What is the role of education in bringing the gospel to societies where Jesus is either not known or not followed?

From Asia: Education for Economic Transformation

WCIU Journal: Education Topic

October 5, 2017

by David Lim

This article was originally published in the William Carey International Development Journal, Volume 2, Issue 4: Transformational Development, Part 1

See additional articles on the topic of Education here.

Economic transformation is perhaps the most important aspect of societal transformation, given the fact that the market dominates the agenda of our globalized world today. This was popularized by Francis Fukuyama’s book, The End of History and the Last Man (1992) that built on his essay “The End of History?” (1989), which asserted that capitalism in liberal democracies is the “ultimate” global ideal henceforth. Yet poverty has persisted if not increased, and the gap between the rich and the poor regionally and globally has continued to widen. What is the biblical vision and mission for the economic order in local communities, in national plans and among nations?

As those involved in Christian higher education, we are called to equip leaders who can lead the church in fulfilling the “cultural mandate” of missio dei, based on our biblical theology and Christian worldview. This paper seeks to describe the framework and curriculum by which CHE institutions can best equip our students to bring about “economic transformation.”

This paper assumes that we are already convinced that the Bible teaches very clearly that God desires “social and economic justice,” especially for the poor and oppressed, who are called “the poor” in the Bible. (See Lim 1992; Hanks 1983; Elliston 1989; Myer 1999; and Wolterstorff, 1983.) The issue addressed here is no longer why we should be concerned, but how we can institutionalize this concern most appropriately in the curriculum so that our students and graduates are best equipped to communicate and implement this concern in our globalized world, especially in contexts characterized by mass poverty and social injustice.

This work also assumes that we affirm the importance and necessity of evangelism and discipleship in the holistic approach to any transformational ministry. (See Lim 2004; Garrison 2004; Boff 1986; Coleman 1964; Simson 2001 and Zdero 2004.) Yet we have to teach on how to evangelize with utmost care, lest we either produce “rice Christians” (i.e., converts who disappear once our help is stopped) or get accused of using our work of compassion and justice as self-serving (i.e., our aid to the poor serve as “baits” to get them hooked to our religion).

With these assumptions, this paper proposes a curriculum for effecting economic transformation, specifically its objectives, content, and pedagogy, along with its implications for institutional change to maximize its effectivity. How can Christian higher education effectively equip our students to do effective works of compassion and justice in the various contexts today? The problems of the poor are rooted in educational and economic deficits. People who are illiterate and poor are locked out of the global economy, so the challenge for Christian higher education is very basic: Can we really produce more graduates who can lead and manage economic transformational ministries that will truly empower the poor? The writer shares as a reflective practitioner, as the Executive Trustee/CEO of a Philippine-based Christian higher educational institution called Asian School for Development and Cross-cultural Studies (ASDECS) that specializes in training teachers, leaders, and managers of ministries that seek to affect economic transformation.

Curricular Objective: Towards Solidarity Economy

In recent years, Christians have come to recognize that the church’s missio dei to “make disciples of nations” includes “teaching them to obey all that Christ has commanded us” (Matt. 28:18-20). “Transformation” is the favorite term that has surfaced, especially among evangelicals, to denote this goal of proclaiming this “whole gospel” of the kingdom of God. “Societal transformation” means the restoration of peace/shalom in the world through the establishment of Christ-centered communities of love, righteousness, justice, and peace (Isa. 65:19-25; Rom. 12:1-15). It brings about harmony and reconciliation whereby people are invited to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, and then incorporated into faith-communities that seek to build right relationships with God, their neighbors, creation, and their own selves (Matt. 22:37-39; 2 Cor. 10:5), in partnership with those who do not believe. By God’s grace, every person and community/people group will have been enabled to their fullest possible potential as God intended each of them to be (Eph. 4:17-24; Col. 3:5-17) — in caring and sharing communities where no person or group is poor and oppressed (cf. Deut. 15:1-15; Acts 4:32-35).

The goals of Christian higher education should thus include both personal and societal transformation, especially economic transformation. Whether the person or the community turns to Christ or not, we hope that each individual in the populace will have been empowered to become mature and responsible (not dependent) citizens who can make dignified and wise decisions for their individual and communal life (including to be for or against Christ). They would be active participants (not passive or marginalized spectators) in tackling issues that affect their lives and destinies in the light of God’s Word.

