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If You Were An Institution, Would You Be Accredited?

mass_099.jpg “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith.” 2 Corinthians 13:5

I have a knack for asking odd questions, something for which I’m not always particularly proud. This one, however, not only makes sense to me, it has actually become paramount in my thinking. It surfaces directly from my involvement with the accreditation process as a member of the board of directors of Urshan Graduate School of Theology. In order to avoid the label of a “paper mill” or accused of granting “mail-order” degrees, we have seriously sought accreditation. In June of 2004, we made the Associate level. That gave us a five year window to get to the next level of Candidate status.

The board has discovered that achieving accreditation has less to do with “bean counting” than it does with more intangible aspects of the school. To the average person, the usual educational components like books in the library or professors with the proper degrees seem to be all that’s necessary. Not the case. The accrediting agency, the Association of Theological Schools ( ATS ) wants much more of us than that. They want to be sure that we are who we say we are and that we do what we say we are going to do. They require a rigorous (read: painful, embarrassing, thorough, costly) self study process in order to earn this coveted standing. UGST is now engaged in this activity. We must look at our purpose, planning and integrity applying institutional standards to learning, teaching, research, theological curriculum, and much more. We even have to look critically at the job we are doing as board members.

Most interestingly, ATS does not judge our theology in terms of other belief systems. They ask one main question: Are you who you say you are? More specifically, they ask if we are fulfilling our mission statement: The mission of the Urshan Graduate School of Theology shall be to provide training, development, advanced studies, and a research center for men and women of the apostolic faith worldwide to further them for Christian service. Who, what, when, where and how are unavoidable questions for the institution to ask itself, all because of its missions statement.

“Examine yourselves.” It may have been tough, but this was precisely Paul’s challenge to the Corinthians. He had grown weary with their constant sinning. Even more irritating to him, however, was their open expression of doubt about his anointing and authority. The Apostle knew something about self examination. He knew it exposes the cracks in our armor, it juxtaposes our boastful claims against the stubborn facts and it shows us where we must begin to correct our course. And, if this is a good question for a church and a school, it may be just as good for an individual. What about you? Are you who you say you are?

The questions you ask yourself had better not be “softball” questions if you want to be accredited. You must ask questions that poke around your integrity, your morality and your spirituality. For example, if your theology informs us that you believe in personal integrity, do you doctor your expense account, hedge on taxes or call in sick so you can play golf? If you say you believe in morality, do you discriminate against people for racist reasons or do play political games at the office to get ahead? If you claim to be spiritual, do you neglect prayer or let your bible collect dust on the shelf? Your theology will determine the questions you ask in your self study.

Let’s try it out on various hypothetical persons. What about a person in a problem marriage? If he or she considers marriage vows to be inviolable, the self-study would zero in on selfishness and commitment. What about persons in financial shambles? If they believe it’s wrong to evade debts or resort to bankruptcy, they will ask questions about their own wastefulness and covetousness. An angry, hostile person should focus on submission, deferment and peacemaking. A substance abuser who believes that he or she is a creation of God needs to ask questions about responsible treatment of God’s property. Persons with no goals or direction in life need to study their giftedness and the opportunities God has placed around them. If you consider yourself to be a Bible-believer, you need to ask yourself some critical questions like these: Am I personally living in compliance with Bible standards and teachings? Do I have a healthy relationship with Jesus Christ? Are my goals and objectives right according to my theology? Am I fulfilling the goals and objectives for me that I believe are right? Do I have a healthy relationship with other people? If my answer to any of these questions is negative, what will I do about it?

Far too many people violate their own theology. Lack of discipline, personal weaknesses; influence of others; desire for pleasure, comfort, acceptance, acclaim, wealth, power; lack of integrity; self-justification; these reasons and more cause them to lead lives disparate with their convictions. The tension that results ends only when actions equal beliefs. At what point will you begin your self-examination?

One more thing from ATS . Self study is endless. That’s because priorities never stay put. Excellence will only be a realized goal in eternity. On earth, the process is all that will ever count.

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