and learning in which all of this is done.
Those who have been at College for some time still marvel at what happens here. The word of God changes people, and the community of God’s people both sharpens and deepens them. The little conversations no one else will ever know about which give such hope, open a door of understanding, or take an idea and make it live. The love and care for one another, rejoicing together in the good times and weeping together in the moments of tragedy or hardship, flesh out what is meant by grace, generosity, and love.
Living alongside each other as we learn together, wrestling with the same questions, and dreaming of ministry together, makes a world of difference. I’ve spoken with graduates who excitedly recount many memories of their life alongside fellow students and lecturers at Moore College. In unimagined ways, it prepared them for their future in full-time community life as a minister of the gospel. Others might not be able to identify anything specific but speak about the whole and how different they were at the end to who and how they were at the beginning.
At Moore College we place significant value not just on learning in community but on learning in a special kind of community. The intensity of the College community is unusual. We sit alongside each other for extended periods each day. We eat meals together, play sport together, pray together, sing God’s praises together and sit under God’s word together. The common focus on a ministry of the word of God (despite its wonderful variety of contexts) binds us together in an extraordinary way. We are wrestling with the same questions at the same time and with the same goal. It is much more than an academic education, even if it is never less.
It’s not heaven. We who enjoy this privilege are still sinners, and repentance, forgiveness and forbearance are all part and parcel of the experience. We are not immune to the fragility of our fallen world. Sorrow, sickness and even death invade our lives just like everyone else. This is no ivory tower, protected from the harsh realities of ‘life in the real world’. It is, in some ways, a microcosm of the real world. We go to weddings, and we go to funerals too. We share wonderful ministry opportunities, and we also share lost or bungled ones. But we do this together, right up close.
Sometimes I hear the suggestion that full-time residential education is a relic of the past. Life today has a faster pace, and technology has opened up other possibilities. It is both costly and inconvenient to set aside one, three or four years to concentrate on study and prepare for a ministry that cries out to be done now where we already are. Yet it is even more costly and ultimately inconvenient not to do this. In a world of increasing complexity and challenge, we need not only to know the truth but to have been shaped by it. We need not only to know what we believe and why we believe but also the difference this makes to every aspect of life. We need the ‘iron sharpening iron’ dynamic of personal relationships (Proverbs 27:17). And that just can’t be done as well part-time or remotely.
My teachers at Moore College spoke of the rule of thirds: a third of what you learn will be in the classroom, a third of what you learn will be in the library, and a third of what you learn will be from each other at the dinner table, under the grapevine, on the sporting field, in the prayer triplet. It is still true, and generation after generation of Moore College students can testify to that.
The generosity of God’s people over more than 150 years has made this work possible. Our residences in Newtown, Croydon Park, and, more latterly, North Parramatta are arenas for the shaping of future generations of gospel workers. Faculty and students living alongside each other create a remarkable and rare type of Christian learning community. I can walk along Campbell Street or up Little Queen Street and remember generations of students who have lived in each of those houses. I can stroll through the halls of John Chapman House and remember who occupied each room when I was a student and many who have occupied them since.
What we now call John Chapman House was known quite simply as ‘The Single Quarters’. It used to house just male students. Today men and women occupy parts of this building. The most recent wing was completed in the mid-1950s. The oldest parts date to the 1880s, when the College moved from Liverpool to Newtown. The rooms were quite suitable when they were built. No one expected anything more than the shared bathrooms at the end of each corridor. The main common room was originally part of the adjoining Broughton Chapel. We are so grateful for those who made these buildings possible and for how God has used them over the decades. They have enabled learning in community.
However, it is now 2022, and times have changed. Many of these rooms are now inadequate, and the whole building needs reroofing, rewiring and new plumbing. Given modern concerns, many of these rooms should have their own ensuite. It is quite a step down for our students who have experienced today’s university accommodation. If we want community life to thrive into the future, we need to do something now.
In this Moore Matters, you will hear again of our plans to redevelop John Chapman House to provide appropriate accommodation and community space that will serve us well into the future. They have been on hold during the pandemic while other needs were attended to, but we face the urgent need to enact them now. Will you pray with us that God might provide the seemingly impossible amount of money needed to do this redevelopment? Will you pray that many Christian people will catch the vision of what this unique experience of a community of faith and learning might contribute to the churches of the future?
In 2017 the Lord provided us with an extraordinary building for our library, learning and teaching, and administration. Now we turn our attention to this vital element in the College’s mission to provide excellent theological education. Without his help, this cannot be done, but our confidence is anchored in his grace and his gospel mission. What exciting days lie ahead!