Can Christian higher education lead in realizing God’s agenda for societal transformation, including economic transformation? Can we lead in breaking the vicious cycles of poverty and injustice so that new opportunities and more access to earth’s resources are made available to the lower classes of society? Such lofty economic transformational goals seem impossible, and indeed they are, humanly speaking. Yet the Bible reveals that our God is more than eager to have all peoples and nations redeemed and transformed (1 Tim. 2:3-4; 2 Pet. 3:9; Rev.21:24-27), and His Spirit is at work to make the “fields ripe unto harvest” (John 16:7-11; cf. 4:34-38). In fact God will not end world history until this harvest is reaped (Matt. 24:14; Rev. 7). God must have intended his mission (including economic transformation, where “no one is poor” and everyone enjoys “abundant life”) to be achieved, though not without cost and sacrifice. Even the countries represented in the United Nations look quite optimistically on the possibility of halving poverty in the world through the eight action points in their Millennial Development Plan. Pope Benedict XVI told the participants to the 34th General Conference of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “The time has come to ensure, for the sake of peace, that no man, woman or child will ever be hungry again.” He highlighted “the relentless spread of poverty in a world that is also experiencing unprecedented prosperity, not only in the economic sphere but also in the rapidly developing fields of science and technology;” obstacles such as “armed conflicts, outbreaks of disease, adverse atmospheric and environmental conditions and the massive forced displacement of peoples should serve as a motivation to redouble our efforts to provide each person with his or her daily bread;” and “today more than ever, the human family needs to find the tools and strategies capable of overcoming conflicts caused by social differences, ethnic rivalries, and the gross disparity in levels of economic development.” (World Mission, January 2008: 8).

Perhaps Christian higher education can play a leading role in overcoming the causes and effects of social and economic injustice among peoples worldwide. Of course, there are many signs of intensifying social problems that are leading to increasing marginalization of the poor. Due to climate change, rapid urbanization, and overcrowded slums, there is increasing poverty, underemployment, and lack of basic services. Recent news include water shortages, food crises, poor sanitation, routine corruption and deteriorating public education systems, among many other forces that will lead to worse marginalization and injustice. Yet solutions can surely be found, for no modern society has totally collapsed from social problems (not even Somalia or Mali, but of course, it is by God’s common grace!) The challenge for us is to equip the next generation of leaders to be competent in economic transformation to address the challenges raised by the expected larger poor populations in growing cities and in struggling villages of most nations in the world, especially in Africa and Asia.

Is there a sustainable alternative system? Is another global economic order possible? Seeds of this alternative anti-injustice “solidarity economy” are already being planted and nurtured in many sectors in the world today, including charter-human-responsibilities.net. They are trying to evolve a people- and eco-centered way of governance over the production, financing, distribution and consumption of goods and services, in order to generate sustainable conditions for self-managed development of every member of society. Among its objectives are: a democratic decision-making process that implies the necessary participation of consumers and producers; priority is given to people and work over capital in the distribution of revenue and surplus; and its activities are based on principles of participation, empowerment, and individual and collective responsibility. (Among similar Christian initiatives are Micah Challenge, Bread for the Hungry, Evangelicals for Social Action, and Asian Forum for Solidarity Economy.)

Our schools should aim to share leadership in pursuing shalom through economic transformation to help build this new economic order with these initiatives and enterprises. Working towards the eradication of social injustice may be achieved through the establishment of caring and sharing communities, where people are freed from fear and want, and are enabled to develop their potential and participate in decision-making. The human dignity deficits in the world today has led to campaigns for fair trade policies internationally and economic sustainability domestically. This is done through the use of locally available resources, production catering to basic community needs and respect for the environment. In Asia, this includes promoting gender equity through recognition of the work of women (who constitute the majority of the poor) and stronger participation of women in decision-making. In the face of the increasingly exclusionary outcomes of economic liberalization in most Asian economies, there is a great need to advocate for fair and balanced participation in development processes as well as equitable distribution of opportunities, resources and benefits. May we educate our students to be leaders in developing this alternative “solidarity economy” clearly in mind.

Curricular Content: Towards Organizing Social Enterprises

With the above objective (which can become a course on the “Biblical Theology of Economic Transformation” or the like), what courses and skills must be included in this Economic Transformation curriculum? Each Christian higher education school must strive to develop courses and study programs that will equip its students to effect economic transformation. Addressing the needs of the poor entails at least five skill sets, hence each attempt to curriculize ministry among the poor must include training in the processes and skills that can effectively empower the poor:
• emergency relief
• economic development
• political action
• community organizing
• social entrepreneurship.

Emergency Relief

This is the easiest and the most popular. It is expressed by alms-giving, collecting goods for the disaster victims, donating blood to the Red Cross, providing free feeding and medical services, leading disaster relief and rehabilitation, etc. The objective is to help someone who is threatened by death due to lack of basic necessities in life. This is good and helpful, but for desperate people and bad situations only. If “helping the poor” stays on this level for a longer period of time, alms-giving and relief operation become “dole outs” — unhelpful and detrimental to the person’s and their community’s growth.

