10. FUTURE DIRECTIONS FOR THE MEC (Standing Committee)

That the Assembly

1. determine that the Ministerial Education Commission be replaced by an Education for Ministry Working Group to advise the Assembly on the standards of education and training for the ministry of the Word, ministry of Deacon, ministry of Pastor and ministry of Lay Preacher; and

2. approve the Mandate for the Education for Ministry Working Group to be:




The Assembly


The Assembly and the Assembly Standing Committee


All education for ministry in the Uniting Church will foster:

  • participation of the whole people of God in the mission of God revealed in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit;
  • the centrality of the Scriptures in the life of the Church and the work of ministry;
  • the importance of lifelong learning and formation in the Christian life for all people;
  • the shared ministry of the people of God.


To advise the Assembly and the Assembly Standing Committee on the standards of formation, education and training for the ministry of the Word, ministry of Deacon, ministry of Pastor, and ministry of Lay Preacher in the Uniting Church.


1. Advise the Assembly on:

  • policies relating to standards of formation, education and training for the specified ministries in the Uniting Church, including continuing education, professional development and supervision;
  • requirements for the recognition of an approved centre for training for ministry.

2 .Facilitate regular national consultations of the faculties of approved centres for training for ministry and synod lay education and leadership development agencies.

3. Facilitate cooperation and the sharing of expertise and resources for education for ministry between the synods.

4. Encourage regular national networking of key leaders in formation, theological education, continuing education for ministry, lay education and leadership development, including MEBs.


  • A Chairperson appointed by the Assembly
  • 10 people, appointed by the Standing Committee with specific expertise in
  • Strategic, innovative thinking about the future of the church
  • Theology
  • Missiology
  • Ministry Practice
  • Formation for Discipleship and Ministry
  • Higher Education
  • Vocational Education and Training
  • Distance Education

            Including one person from each Synod, and reflecting the cultural and linguistic diversity of the Uniting Church.

  • One person appointed by the UAICC
  • Up to 4 co options;

3. authorise the Standing Committee

(a)     to appoint an interim Working Group, or alternatively a Task Group, to undertake the following tasks:

  • to draft and recommend to the Standing Committee a Vision Statement for education for ministry in the Uniting Church today, taking account of the vision and commitments of the Basis of Union in the contemporary context and noting that the Assembly’s current vision for all education for ministry in the Uniting Church was initially affirmed by the Eighth Assembly (1997);
  • review the current work of the Ministerial Education Commission and make recommendations to the Standing Committee on how that work should be continued, reformed, or discontinued;
  • consult with the Synods review the regulations concerning Ministerial Education Boards, Theological Colleges and Candidates and make recommendations to the Assembly Standing Committee including recommendations concerning the relationship of MEBs and Theological Colleges to the Working Group;

(b) on the advice of the Assembly Legal Reference Committee, to approve new Regulations to achieve these outcomes; and

(c) appoint the membership of Education for Ministry Working Group.

Rationale: This is the final paper prepared for the Assembly Standing Committee (March 2012) presenting the case for change.

Executive Summary

1. The Uniting Church is “governed by a series of inter-related councils, each of which has its tasks and responsibilities in relation both to the Church and the world” (Basis of Union paragraph 15). The Assembly is the council that has “determining responsibility” for several matters important for the health of the church nationally, including “the establishment of standards of theological training / education” (Basis of Union paragraph 15 (e) / Constitution section 38(a)). 

2. The Assembly Standing Committee (ASC) recommends that the way the Assembly exercises this determining responsibility be restructured. In particular, the ASC recommends that the Ministerial Education Commission (Regulations 2.2.15-2.2.18) be replaced by an Education for Ministry Working Group and that the pattern of oversight relating to Ministerial Education Boards, Theological Colleges and Candidates be reviewed (2.2.19-2.2.28).

3. The proposal addresses two key weaknesses in the current structure of oversight for theological education in theFirst, the current structure of oversight for theological education is not consistent with the Assembly’s general organizational structure.  In particular, it maintains a second policy making body, the MEC, alongside the ASC within the Assembly structure.  Second, the current structure of oversight for theological education does not take into account the changes in the church, theological colleges and the Australian vocational and higher education sector in the 36 years since it was designed.

