Posted in ecclesiology & sacraments, missions & evangelism

Advance through Storm: Theological Education in the Church of the Nazarene

I.   The  Storm of False Teachings

Storms don’t exist only in the physical realm; they are also a spiritual reality. The Church is like a ship. As we take on passengers who were adrift, lost and perishing in their sin, the enemy of our souls will do his best to stir up “storms,” anything to impede our progress and keep us from our primary mission. If possible, he’d love to sink the ship!

Indeed, the apostle Paul compared false teachings to dangerous high winds. In Ephesians 4:14, he warns against being “blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (NIV). But how can this be avoided? Verse 13 gives the answer. We must be both unified and mature, a result of the “knowledge of the Son of God.”

Sadly, knowledge of the basics of true Christian faith is often lacking, making the unsuspecting vulnerable to false teaching. When visiting recently with one of our Nazarene church leaders in an African country, I asked: “What is the greatest challenge our church faces in your country?” It only took a few seconds of reflection before he replied: “The prosperity message.” He was concerned that this false idea was destroying churches, disillusioning people by promising them great riches. When the promised return never comes, they tend not to blame the charlatan who pockets their money but the God who they think let them down. They become inoculated to the genuine Gospel, a version of the old proverb: “Once burned, twice shy.”  The “high wind” of false teaching can carry away those who are not properly anchored in sound doctrine.

Church historian Kenneth Latourette entitled one volume of his series on the expansion of Christianity “Advance through Storm.” Every generation sees a new variety of false teaching, high winds seeking to run the “ship” (the Church) aground. And so with every generation, we must intentionally pass on the “knowledge of the Son of God,” the solid teaching that serves as theological ballast when the storm blows its strongest.

From its conception, the Church of the Nazarene has placed a strong emphasis upon education, particularly upon the theological education of its ministers. These are the women and men who stand at the “wheel” of the ship, who must guide the church through rough seas.

This lesson will focus on three educational institutions that are dedicated to anchoring the church through sound teaching. Because our ministers come from various walks of life with differing educational levels prior to receiving a call to ministry, our strategy must also be multi-leveled. Let’s look at the certificate/diploma level of education through the work of the Nazarene Bible College of East Africa in Nairobi, Kenya. The bachelor’s level will be represented by the School of Theology and Philosophy at Mount Vernon Nazarene University (Mt. Vernon, Ohio). Finally, we’ll consider the Master’s level by visiting with Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary located in Manila, the capital of the Philippines.

II.   Nazarene Bible College of East Africa (NBC-EA)– Nairobi, Kenya

Her smile is infectious and her spirit gentle. Miss Catherine Mukoko – known to most of her students and colleagues as “Kate” – is Principal of NBC-EA, the Nazarene school serving ministers in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Kate freely credits the long string of missionary educators who came before her for showing her “the ropes” as she moved from assistant librarian to registrar and now head of the school.

But Kate is just one of a team serving the educational needs of Nazarenes across the Africa East Field. With 1,650 students enrolled in 131 centers, she coordinates over 70 teachers who equip lay and clergy for many assignments, including pastoring, youth pastoring, children’s ministry and Sunday School. NBC-EA is having a great impact across the Field, solidly grounding leaders in sound doctrine.

No one would have ever pictured Richard Awanda as a pastor. He served as a janitor at the Central Church of the Nazarene, where classes were held. Often, when his work was done, he would take books down from the library shelves and begin to read, wanting to know more about the Bible. Kate encouraged him to enroll in the program, and Richard was a quick learner. When he had completed the Diploma in Theology, Richard still thirsted for more. He enrolled at Africa Nazarene University and earned the Bachelor of Theology (B.Th.). Currently, he is associate pastor at Central Church in Nairobi and is also working on a Master’s degree in Religion through ANU. Kate reflects: “This is what NBC-EA is all about, helping the church identify and develop leaders.” She requests prayer for Rev. Awanda and his ministry.

Let’s also remember to pray for Miss Kate Mukoko and NBC-EA. They face financial challenges since tuition is inadequate to cover expenses, though they do have some income through World Evangelism Fund and renting out the school’s dormitories when not being used by Nazarenes for intensive courses. Pray that God will help NBC-EA leaders as they strategize to make programs sustainable over the long-term.

III.   School of Theology and Philosophy, Mount Vernon Nazarene University (Mount Vernon, Ohio)

Note to lesson presenters: Mount Vernon is used as representative of the several schools that could have been profiled for this section. You may substitute here information about your own nearby Nazarene College or University. See the accompanying information sheet for a list of websites.

From Kenya in East Africa, we journey west across the Atlantic to the heart of the United States. Less than an hour’s drive north of Columbus is the little town of Mount Vernon, Ohio. This is the home of Mount Vernon Nazarene University, which houses the School of Theology and Philosophy, headed by Dr. C. Jeanne Serrão, Dean of the school.

One of the many teachers in the Bachelor’s degree program at the school is Dr. Matt Price. Regarding his own calling, he writes:

The trajectory of my life has always been toward education and cross-cultural ministry. Since I was a child, I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. As a teenager, God called me into ministry soon after I was converted. This sense of calling keeps me grounded in the ever-changing and very-often chaotic experience of ministry.