Recent works have highlighted the fact that in spite of good and noble intentions, much of “foreign aid,” including (and perhaps also mainly) those in Christian ministry, have contributed to worse situations, particularly the perpetuation of paternalism (for donors) and dependency (for donees) wherever such relationships occur (Schwartz 2007; Corbett & Fikkert 2009; Greer & Smith 2009; Rajendran 2010; cf. Everist 1989). In political circles, foreign aid has corrupted governments, and enriched and empowered dictators (Easterly 2006; Moyo 2009; Wrong 2009). The recipients and their community became fixed in their dependent and mendicant condition, unable to even help themselves; hence another level of intervention must follow as soon as possible.

Economic Development

Economic development aims “to teach the person how to fish,” rather than just “to give him the fish” regularly. The objective is to help the poor get out of poverty through the provision of job and/or business opportunities. This can be accomplished through job placement bureaus, skills training programs, scholarship aids, capital loans, formation of credit unions or cooperatives, and other activities which will enable the poor to help themselves. Although this requires more expertise and investment resources, this is a more effective means of helping the poor.

The economic development skill set involves not only approaching communities holistically, but also doing so in as contextual and empowering way as possible, so as not to create dependency but rather to help the whole community grow together to its fullest potential. (For secular models, cf. Andres 1988; Schumacher 1984. For Christian models, cf. Bobo 1986; Lim 1992; Linthicum 1991; Myers 1999; Samuel & Sugden 1999; Suderman 1999; Yamamori et al 1995 and 1998.)

By holistic, we mean that the point of intervention and eventual development should cover the entire range of cultural and social life of the people group or community. Any field worker can enter through any entry platform (read: area of expertise) that serves the community, either as professionals (like medical personnel, teachers, managers, engineers, etc.), as businessmen (like setting up computer or language schools, travel agencies, beach resorts, etc.) or even as skilled workers (caregivers, drivers, seamen, community helpers, etc., which any college student can do)! The work among the poor can indeed be joined through any role, as long as the worker has CO perspective and skills.

By contextual, we mean that the needs or is-sues to be tackled are derived from the local situation of the target group itself. Every people and community has their own unique sets of problems and aspirations, thus rather than going among them with a pre-conceived message and a pre-packaged strategy, we must be willing to learn from the populace, be appreciative of their culture (except perhaps the 5% that’s sinful (such as idolatry, individualism (pride), personal immorality and social injustice, which has to be transformed!) and be flexible in his/her ways (cf. 1 Cor. 9:19-23).

By empowering, we mean that the worker should identify her/himself as a servant-leader and work with (not for) the people. The key is for one’s intervention to have a clear commitment to encourage the local people themselves to be responsible for the welfare of their own people and community life, so no one will be poor and marginalized any longer. In the end, the people should be able to say, “We did it ourselves.”

Socio-Political Action

Nevertheless, there are more obstacles for the poor to overcome, so a third level of action must be done. Political action is to provide the structural framework by which the poor can be free to use their vocational skills, by taking away oppressive mindsets, traditions, and systems that keep the poor poor. Its goal is to put as much resources (like land, fishponds, technology, capital, etc.) as possible in the hands and control of the poor, so that they have direct access to the various means of production themselves. This means working for a new societal order like working for the legislation of effective agrarian reform and urban reform programs, monitoring the implementation of government programs for economic development, reforestation, encouraging rural industrialization, decentralization of the bureaucracy, organizing and empowering grassroots groups, etc. To effect and learn from this kind of involvement, our schools may have to encourage the creation of departments that offer study programs that aim to equip students to generate faith-based and experience-grounded models and innovative approaches to community transformation, economic development and political governance. These departments in turn will help the entire academic community (including those who major in the humanities, physical and biological sciences, ecological studies, business management, etc., in all fields of study indeed), in working and reflecting on the effectiveness of multi-disciplinary service among the poor.

Even in business education, corporate social responsibility should be integrated into the curriculum, especially in core business courses, such as strategy, finance, and accounting. Basic corporate social responsibility topics like socially responsible investment, cause-related marketing, ethical supply chain management, and employee volunteerism could be covered in finance, marketing, operations, and human resource courses. The relevance of corporate social responsibility in these subjects is beyond doubt, considering that these are growing trends in the market today.

