Original Research

Competency-based theological education in a postcolonial context: Towards a transformed competency framework

Ian A. Nell
Transformation in Higher Education | Vol 5 | a74 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/the.v5i0.74 | © 2020 Ian A. Nell | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 13 August 2019 | Published: 11 March 2020

About the author(s)

Ian A. Nell, Department of Practical Theology and Missiology, Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa

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Background: Assessment of students for ministerial practice is traditionally performed through assignments and oral examinations, which often only concentrate on the knowledge component and outcomes of the programme. Assessing students in this way lead to a view of religious practitioners as people who are not really in touch with their parishioners and communicating in language that is not addressing their needs and this normally leads to a disjuncture between knowledge, practice and context. Disjuncture of this nature signals a need for a broader set of competencies than simply working with and analysing texts in theological education.

Aim: The aim of this research is to develop a set of competencies that responds to the reality that the practice of ministry takes place within a rich diversity of postcolonial settings and practices.

Setting: The research was done as part of my own interest in developing a competency framework for religious leaders. I am coordinating the Master of Divinity program as well as the Postgraduate Diploma in Christian Ministry at our Faculty of Theology. Both these programs directly relate to the preparation of students for ministerial leadership.

Methods: The central research question of this study was formulated as follows: What are the central ingredients for developing a competency framework for ministerial formation from a postcolonial perspective at a research-intensive university in South Africa? The method that was used to answer the research question was a literary study of primary and secondary sources related to a broad set of competencies and then narrowing it down to religious leadership as well as some qualitative empirical research in the form of personal interviews.

Results: The research in the article looked at the ways in which a competency framework can help translate generic graduate attributes into a set of competencies that is specific to the field of ministerial training. Some empirical work showed evidence of a growing postcolonial awareness in the development of these competencies.

Conclusion: Through this research a competency framework for religious leaders has successfully been developed. The next phase of the research project will be to implement the framework, to have feedback and to make some adjustments.


competency-based theological education; postcolonial context; assessment; competency framework; Master of Divinity


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