If you are not aware of the contemporary surge of interest in Competency Based Education, you should be. Fresh interest in CBE is being driven by innovators at the institutional level but also by policy makers at the national and international levels. One institution with a historical connection to ABHE is at the forefront of the CBE conversation. Northwest Baptist Seminary (BC) is one of two ATS-accredited seminaries that has been granted special experimental permission to develop a credible approach to accredited CBE. Over the next 4 months, I will be posting excerpts of an interview with Northwest Baptist Seminary President Kent Anderson and Director of Competency Based Theological Education, Ruth McGillivray, about this innovative approach and how you can become informed and involved.


Ralph: What are the essential features of and arguments in favor of CBTE?

Kent Anderson & Ruth McGillvray: Competency-based theological education (CBTE) is an educational approach that bases program and curricular design on demonstrating mastery of the competencies required to be successful in a targeted vocation or ministry role. People sometimes call CBTE programs “reverse-engineered” because program design starts with the desired end result—as defined by practitioners and employers—and works backward from there.

The key distinction between CBTE and traditional course-based programs is that CBTE programs award credit based on demonstrated competency, not completed courses. In course-based programs, students can receive a passing grade in every class without mastering key concepts or skills. This doesn’t happen in CBTE programs because competencies are assessed holistically and directly, rather than by proxy through exams, courses and papers.

Northwest’s CBTE programs focus on mentored mastery in-context. Students don’t take courses, but rather are guided through a process of learning and development by a dedicated mentor team while they work in their chosen ministry. This way, learning, application, assessment and mentoring occurs in the context of real-world situations. Students graduate as proven leaders, trained holistically in-context in the knowledge, skills, and character traits they need to prosper in their callings.


Ralph: CBTE is certainly a hot topic these days in theological education. Why do you think that is?

Kent Anderson & Ruth McGillvray: CBTE is producing undeniable positive results, but it’s disruptive on every level and resistance can be high. It challenges the course-credit hour model—a worldwide communications protocol that underpins every aspect of post-secondary education. Replacing course-based credits with competency-based credits changes the rules and everything built on top of them. The implications can be overwhelming and threatening, and bucking that system requires conviction and commitment on the part of leadership, faculty, administration, students, and employers.

Balance that against the awareness that we need to do something different. Journals, magazines, and papers have lamented the unpreparedness of university graduates for the workplace for years. In fact, just this week the Globe and Mail, Canada’s foremost news media company, published a special feature on how “higher education institutions need to disrupt or be disrupted”[1].

It really hit home for us at Northwest when our parent denomination told us in 2009 that we were not producing the type of graduates our churches needed to lead them. As we worked with them to get a clear picture of what our graduates needed to look like, the CBTE model emerged. Our graduates are now job-ready and 95% of them are successfully engaged in full-time ministry.


Northwest is hosting the first International Conference on Competency-Based Theological Education (CBTE)
Nov. 5-6, 2018, Vancouver, BC.


Ralph: Why is Northwest hosting a conference on it?

Kent Anderson & Ruth McGillvray: Northwest Baptist Seminary is a denominational seminary affiliated with Fellowship Baptist churches in Western Canada. We used to operate as Northwest Baptist Theological College and Seminary, and our undergrad programs had accredited status with ABHE (AABC). We closed our undergrad division in 2000 and let our membership lapse, but plan to re-apply this year as we’re in the process of re-opening our undergrad division with CBTE programs.

As we mentioned, Northwest was challenged by its parent denomination to re-think its pastoral training program. That resulted in the launch of Immerse in 2012, the first ATS-accredited CBTE direct assessment MDiv program in North America. It was designed and implemented in partnership with our constituent churches and is the only CBTE program (to date) that has produced graduates. As a result, there has been a groundswell of interest from other schools. In the past couple of years, Northwest has provided consultation services to over 40 seminaries throughout North America, from introductory sessions to multi-day workshops.

Several more schools have launched CBTE programs in the meantime, and many more have programs under development. We thought it was a good time to initiate some kind of partnership or collaboration between schools, networks and churches running CBTE programs, so we could work together to develop resources, set standards and recognize best practices. We want to make the path as easy as possible for others to develop similar programs, and thought a conference was a good way to gather and start the conversation.


Ralph: Who do you expect to have at the Conference, and what can they expect to get from it?

Kent Anderson & Ruth McGillvray: We’re expecting theological college and seminary faculty and leaders from across North America at CBTE 2018, as well as church and network leaders. Participants can expect to join in conversation with educators who share a passion for innovation in theological education, glean insight from experts and trailblazers in the CBTE movement, and learn of best practices, research, successes, and challenges from those on the forefront of designing and developing CBTE programs.

If your readers are interested in attending CBTE 2018, they are welcome! We already have a wide variety of educational leaders signed up from denominations and schools throughout North America. This is a multi-denominational event, by the way. The focus is not on a particular theology, but rather the CBTE educational philosophy, methodology and operational models. People can learn more about the conference and register at www.cbte.ca.

[1] https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/careers/leadership/article-higher-education-institutions-need-to-disrupt-or-be-disrupted/

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


Fresh gleanings to fuel your leadership awareness, reflection, and conversations …


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US Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month admonished fellow evangelicals to submit to the administration’s authority relative to immigration policy in general and family separation practices in particular. Though executive, legislative and judicial actions may alleviate some of the circumstances and contention, this is a good time to think about how Romans 13 has been used historically to defend political protest. Here is a thoughtful historical overview.

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If I have failed to provoke you through what you’ve read thus far in this post, allow me to venture further into that which is sacred. This Federalist essay by Lyman Stone predicts that recent judicial clearance for professional sports gambling may finally expose the cultural and spiritual degradation fostered by big time professional sport. His views echo those of venerable church fathers to a surprising degree. Prepare to squirm.