Community Organizing

In order to empower the poor to lift them-selves out of poverty and oppression, the key skill set is that of community organizing, so that they will be enabled to work for their own economic transformation. Everyone involved in economic transformation must become an expert in only two very important community organizing skills: (1) immersion or integration, which is to spend time with the people to learn about their culture, including their language, social structure, values, beliefs, leaders, etc. It is best to learn basic field research techniques before entry. And (2) core group formation — while working with the people to discern a local need or issue to tackle, the worker facilitates a process by which a leadership core is formed to tackle their problem or attain their aspiration. (For more details, see Andres 1988: 5-23 and 35-43; cf. Alinsky 1969; Bobo 1969; and Linthicum 1991.) Local resources are tapped and maximized before any external help or funds are considered.

Hence, the ideal of an indigenous movement that is self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating is easily achieved. Even from the beginning, local leadership is developed and empowered to lead a caring and sharing community. Community Organizing also gives at least five more advantages: (1) It becomes possible to befriend and reach community leaders (the influencers!) from the start, thereby hastening the process of societal transformation. (2) It shows Christianity’s relevance to any local need or issue. (3) It avoids creating dependency, since local leadership and resources are considered first and foremost. (4) The organized communities, usually in the form of cooperatives, serve as the socio-economic safety nets to empower the poor to withstand the forces of globalization. And (5) the programs and activities are contextualized and sustainable; thus the worker can leave as soon as the foundations for organizational development have been laid. Such are the wonders of community organizing. Wherever possible, we should aim to have long-term sustainability in mind as we get involved with poor communities. The community organizing approach has already proven to be effective indeed in Cambodia (Sluka & Budi-ardjo 1995, 47-78) and Sri Lanka (Stephens 1995, 103-15) among many others.

It would be best for our schools to make community organizing experience (in our field work, practicum, or internship “courses”) a graduation requirement for their students. Perhaps requiring students to volunteer in community service may be established in our study programs and even some course syllabi. A kind of mentoring program by our personnel and senior students in doing community organizing would be ideal, too. This will ensure that all the young people trained in our schools will have real expertise in doing economic transformation effectively anywhere.

Social Entrepreneurship

Perhaps the best structure by which the poor are organized to empower themselves in the market economy is social entrepreneurship, usually in the form of cooperatives and social enterprises that are built on the savings of the poor, owned and managed by the poor, with profits shared among the poor, who will no longer be poor. This is now being built on the experiences and models of successful stories of sustainable transformation/economic transformation organizations that have specialized in micro-finance/credit for micro-entrepreneurs. So if our schools are serious about economic transformation, we should require all our students, faculty, and staff to learn these two skill sets: community organizing and social entrepreneurship. In our economic transformation study programs, the final requirement for graduation must be the development of a social enterprise/business, as is now done in many such schools today.

Curricular Pedagogy: Towards Dialogic Learning

Yet to be truly effective, our educational philosophy for implementing this economic transformation curriculum must be “Transformational (or Integral) Education,” which calls for a fully holistic or integrated approach to the educational process. (“Transformational” emphasizes the end result, while “Integral” focuses on the nature.) In transformational education, what is the pedagogical methodology that will produce the effective workers for ministry among the poor? What is the best training paradigm (pedagogy and programs) by which we can train our students into servant-leaders who will be able to effect economic transformation? For transformational education to be truly transformative, just as the curriculum has to be holistic, contextual, and empowering, its pedagogy should be emancipatory through dialogic learning that is simple, relational, practical, contextual, and participatory.


My theological premise is: Since the Scriptures reveal our God to be desirous to redeem the whole world (1 Tim. 2:3-5; 2 Pet. 3:8-9), we may assume that He designed His redemption plan to be spread with a simple (rather than a complicated) strategy and methodology. In order to attain transformational education, the classroom dynamics and teaching methods have to be simple, so that even non-literates (which are the majority of the poor) can do and replicate. Our students should learn to help the poor understand and work in their daily struggle to survive and thrive in their contexts of deprivation with their dignity intact towards self-reliance and communal sharing lifestyle.

Even the teaching of economic transformation may be done in simple strategies to train people (if possible, every person, not just our students) to gain the basic skills in interpersonal and cross-cultural relationships, leading small group discussions, transformational biblical hermeneutics and theologies, dynamics of social change, learning styles of the poor, etc. Transformational education must explore and develop non-violent means (not just a Christian value!) to challenge oppressive structures. The choice is not between the status quo and change; it is between violent change and peaceful change. J.F. Kennedy said, “They who do not make peaceful change possible make violent change inevitable.” We must seek new ways to resolve conflicts, injustice and underdevelopment. All this must be done within the context of actual field ministry programs where the mentors are economic transformation workers themselves. The simpler the method, the easier and faster the multiplication potential — to maximize impact. No need of major external funding, for it has often led to the slowing down, if not the death, of economic transformation work.

