New Directions for Indigenous Theological Education

Guest Writer: The Rev. Dr. Mary Crist

Coordinator, Indigenous Theological Education, The Episcopal Church

Theological education is in need of an update to fit the nature and needs of many Indigenous church leaders. Based upon adult learning theory, we know that adults learn best when their learning

  • Is connected to their life circumstances and spiritual traditions,
  • Involves active learning,
  • Offers assignments that are purposeful and aligned with individual educational goals,
  • Is affordable,
  • Is accessible, and
  • Does not require leaving home to attend classes.

In addition to finding theological education that checks these boxes, many Indigenous people need theological education that is practical, affordable, close to home, and aligned with tribal traditions and practices as well meeting canonical expectations. Flexible scheduling is a plus because Indigenous people can become discouraged with the time it takes to finish a particular program. For example, a lay leader who has been in charge of a local church for years can easily become discouraged when facing a four- to six-year trek to a Bachelor’s Degree on the way to a Master of Divinity in order to become ordained.

The Episcopal Church is exploring new ways of delivering theological education to meet the needs of Indigenous people. For example, we are investigating ways to offer micro-credentials that could be stacked to earn a degree. We are also exploring competency-based education (CBE) to allow students to earn college credit for things they are being trained to do in the churches as lay leaders or people thinking about ordination. Another idea we are considering is flexible scheduling to accelerate or to stretch out the time needed to complete a certificate or degree. Finally, using a block-chain transcript system would make it possible to track and evaluate adult learning experiences that take place in many venues over the course of time. To accomplish these innovative changes, we envision partnerships with diocesan formation programs, colleges, universities, and seminaries. The work has just begun, but we are confident that by bringing people together to work on the possibilities, we can make a significant difference in theological education for Indigenous people.

There’s much to learn from Mary’s approach — and ample opportunity for local partnerships. Reach out to begin conversations about this work with Mary at