If you get the privilege of pursuing theological education full-time, it is natural to assume that studying theology abroad is ideal and everything else is second best.
While there are many benefits to studying theology abroad, there are other things to consider when deciding where to study. I have completed theological degrees in India and abroad and know many people who have pursued both options.
Here are some things that might be helpful to keep in mind when thinking about studying theology abroad.
The Benefits of Studying Theology Abroad
World Class Faculty
A seminary is only as good as the people who teach there. As much as we appreciate our Indian seminaries and Bible colleges, at this point no institution in India has a faculty that can match the credentials and expertise of certain seminaries abroad. This is especially true when it comes to seminaries which are historically and confessionally evangelical and Reformed.
We who are involved in theological education in India are working hard to develop world-class faculty in our institutions. But the fact is that it will take more time for us to match our foreign counterparts in this regard.
A big part of the learning experience in seminary happens outside the classroom. Studying in a different context gives prospective ministers the opportunity to expand their horizons.
Theological education abroad can challenge people to think about the church, ministry, and sometimes even the Bible differently. Of course, this exposure also has its downsides, but it often can be the most enriching aspect of people’s seminary experiences.
Theological education gives people an opportunity to meet people and develop friendships that may last a long time after a student graduates from seminary, perhaps even a lifetime.
Studying abroad automatically provides students with a global network of relationships and resources, which often prove to be helpful wherever someone ends up in ministry.
The Disadvantages of Studying Theology Abroad
The biggest impediment to studying abroad—wherever that may be—is the financial cost. Most evangelical seminaries abroad are not able to offer much to international students in terms of scholarships and subsidies.
Therefore, one must seriously consider the financial burden of going abroad to study theology, especially if one is planning to do ministry in India afterwards.
The cost of studying theology abroad is not only financial. Where and how we learn can be as critical as what we learn.
Every professor teaches according to their experience and assumptions, originating out of a particular time and cultural milieu, which can often be very different from the students’s culture.
Anyone who has studied or trained in one context and then comes into another context knows that there is much to ‘unlearn’ and perhaps ‘re-learn’.
While God’s Word and the core theological convictions of our faith are unchanging, our particular context does affect how these truths are understood, communicated, and applied. This is especially true of ministry classes, but it applies to other subjects as well.
Exposure to different perspectives can be very enriching and helpful, but it can also be very disorienting. It may take years to overcome the cultural dislocation of studying theology abroad.
If you are preparing to do ministry in India, in many ways it is ideal to pursue your theological studies in India itself.
Hard to Return Home
Over the years I have observed how surprisingly hard it is for Indians to return to India after being abroad for a few years.
Sometimes it seems like foreigners actually have an easier time moving to India from a different country than Indians themselves.
In fact many Indians do not come back at all, even though they may sincerely have had every intention to return. There may be many reasons for this, and the reasons may vary from one person to another. But whatever the reason, it is good to keep this in mind from the beginning.
So how can you move forward in making a decision about this difficult question?
Making the Decision on Studying Theology Abroad
Be Clear on Your Goals
As much as possible, it is good to be clear on your goals in pursuing theological education, including what you hope to do after you complete your studies. This clarity is important before making a potentially life-altering decision, and possibly spending lakhs of rupees.
Some questions to consider are the following: Is this your first theological degree, or are you pursuing an advanced degree? Where do you feel called to serve in the future? What exactly are you hoping to gain through your theological studies? Have you looked at alternatives or considered your options in India?
Do Your Research
Learn as much as you can about opportunities for theological education both in India and abroad. Facts are always our friends when seeking to make wise decisions. Try to understand as thoroughly as possible what is the landscape of theological education around the world before making any decisions.
Consult Your Church Leadership
Seeking godly counsel is important in all decision-making, but it is especially so when considering choices about studying theology.
Hopefully your pastor and other church leaders know you well, and can suggest options that might suit you best. They might also know of institutions in India or abroad of which you are not aware.
Your spiritual leaders might also like to share about potential ministry opportunities for you during or after your studies. They may even have resources or connections for financial help.
Guard Your Heart
Remember that where you study does not define you. Your identity is defined by who you are in Christ.
Theological education is a means, not an end. The end is to know God and his Word better, so that you can love him more dearly and serve him more effectively.
To be able to study at a good Bible college or seminary is a huge blessing, but is not the ultimate factor in determining the intimacy of your walk with God or the fruitfulness of your future ministry.
If you get the opportunity to study at a good institution abroad, praise God! But remember that to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48).
If you study theology in India, do not think of those who studied abroad as theologically “superior” and see yourself as theologically “inferior” in any sense.
Make the most of it, and do your best to learn from whatever resources are available to you. Wherever you study, remember that—like most things in life—you will get out of it what you put into it. So apply yourself fully to your studies, and may God use them powerfully to shape you for a lifetime of fruitful ministry.