For economic transformation, simplicity in all aspects of ministry and training is also required in order to maximize people empowerment. Even among the poor masses, indigenous leadership for community transformation can be developed from the beginning. Ten each community engagement can be a rapid self-organized and self-sustaining movement that hardly needs much external input and support. With simplicity in transformational education, the school may be able to be involved in as many marginalized communities as their personnel and students choose to engage in. Why? Because once an economic transformation work is effectively done, the organized community will be able to do better (read: more contextualized) replication of economic transformation and transformational education among their people.


The second major mark of transformational education is its people-centeredness and people-orientation. People need to see concepts and principles lived out in reality before they can accept and learn from them. Hence transformational education requires this in two ways: the relationship of the teacher to the trainee, as well as the training focus in the approach.

Firstly, following a recognized educational principle, transformational education requires that each teacher should be a role model of economic transformation as a practicing Christian, a justice advocate, and/or development agent working with a team of co-workers. This may be more popularly called the discipling or mentoring method, and in this paper, transformational education facilitators are referred to as “servant-leaders.” “Values (and skills) are better caught than taught.” Thus, while committed to the study of facts and truths, transformational education workers need to learn that their calling involves relating openly with people. In embodying and modeling their teaching, the transformational education teachers should approach their students with love and respect. Hence the best way to teach and train others is to relate with them as persons, as friends, in as close a personal relationship as possible.

And secondly, people-centeredness must be shown in the views and attitudes that are modeled before the trainees, particularly in relation to our target people. For instance, the issue in transformational education is our relationship with the poor themselves. “To love them as they are in all their complexity and not just to love anthropological, sociological, theological ‘formulations’ of brothers and sisters is the command of God whom we have not seen (1 John 4:20)” (Koyama 1999,151). Transformational education therefore emphasizes “discipling” one’s trainees to focus on developing close relationships with people. Moreover, as we serve in a high-tech world, we have to major in “high touch” work. To remain simple, we need to resist the temptation to focus on high-tech, so as not to deflect from “high touch.” Sadly many training programs have not been able to overcome this kind of temptation.


A close corollary to the relational nature of transformational education is its being field-based and action-oriented, founded on an intimate link between reflection and practice, between classroom and fieldwork. It should be conducted close to real life situations, identifying and organizing learning resources that link the student with the actual milieu through non-formal education and community participation.

Successful economic transformation ministries have been able to develop on-the-job training programs, which train local leaders and often with emphasis on non-formal leaders. Such “just-in-time training” and mentoring programs aim to develop better-equipped (not necessarily better-educated, which may come later) people who have the capacity to mobilize others to form caring and sharing communities. Of course, this entails a redefinition of what is leadership and leadership training: it is not the accumulation of more knowledge (one can be over-trained!), but the upgrading of actual service skills, which require (just enough) knowledge and wisdom (cf. Elliston 1989, esp. chaps. 4, 12-15, 17, 19).

Moreover, this apprenticeship model may work very well in various Asian contexts. It fits the traditional training practice, perhaps of most civilizations except the post-Enlightenment Western academic tradition, though it is changing rapidly into post-modern modes today, too. After all, learning occurs best by doing (or through experiencing).


Further, following the incarnational pattern of God’s redemptive action, transformational education has to use the contextual approach to leadership training. Even modern education has become more and more decentralized through extension centers, correspondence courses, internet modules, and various distance learning programs. Those in economic transformation work have been training among the poor contextually, using their local or “folk” communication media, like story-telling, poetry, drama, etc. This equips the poor to become “trainers of trainers” (technically called “development education”) within their culture and communities, without having to “catch up” with “modern education.”If economic transformation is our goal, then the local context and its needs must be clearly integrated into our educational programs. Why replicate a Stanford MBA or an academically rigorous Cambridge degree for someone wanting to serve in the villages and slums of Asia? (Many do not even come back!). Why train a person in Western philosophies and theologies to come back and train people who will be serving in their own national cultures? There is a great need for Christian higher education to provide the practical skills to help build the kind of transformational communities that we envision in situ. It automatically trains effective servant-leaders out of every person through its free mixture of activities according to the needs and talents of the participants, as set by the leader-facilitators in close consultation with the members. All participants are naturally trained in dialogic learning and hence empowered for servant-leadership.

Even in leading Bible reflection in group meetings, the transformational education leader facilitates discussion by choosing an appropriate Biblical text (or the like) and just asking two questions: (a) “Which verse (word or story) in the passage is most meaningful for you? Why?” And (b) “How can we apply what we have learned for the benefit of ourselves, our family, our fellow Christians, and/or our community? Once in a while, the group can choose to have guest speakers to help them understand and address family and community issues, or hold joint meeting with other groups. Hence, between opening and closing prayers, each group grows holistically and spiritually together (literally) “as the Spirit leads”. This simple meeting format that emphasizes contextual application is what transformational education stands for, and may be taught and modeled among the poor and illiterate. It has the other added value of our last transformational education indicator: it is also participatory.


