Nowadays education plays an important role helping us in life and what is more, it gives us opportunities for self-development and achievements in a career.  It is a well-known fact that practice is essential for true professionalism. Though, if people do not have a theoretical understanding of an issue, no practice can help to avoid mistakes. Therefore the significance of education should not be diminished and it is not enough to get it just once at a young age. It is possible to learn throughout a person’s life. We talked about the development and significance of theological education to Head of the Department of Spiritual Education of the RCCEF Pavel Zhelnovakov.

F&S: You are the Head of the Department of Spiritual Education of the RCCEF. How many educational institutions are included into the Department?

PZ: The structure of the Department includes Moscow Theological Institute (MTI) and Correspondence Theological Institute (CTI). Now licensing of Syberian Theological Institute in Omsk is taking place but it might become a college. Moreover according to our vision the multilevel spiritual education system must be created with elementary, secondary and higher level of education. It means that we need other officially recognized educational institutions apart from higher educational institutions – colleges and biblical schools.

F&S: How important is theological education for pastors and ministry workers? Is there a demand in it?

PZ: Let us start with the second question. Yes, there is a demand. MTI has an annual rise in students. It is evident that people realize the importance and necessity of education. I am convinced that education must correspond the biblical teaching and we aim at it. If we perceive ourselves and our churches as representatives of the New Testament priesthood, then the words from the Book of Malachi the Prophet refer to us: “For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth” (The Bible, Malachi 2:7). The messenger has to convey the views faithfully. Nevertheless this perception has not become universal because not all pastors accept the meaning of it. Some people have managed to cause a clash between mercy and education claiming that “as we are anointed we know everything…” This is an artificial and unnecessary clash and contradiction. Overcoming such contradictions is one of the reasons why our Department sets a goal of forming a three-level educational system. In particular now we are working on getting a license for the secondary theological education.

F&S: MTI celebrates a 25-year anniversary this year. What has been achieved so far and what further aims do you see for this institute?

PZ: During the last years there has been made a huge step both in higher education and in popularization of its value. Today our Russian church has something it could not even dream about for many years. Today people do Master's degrees and doctoral studies… In 2016 we witnessed a group of Russian ministers being awarded the title of Doctor of Theology. The number of ministers who received Master's degrees has increased. This is very meaningful, because we need our own staff that will be able to teach in Master’s degree programs, not to invite guest lecturers. I think these are very significant events in the Russian church. The number of people who have already finished the studies is great. 25th anniversary is a great date and a reason for celebration. May God bless all those who with sincere hearts ministered in MTI before and are ministering now. For us it is also very important to develop the platform for theological discussion. For this reason the second Theological conference of the Russian church was held in Izhevsk this year.

F&S: Are you planning to start new disciplines and open new faculties in MTI?

PZ: As I mentioned before we are trying to amend articles to be able to implement secondary education program.  Besides, we have started special subjects for people who are involved in youth ministry, not in the framework of a separate program, but so that they could receive standard theological education with specific knowledge of youth. The secondary education will not be theoretically oriented, because nowadays the church needs people who have real-life experience. That is why we are making adjustments to our programs, and I think this is right.

F&S: What do you think is the level of theological education in the Russian church today?

PZ: The level is immensely increasing, but I cannot say that we have reached some peak and that is why we continue to aspire to improvement of educational programs and increasing the quality of subjects. We work closely with the lecturers, and here the conflict arises, which is partly far-fetched and partly real: some lecturers present authorial programs, which, in my opinion, is not appropriate in the structure of theological education. On the one hand we understand, that yes, there is the author of a program, but on the other hand, the main Author is God and everything belongs to Him… Some programs need to be edited and systematized.

A very important task is also translation and publication of literature. We need editions of good quality in Russian language. A lot of literature that is used now is published in not a very good translation. Translators need to take into consideration peculiarities of our Russian brotherhood, and this is not always accomplished. However, leaders of MTI have achieved positive changes in these questions. Some materials are edited or provided with our supplements, the work is carried out on the publishing of Russian theological works. We need literature, written by our Russian ministers, pastors, leaders.

But this is rather difficult because not everyone has such an experience. And these are two different things to teach orally and to write a book. It is one thing speaking something to an audience and having a chance to correct it, but quite another to write a book that in case of a wrong action can have the effect of a blasted bomb. Our work for this matter is not finished yet.

In general educational structure is quite good already. It’s obvious that as a head of it I would like the educational network to grow and spread throughout Russia. Every Federal District is preferable to have its own educational institute because the need for people grows. We believe in revival, we believe in the growth of churches and it means that we should train more staff. It is a long-term prospect work. In this work we need the help of both regional bishops and churches’ pastors.

F&S: Eduard Grabovenko spoke of a missionary center he wants to open in his region and of a vision of 10,000 churches by 2020…  How can the Department of Education help to realize these projects?

PZ: This is quite a good question. It is simple but not that simple at the same time… Today is the time when a missionary must be educated because there are a lot of educated people even in the country. That’s why missionaries must not only be skillful in their methods of preaching but also have quite a broad mind. It means that missionary centers must be escalated to a higher level. This is the first. The second is a financial question, because “money is the answer for everything”.  Today there are devote people who are ready to be study but to teach them we need money, we need buildings and so on. The problem is banal but still we have it. That’s why this and other questions of its kind are being developed at the moment. Besides, to create 10,000 churches we need not only many missionaries, but we need lots of counselors, pastors, worship ministers… Moreover, we will need to purchase or build Houses of prayer and other church buildings. This concerns so many questions that are beyond the educational department, but they are necessary for the Russian church. The conclusion is quite simple: if people coming to churches don’t find answers to their questions and searches, they will be disappointed very quickly, and it will become harder and harder to bring people to church. That’s why I think that all this must work together: the understanding of how to develop existing churches, the preaching the Gospel through the project “One year for Jesus”, and forming the structure that can cover the needs of the converted people. This task is enormous and we need really much time and efforts. May God give wisdom to everyone involved in this process.

Pavel Yevteyev

From “Faith&Society” newspaper


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