The structure of the Assembly

4. The current Assembly structure is based on a major review which was implemented inAccording to the report of the Assembly Structures Review Group (ASC 29-31 August 1997, Document 4), the intention of the restructure was to ensure that the ASC becomes “the only policy making body within the Assembly structure and that its primary function is to create the Faith and Meaning policies within which the Assembly agencies operate” (p.14).

5. The restructure involved the replacement of the several Assembly Commissions with various committees and working groups, the purpose of which was to “bring policy recommendations to, and implement policies of, the Assembly Standing Committee relevant to their area. The Assembly Standing Committee becomes in reality and practice the Committee of the Assembly and will consider all policy recommendations. It becomes the policy making body for the work of the Assembly between Assemblies” (p.14).

6. The Review Group considered that the structural design of the Assembly and its agencies “needs to enable ways of meeting the challenges of the contemporary mission situations facing the Church rather than being captive to past and historic agendas” (p.9).

7. At the time of the review of Assembly structures a major review of ministerial education was nearing completion. The Task Group on Ministerial Education reported to the Eighth Assembly in 1997 and a series of recommended reforms were approved. Because that review was taking place the review of Assembly structures did not include the MEC in its recommendations. There has been no subsequent attempt to achieve the goals of the Assembly Structures Review Group in relation to standards of formation, theological education and training for ministry.

8. The current normative structure for Assembly work (Assembly ↔ ASC ↔ Reference Committees and Working Groups) enables the Assembly to attend to its determining responsibilities on the basis of the best advice available and to act responsively in the face of changing needs. In the case of policies relating to education, training and formation for ministry the Assembly and the ASC will continue to need such quality advice. Establishing a satisfactory Working Group on Education for Ministry will require the retention of the MEC functions that have ongoing importance along with a particular focus on policy advice on formation for ministry in Australia today.

9. Some elements of the MEC’s current work will continue to be important for the quality of formation, theological education and training for ministry across the Uniting Church. These include building understanding and cooperation between UCA colleges through regular national consultations of educators, developing shared perspectives on best practice in formation for ministry through an annual meeting of representatives of MEBs, Synods, colleges and lay educators and through periodic reviews of theological colleges. The Proposed Mandate anticipates the continuation of this kind of work, albeit within the new relationship of the Working Group to the Assembly and the ASC.

The current organizational context of theological education

10. The Regulations dealing with education for ministry were published in 1976, in preparation for the inauguration of the Uniting Church in 1977 (Constitution and Regulations (Interim), 1976, 2.2.6-2.2.27). Although a few very minor amendments have been made to accommodate Assembly decisions, e.g., the introduction of the four phases of theological education, the original regulations remain essentially the same. However, in the course of this 36 year period the church and its relationship to the surrounding society has undergone significant change. So too the Australian vocational and higher education sector has been completely transformed.

11. At the time of union most of the Uniting Church’s theological colleges provided courses that were not formally accredited. In order to establish and maintain appropriate standards of education across the Synods’ colleges the Regulations created a Ministerial Education Council – later re-named the Ministerial Education Commission (MEC) – to apply and manage the Uniting Church’s own, internal system of recognition of colleges and courses. In the absence of any real alternative this system worked well. Today, however, Uniting Church theological colleges deliver all or most of their courses through a University, a Higher Education Provider (HEP) and / or a Registered Training Organization (RTO) – including, the Adelaide College of Divinity Inc, the Australian Catholic University, Charles Sturt University, Flinders University, MCD University of Divinity, Murdoch University, Yalga-Binbi Institute for Community Development, and Nungalinya College Inc. These institutions are government recognized and are required to conform to quality standards set and audited by government departments. In this new context academic and other quality standards for theological education are maintained by the government-recognized tertiary education providers which remain accountable to the government for maintaining the required standards and quality of education. This system also works well for the church – which is good news, since the church’s colleges cannot opt out of it. But it illustrates the way that one of the core considerations behind the church’s establishment of the MEC has been overtaken by other developments, accommodated in practice by Synods, the UAICC and their colleges, but not reflected in any review of the church’s regulations concerning the oversight of theological education.