Lastly, to be empowering and replicable, the best transformational education must also be participatory. It is only through discussion types of meetings that all participants are naturally trained to become ser-vant-leaders among the poor. Since Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1971), most educators have come to realize that transformational education must be dialogic and therefore participatory through democratic processes (cf. Ringma 1992, 3-11). Otherwise it will fail to emancipate and empower the people, particularly the poor (yet surely including the rich), to make decisions that truly will benefit them and fit their context. (On a theology of “people empowerment,” see Ringma 1992, 101-97.) People learn best through a series of question-and-answer experiences so that they can use their creative imagination and take responsibility to find better ways to develop a better future. A dialogic I-thou (personal) relationship as partners and co-learners is prerequisite to develop-ing an openness to others and risk changing one’s pre-understandings. This requires transformational education practitioners and advocates to be open-minded mentors and co-learners in community with their students (cf.Ringma 1996, :7-9; Gnanakan 2007, 111-25).

In emphasizing participatory processes, transformational education becomes “liberative,” which means that students are automatically trained to take a “prophetic critical” stance. This is based on the theology of the reality of sin and the necessity of repentance (Greek: metanoia): everything, except God and His word which are absolute, are to be relativized. Nothing on earth (not even any form of Christianity) should be absolutized, given the tendency of humans and their societies to fall into sin. Hence, transformational education should develop critical awareness which raises new social consciousness (Freire calls it “conscientization”). In a situation of sin, poverty, and injustice, the consciousness of people is submerged in a reality simply adjusting itself to natural and/or super-natural forces. Liberation happens only when they become aware that they are active subjects of their history and culture, through an interactive process that seeks to produce a critical mind, especially in light of the gospel.

Even in contexts used to rote learning, critical thinking can be introduced and promoted naturally though collective exercises in “real life” case studies by listening to one another’s views as they reflect on life and its realities together in an atmosphere of mutual respect. In areas where religious intolerance, discrimination, and even persecution prevail, economic transformation workers need to model the use of participative strategies that uphold human dignity and freedom. This may include skills on how to resolve conflicts, how to build communities of love, and how to develop sustainable socio-economic pro-grams that fit the local market and global realities. And working in the contexts of religious pluralism requires humility, esp. since most of us in Christian higher education bear witness from the margins of Asian societies. Transformational education workers need to learn to invite without arrogance, and propose without trying to impose. They must allow the strength of the others’ arguments and admit the limits of their own knowledge. All knowledge and truth belong to God, and God has not revealed everything to anyone.

Further, transformational education must aim at critical discernment which results not just in personal transformation, but also in societal transformation and economic transformation This also means taking the side of the poor. The rich benefit from the status quo, thus are normally conservative if not reactionary. It is the poor who are pressed by survival needs to seek transformation. Sadly, most of our Christian higher education structures have quite an elitist framework, assuming that our education will “trickle down” to the grassroots. Thereby we fail to think on how our education can be relevant and beneficial (in short, transformational) to the marginalized. Failing to be pro-poor, our schools have produced leaders who are best reformist, becoming bureaucrats or even entrepreneurs who are unable to critique our defective culture (i.e., colonial, paternalistic, patronage-based) so as develop alternative transformative structures that liberate and empower people. Only when our Christian higher education institutions become truly the “academes of the poor” can we start to truly train transformational education workers for the Asian majorities who are mostly poor. (On the methodological ingredients for transformational education, cf. Craig 1996, 37-52. On some social agenda items for empowering transformational education, see Carr 1994, 45-67.)

Institutional Commitment: Towards Modeling Economic Transformation

Implementing the curriculum with just academic learning in classrooms will be very inadequate to train effective economic transformation practitioners. Thus it is best that each school commits to model economic transformation. It may start by adopting one or two marginalized peoples (like street kids, prostitutes, widows, etc.) or communities (like orphanages, slums, leprosaria, etc.) at a time to model what it represents, or even find some ways by which the whole academic community can be involved in engaging various poor communities, including perhaps those in other nations.

Transformational education differentiates between socially-engaged and disengaged educational process. If transformational education is to be realized, our students, faculty, and staff must be in touch with and learn from the margins instead of just the sheltered ivory towers and libraries. Students and faculty will be encouraged if not required to participate in field projects, relating their studies to real life. Classrooms and laboratories will be extended to include health clinics, government offices, and community centers. Society, not just our campus, be-comes our “classroom.” Our schools will thereby be known for excellence in building young people who value God’s compassion and justice, which is one of the top agenda of their alma maters.

