Part 2 – Ralph Enlow interview with Kent Anderson, President of Northwest Baptist Seminary and Ruth McGillivray, Director of Competency-Based Education.

Welcome to our second installment of excerpts from our interview with Northwest Baptist Seminary President, Kent Anderson, and Director of Competency Based Theological Education, Ruth McGillivray, about an innovative approach to Competency Based Education. If you missed our first post – or would like to refer back to it – click here.


Ralph: I’m curious – how did Northwest get started in CBTE, and why?

Kent Anderson & Ruth McGillvray: They say the first step in change management is realizing you’re on a burning bridge. Honestly, around 2009 we knew our bridge was on fire. The denomination we serve, Fellowship Pacific, was not sending us new students, and its churches weren’t hiring our graduates. This led to some hard, truth-speaking conversations and an acceptance that the traditional higher education model we’d been using to train pastors was no longer working for us. Our graduates didn’t have the skills and competencies our churches needed, and the denomination was looking elsewhere to find pastors.

In response, we undertook a project with the denomination in 2010 to reverse-engineer our MDiv program, by starting with the end in mind. We worked together to identify the competencies we believe pastors need to meet current church needs and re-evaluated the school’s educational approach. In 2012, we launched Immerse, a competency-based, direct assessment, in-context delivery MDiv program run jointly by Northwest and Fellowship Pacific.

The Immerse model was based on core principles of an occupational training model called competency-based education, but adapted significantly for the ministry setting, where character traits, qualities, and dispositions of the heart are as crucial to success as knowledge, skills, and abilities. We called the model Competency-Based Theological Education, or CBTE.


Ralph: Have you had any graduates yet from your CBTE MDiv?

Kent Anderson & Ruth McGillvray: Yes! As of September 2018, we will have 22 graduates from Canada, the United States, and South America.


Ralph: What differences do notice between your CBTE MDiv graduates versus previous graduates from traditional programs?

Kent Anderson & Ruth McGillvray: Our CBTE MDiv graduates are job-ready at graduation. They aren’t trained in classrooms, but rather in full-time ministry under the guidance of a three-person mentor team that includes a Northwest faculty member, network or church leader, and current practitioner. They do traditional assignments like readings, seminars, papers, and projects, but evaluation is focused on application in-context, and timing is determined by the needs of their ministry setting. They learn in real time, on-the-job, and by the time they graduate, they’ve already proven they can be successful in the ministry for which they’ve trained. Our placement rate is 95%.

Also, our graduates are all high performers, since CBTE programs award credit for mastery, not completion. This takes more time for some than others, but that’s the basic premise of CBTE—that learning is constant and time is variable. If a student is not yet meeting the performance standards for a competency—as defined by program rubrics—the mentor team will have them re-do assignments or assign new ones, working with them till mastery standards are met. In conventional terms, it’s like saying a student must achieve minimum 80-85% in every course to graduate, but they have as much time as needed to get there.

The other big differentiator is that Immerse students must demonstrate mastery of affective domain competencies like community, humility, hope, prayer and love in order to graduate, not just knowledge and skill-based competencies like biblical languages, hermeneutics, and exegesis. This is hard to do with rigor or authenticity in a traditional program but works for Immerse because of the way the program is designed, and the fact that mentor teams work with the same student over a period of years, guiding, observing, and assessing all aspects of their development, not just academics.


Ralph: We talked previously about the International Conference on Competency-Based Theological Education (CBTE) Northwest is holding in Vancouver, BC on Nov 5-6/18.
Who should attend and what should they expect to learn? To contribute?

CBTE 2018 Kent Anderson & Ruth McGillvray: We are very excited about this conference! It’s for college and seminary leaders, deans, faculty, network and church leaders, and anyone interested in the philosophy, design, and implementation of CBTE programs. We’re bringing in experts to share their knowledge of the competency-based education landscape, US Government regulations, direct assessment, accreditation and stakeholder engagement, and creating opportunities for leaders, students and stakeholders of CBTE pioneer programs to share their experience and answer questions.

CBTE is still a relatively new innovation, so we’ve designed the conference to generate opportunities for dialogue and networking. We know participants are coming to explore concepts, develop new programs and enhance existing ones, but we hope they will also engage each other as resources. We’re all learning and growing in this field, and this conference is a wonderful opportunity ask questions and start new conversations. We already have a diverse group of leaders signed up from schools and ministry organizations across Canada and the U.S., but there’s still room for more. More information is available at


More of this interview coming soon! Meanwhile, I hope you will consider sending a delegate from your institution to CBTE 2018.