Dr. Price is Assistant Professor of Christian Education and also teaches missions courses. Following service in Benin, West Africa, he briefly served with the International Board of Education before relocating to Mt. Vernon and taking up his current teaching duties in 2009.

Dr. Price reported that there are 125 students who major in the various programs offered through the School of Theology and Philosophy. Because there are many Nazarene churches in outlying areas, there are ample ministerial internship opportunities for students who mostly are studying for youth ministry, pastoral ministry, or cross-cultural service (intercultural studies). For those in the last category, specializations include Spanish, business and communications, all of which include a required semester abroad.

Teaching the next generation is demanding but filled with rewards. Dr. Price shared this story:

A couple of years ago I was teaching a general education course in the Bible with 45 students. One of the students was a senior baseball player and an atheist. We developed an ongoing conversation after classes and by email. Early in the next semester, he sent an email explaining how teammates stayed up late talking about God and the Bible. They committed to starting a small group Bible study. By the end of the year, the young man came to a steady faith in Christ in spite of the difficulties he has encountered.

Like in all our Nazarene Universities, one thing that sets faculty apart from larger, secular schools of higher education is the concern taken in students’ spiritual welfare.  Dr. Price tells the story of “Sarah” (not her real name):

“Sarah” grew up in a home broken by divorce. Her parents stayed actively involved in her life, especially as she played sports. Soccer was her favorite activity. She played throughout middle school and high school. Coming to MVNU was simply based on an athletic scholarship. At the end of her freshman year, Sarah came into my office asking about the Youth Ministry major. She sensed a strong calling into ministry but had been resisting it. We talked and prayed. Classes have not been easy for her since they demanded a level of reading and writing not always present in other academic disciplines. In her ministry classes, she met another youth ministry major named Nicholas (not his real name), and are now considering marriage. Next year, Sarah has been elected one of the team captains. She, like many of our students, know that God has called them, but are not sure of the details about how this calling will be fulfilled—through a local church assignment, in a parachurch organization like Athletes in Action, or from a lay ministry involvement such as a coaching position. I’m sure Sarah and her classmates would be encouraged by your prayer for their lives and future ministries.

 Sarah will join many others equipped by the School of Theology and Philosophy to minister in rapidly changing times. Let’s remember to lift them before the Lord as they follow the calling that God has placed upon their lives.

IV.       Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary – Manila, Philippines

Founded in 1983 under the direction of its first president, Dr. Donald Owens, Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary was the first Nazarene institution outside North America to offer a Master’s level degree in theological studies. To date, it has graduated more than 400 students who are involved in ministry in twenty-five countries, including Australia, Cambodia, Nepal, Japan, South Korea, Micronesia, Taiwan, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines.

APNTS has had a series of equally distinguished presidents who followed Dr. Owens, including Dr. Lebron Fairbanks, Dr. John Nielson, Dr. Hitoshi (Paul) Fukue and (currently) Dr. Floyd Cunningham, a historian who has taught at APNTS and served in other capacities at the school and in the surrounding community since 1982. (See more details from both Dr. Cunningham’s rich personal history and that of the school on the accompanying information sheet). Through the cumulative leadership of these five presidents, the school has flourished. Enrollment now stands at 175, which includes courses offered through extension centers. Fourteen countries are represented among the student body.

Dr. Cunningham is especially proud of the recent strides APNTS has made in equipping those ministering to children.  He writes:

APNTS offers a unique program in holistic child development in cooperation with the Asia Graduate School of Theology. The Philippine government granted recognition to the PhD in HCD in 2012. Indeed the school emphasizes ministries to children – with special concern for children in crisis – and local compassionate ministries in the community.

Besides the Ph.D., APNTS offers the Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Religious Education, Master of Arts in Christian Communication, and the Master of  Science in Theology, each of which normally take three years to complete.

When asked to share a few stories of students attending the school, Dr. Cunningham responded:

Anderson Godoy, a student from Columbia, South America, feels called to become a missionary in Asia – perhaps to Japan – one day. About ¼ of APNTS graduates become involved in cross-cultural ministries.

Jordan Escusa is the youth pastor of the Generation Congregation of Taytay First Church of the Nazarene. He grew up in California, but his parents sent him back to the Philippines when he was a teen, and there he found the Lord and was called to ministry. In addition to pastoring the youth congregation he has a radio program, “Perfect Rhythm,” broadcast throughout the Philippines.

APNTS is perfectly located to minister to many countries in the Pacific Rim. It is a rich tapestry of many cultures, a true crossroads for the entire region. Let us join in prayer not only for Dr. Floyd Cunningham but for the faculty and students of APNTS. Through their ministry, they are having and will continue to have a tremendous impact for the Kingdom of God.

V.        Conclusion

 There are 54 educational institutions under the direction of the International Board of Education of the Church of the Nazarene, which include the three profiled in this lesson. In an age where there are often strong doctrinal winds that would blow the “ship” of the Church of the Nazarene off course, it is comforting to know that schools like NBC-EA, Mount Vernon Nazarene University and APNTS are anchoring leaders of all educational levels in sound doctrine, equipping them for dynamic ministry in spiritually stormy times.


This essay by Dr. Crofford is the final installment in a series of four lessons developed by Greg and Amy Crofford for Nazarene Missions International (NMI).

Photo credit: Yesu Garden



Greg is interested in many topics, including theology, philosophy, and science.

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