Our Governance Boards must review whether our vision includes societal transformation, particularly economic transformation. Academic studies are not just for analyzing social problems and issues, but also for changing our broken world into a better society where God’s love and justice prevails. With compassion and justice as key elements of their Christian commitment, all individuals involved in Christian higher education must be constantly challenged, if not required, to advocate and live out these values in their personal and corporate lives. To pursue the economic transformation vision, our schools should commit to become a role model of being a transformational community that leads in building an alternative global solidarity economy which minimizes if not eliminates poverty and injustice. Our world has been swallowed by the gargantuan forces of globalization that have invaded our way of thinking and influenced our way of doing things. In this price-driven, market-oriented “consumer society,” economic stakeholders are pitted against each other by self-interest. The whole economy is torn by endemic conflicts, so that societies go through constant periods of economic disequilibrium, throwing multitudes into poverty and marginalization.

The world’s economy is dominated by state and capitalist monopolies that fuel the advance of market-oriented globalization. Sadly this has perpetuated inequity, injustice, and poverty, and the marginalization of millions. In terms of education, most schools uncritically perpetuate the elitist models that enhance subservient attitudes and white-collar skills. The system emphasizes and encourages individualistic instead of cooperative instincts. It also encourages attitudes of human inequality, thereby forming an unhealthy class structure where the educated marginalize the less educated and thus also deepen the wedge between the haves and the have-nots, further alienating those who are already marginalized. At worse, it suppresses the biblical and primal vision of egalitarian societies of peace and love, with minimal gap between the rich and the poor. Hence our graduates could just uncritically enter the global job market, upwardly mobile usually to the West or to the highest bidder, and often ignorant or negligent of the issues that affect the poor majorities. Thus a major economic transformation commitment is for the administration of our institutions to prioritize anti-injustice in their mission and ethos. The Governing Board should be convinced that it is not enough to prepare students for the present global economy (led mainly by university graduates) that has perpetuated and enhanced poverty and injustice. There needs to be a conscious effort and political will to show the clear Christian distinctive of valuing compassion and justice in our educational system. In adopting economic transformation and its vision of a solidarity economy, we will be able to affirm the integrity of being Christian, and gain the credibility in our witness to the biblical worldview that shalom is a just society where those with responsibility attend to the needs of the weaker members, especially those most in need, where those who have more share with those who have less, so that all may live in decency and with dignity as productive members of society.

This is not easy for traditional institutions to adopt. Many have gone to the extent of providing socialized tuition fees, so that children from poor families can have a chance for education. This is good, but there needs a step further: actual involvement in transforming poor peoples and communities. This will ensure that our theological conviction and educational philosophy is not just theoretical, but practical and realistic. Then the academe’s commitment to the poor is not just in insignificant piecemeal efforts by individuals in Christian higher education, but by the entire campus community participating in the actual transformation of and for the poor in and through its corporate life.

Since most of our Christian higher education institutions are marginalized ourselves in the midst of big state and private universities in our cities and nations, community involvement provides a good witness of our faithfulness to our mission and our confidence that the poor need not wait for external aid before they can act to fulfill God’s will. Participation in local community activities and events, especially in caring for poor communities, provides opportunities for our constituencies to experience firsthand how a transformational community can ably transform other communities, especially in socio-economic justice.

In generations to come, may our schools take the lead in developing curricula that produce graduates who have the expertise in transforming poor societies into caring and sharing communities where God’s love and justice prevail!

Are we ready to adopt this emancipatory philosophy and participatory practice of transformational education? May we dare to come up with radical answers to both truth and structural questions, resulting in individual and social change. Then the next issue is whether we have the moral courage to live out the implications of the answers that we discover. Transformational education should help liberate us from fear, so we can obey God’s call, no matter how radical, in light of our Christian conscience and commitments, particularly for the rapid and effective transformation of poor peoples, so that they can participate in the development of the alternative global solidarity economy.