12. Government accreditation of the courses delivered by a HEP or RTO relies in part on evidence of “industry” consultation and input to course development. Self accrediting Universities also give priority to this consultation. In the case of courses in theological education and training for ministry the “industry” is the church whose potential ministers and leaders will enrol in the courses. In practice the University or government agency involved seeks input from Synod and Presbytery representatives as “employers” of graduates concerning the suitability and effectiveness of the course being accredited orSo while Universities, HEPs and RTOs delivering courses of education and training for ministry are legally separate and independent of the church the relevance, currency and success of their courses depend on their good relationship with the church. That relationship is maintained by the faculties of our theological colleges, who provide the teaching for the University, HEP or RTO’s courses but are appointed and financially supported by Synods or the UAICC which have specific needs in developing leadership for ministry and mission.

13. The faculties and their Synods are also aware of the importance of responding to specific local needs within the fellowship of a national church which, through the Assembly, articulates general standards of ministerial formation. A national discussion of “formation for ministry” has emerged in the Uniting Church since the late 1980s – more than a decade after the current Regulations were drafted. The Assembly Task Group on the Review of Theological Education which reported to the Eighth Assembly, in 1997, provided a careful definition of “formation” together with a statement of vision, goals, and essential principles to guide “all education for Ministry in the Uniting Church”. The statement was adopted by the Eighth Assembly and remains the current benchmark for standards of ministerial formation.

14. It is now a distinctive role of the faculties to have a clear and accurate understanding of the general standards of ministerial formation required by the Assembly as well as the specific strategic needs of their Synod, to assist the University, HEP and / or RTO within which they teach to provide courses that meet those standards and needs within the quality framework applied by the relevant government authority. The UCA Regulations concerning the oversight of theological education were drafted for a quite different educational and missional context, and before this crucial role for church faculties had begun to emerge.

Education for Ministry Discussion Paper 2011

15. An Education for Ministry Discussion Paper canvassing the issues described above was approved by the ASC at its March 2011 meeting. The General Secretary distributed it to the MEC, the MEBs, Synod General Secretaries, Principals of theological colleges, and Synod lay and leadershipResponses were sought by the 1st of August 2011.

16. Only six formal responses were received, but they reflected consultation and considered discussion within various interested bodies. Four of the six responses (including the response from the MEC) supported the broad direction of the Discussion Paper, agreeing that it is appropriate to replace the MEC with a Working Group on Education for Ministry. There were, however, several important matters raised in the responses that lead the ASC propose that prior to establishing the Working Group and interim Working Group or Task Group undertake a series of tasks in preparation for the for the formal appointment of an Education for Ministry Working Group.

17. Most of the responses requested more clarity about the scope of the Working Group’s responsibilities, i.e. whether it would be concerned with education in relation to all ministry in the Uniting Church or whether it would focus on particular ministries. The ASC proposes that the focus be on the “specified ministries” – currently, the ministries of Lay Preacher, Pastor, the Word and Deacon.

18. Most of the responses commented on the composition of the proposed WorkingSome preferred a membership of stakeholder representatives while some preferred a membership determined by expertise. It is proposed that the membership primarily based on expertise but carefully seeking expertise that reflects the diversity of the church.

19. Several responses expressed reservations about the Vision Statement in the proposed Mandate. The concerns related, on the one hand, to the apparent lack of reference to the Basis of Union and, on the other hand, to the contemporary context. Recognising that the Vision Statement in the proposal is in fact the vision currently affirmed by the Assembly, the ASC proposes that it be retained in the Mandate but that the first task of the interim Working Group / Task Group be to draft a fresh vision statement.

20. Several of the responses referred to work that the MEC currently does – appreciating especially the periodic visitation of colleges, the oversight of the national diaconal intensive, and the organisation of regular theological educators’ consultations. The ASC is conscious too that there are several other activities of the MEC that have been important for the ongoing life of the church and are enumerated in the Regulations. So it is proposed that the Working Group undertake a review of the current responsibilities of the MEC with a view to identifying the ways in which they will be fulfilled under the new arrangements.