So what kind of “study programs” should we develop to achieve the above economic transformation and transformational education paradigm, perhaps with the best use of the least possible resources? May I suggest that it can be done with very low cost, in the form of (non-formal) “servant-leader or mentor training programs.” Even if we cannot offer formal degree programs for economic transformation our Christian higher education schools can organize our students and faculty into groups that can set up small “mentor training centers” inside and outside our campuses that develop the effective economic transformation workers that we envision — getting them involved with specific communities and the marketplace, and without the need for much external funding. The challenge is to mobilize our campus community into an expanding core group of leaders, who will work inter- or cross-disciplinarily to organize empowering structures among the poor (cf. Wanak 1994, 69-97). Seminaries should become major training centers to develop servant-leaders who can transform their churches into such servant-leader training centers. These centers shall recruit and develop teams of “faculty” who can mentor others and develop resources for economic transformation, through non-formal short-term seminars which may offer “certificates of participation.” These would best be monitored and nurtured in (decentralized) “fellowship” structures, each being self-governing, self-sustaining, and self-expanding, yet inter-linked with other Christian higher education disciplines through some coordinating centers in or outside the campus. To be consistent with this educational paradigm, we may have to constantly remain a “mustard seed conspiracy” which nurtures “soft structures” to use the humblest and simplest possible means in the most loving (read: empowering) and the least domineering (read: powerful) way possible to bring out the best from the bottom up (i.e., democratically) and not from the top down (i.e., autocratically), serving alongside with (not for) the people. (Seminary graduates should be familiar with the writings of Elton Trueblood, Tom Sine, William Stringfellow, Donald Kraybill, Jacques Ellul, H. Yoder, Os Guinness, etc.) It seems that the Quakers were the most consistent in following this “mustard seed” strategy. They pro-vided the leadership in social movements for slavery’s abolition, women’s rights, temperance, peace, and American Indian rights; and presently in some major transnational social movement organizations (Greenpeace, Oxfam, Amnesty International, etc.). And they were able to propagate effectively without major structures except their meeting halls, and just with seminars among ordinary people led by small teams of committed members!

This contrasts with the past elitist (read: colonialist) models of Roman Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, and Methodist missions which set out to transform (read: civilize) societies with Christian colleges and universities (which have fast become secularized, and rightly so!). After pouring so much Christian resources, their impact (esp. among the poor) has been minimal — having won some youth, they “succeeded” in turning off their families, clans, and even whole people groups against Christianity. Perhaps they can restore their reputation as centers for quality education when they adopt transformational education to take the lead in empowering the poor not just to become survivors in the present global market economy, but also to become participants in the new solidarity economy. We must veer from maintaining or initiating more educational programs that will produce another generation of workers and leaders in a global economy that will produce another generation of more marginalized peoples. Our educational philosophy and pedagogy must fit our transformational mission — to truly reduce the number of the poor in our economically divided world today and provide them the economic transformation skills to develop productive yet sharing communities for an alternative economy through our graduates who are societal transformation /economic transformation experts. We can really tap the richest resources that are in our Christian higher education institutions right now: the youth in our campuses today. With good resource development schemes, this simple transformational education paradigm may be implemented and financed as a social enterprise that may even be made profitable for the school’s long-term sustainability.

Perhaps the ultimate test for seminaries who train leaders for churches is whether our education is ready to critique and transform ecclesiastical structures, too: What kind of churches are we going to set up? Are we going to perpetuate the non-liberative Christendom system which has kept the poor poor and the “laity” disempowered to do transformation in the world? Are we ready to teach our students how to transform our churches into transformational communities and “networks of small Bible sharing groups ” (Roman Catholic “Basic Ecclesial Communities” (BEC) and Protestant “house churches”). Note that though the New Testament churches had their problems, they were able to impact their communities and the Empire within a generation, even if they were truly “churches of the poor and oppressed,” not unlike what’s happening in China, India, and other Third World nations today. May each Christian grow spiritually in their respective cells (each serving as a small servant-leader training center), each mature Christian mentor his/her own cell, and each cell discern who are the economic transformation and transformational education workers worth supporting to serve as volunteer coordinators of local networks of people organizations, while others as peace/shalom ambassadors to start “solidarity net- works” elsewhere in the world.

Now that we have depicted what economic transformation and transformational education is all about to effect rapid and effective empowerment of the poor, the problem remaining is its implementation. It may seem too radical for most of our Christian higher education schools today. It requires a major paradigm shift: not just in our objective (to evolve an alternative solidarity economy) and content (to train in community organizing for social entrepreneurship), but also in our pedagogy (to empower through dialogic learning) and our institutional commitment (to practice and model economic transformation as a school). Following these four action points will position our schools to effectively lead the world in the societal transformation and economic transformation of entire people groups, so that no one person, community, or nation will remain poor!

May our Christian higher education institutions produce tens of thousands of effective mentors and servant-leaders who will serve as influential models of economic transformation among the poor peoples of Asia and beyond, so that there will be “no poor among them” (cf. Acts 4:34), so that by their good deeds people will give glory to our God (Matt. 5:16) who is the God of love and justice.


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Dr. David S. Lim is the board chair for Lausanne Philippines. He is also the Exec. Trustee/CEO of ASDECS (the Asian School of Development and Cross-Cultural Studies).

Dr. David S. Lim is the board chair for Lausanne Philippines. He is also the Exec. Trustee/CEO of ASDECS (the Asian School of Development and Cross-Cultural Studies).