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July 1980 · Vol. 9 No. 3 · pp. 11–19 

Church Leadership Expectations of Mennonite Brethren Educational Institutions

Abram G. Konrad

Although Mennonite Brethren have often been suspicious of education, schools have acquired a vital role in transmitting truth and training workers for church ministries. In his History of the Mennonite Brethren Church, J.A. Toews asserted: “The basic motivation to establish and support Christian [institutions] . . . has been the conviction that ‘schools and mission’ are inseparably linked in the redemptive purposes of God.” 1 In other words, schools and local congregations are partners.

Since individuals, groups of local churches, or conferences have established institutions to meet educational needs within their respective constituencies, it seems appropriate, from time to time, to ascertain the education expectations held by leaders within such constituencies and to examine institutions in the light of these expectations.


A variety of procedures can be used to establish constituency expectations. This paper reports a survey of leadership expectations of Mennonite Brethren education institutions. 2 Survey instruments were distributed to pastors and other persons representing different categories of sex, age, and leadership role in all Canadian Mennonite Brethren churches except those in Nova Scotia and Quebec. Respondents were asked to indicate the level of importance (1=low; 5=high) that should be placed upon each item regarding institutional mission, academic program, institutional governance, faculty and staff, and student life for each of four types of institutions: seminary, Bible college, Bible institute, and high school. For each item, mean scores were plotted by type of institution and differences among institutional means were examined by appropriate statistical tests. Respondents also were invited to make written comments and answer questions of a more general nature. {12}

Institutional Mission

The basic role or mission of an institution expresses its reason for being. Data profiles for each type of institution are shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1
Institutional Means for Expectations
Regarding Institutional Mission
(N = 305)

Expectations of church leaders were relatively high on all mission statements, ranging from a high total group mean of 4.46 for “dedication to serving God” to a low total group mean of 2.80 for “continuing education”.

Several perspectives can be taken in examining these data. For each type of institution, the mission statements can be arranged in order of importance. Thus, the most important role ascribed to the seminary was {13} “to prepare for a full-time church-related vocation” (4.73). The mission statement considered least important for high schools, for example, was “to provide continuing education” (1.88). The institutional ranking of mission statements could be useful in critically examining an institution’s overall objectives. Whenever institutional emphases differ significantly from those ascribed to it by constituency members, a clarification of mission should be sought. In all instances, major discrepancies should be addressed; in some situations the discrepancies may result from communication problems.

Another useful perspective in examining these data would be to compare expectations across institutions. 3 It was perceived to be more important, for example, “to impart Bible knowledge and understanding of Christian faith” in Bible institutes than in seminary. Expectations differed extensively across institutions for providing “general education”—in decreasing order of importance from high schools to Bible college, Bible institutes and seminary. Respondents ascribed high importance to providing “opportunities for friendship” for high schools and Bible institutes alike, lesser importance for the Bible college, and least importance for the seminary. Both of these items suggest a stronger developmental role for high schools than other institutions.

In total, respondents distinguished among institutional types on 39 and 48 comparisons on mission statements. Although expectations did not follow consistent patterns across institutions, a seminary-Bible college-Bible institute sequence in mean scores was observed on all items, except on providing “general education,” when differences among these institutions were significant. Expectations for high schools differed most frequently from those of other institutions.

A careful examination of these comparisons could be helpful in developing greater clarity in institutional mission statements. Such data could also provide assistance in articulating a philosophy of Mennonite Brethren education.

Academic Program

Six items described some objectives of instructional programs (Figure 2). Overall, church leaders attached most importance to offering “meaningful educational experiences” (4.33), and least importance to preparation for “advanced academic or professional study” (3.49). In general, expectations on this dimension were uniformly high.

Comparative item analyses showed that respondents distinguished among institutions on 24 of 36 program objectives. These comparisons could provide assistance in distinguishing program emphases among institutions. {14} According to respondents, the seminary and Bible college should place greater emphasis upon “methods of scholarly inquiry” than should Bible institutes and high schools. On the other hand, it was perceived that the Bible college and high schools should have greater concern for preparation for “advanced study” than either the seminary or Bible institutes. Respondents viewed the importance of “high standards of academic performance” uniformly for seminary, Bible college, and high schools, but of lesser importance for Bible institutes. These comparisons, along with others, could be helpful in program development of each institution and also improve coordination among the institutions.

Figure 2
Institutional Means for Expectations
Regarding Academic Program
(N = 305)

Institutional Governance

As can be seen in Figure 3, expectations on the ten governance items were fairly high and quite uniform. Respondents ascribed greatest {15} overall importance to “efficiency of institutional operations” (4.17), and least importance to the “use of governmental funds” (2-26).

Figure 3
Institutional Means for Expectations
Regarding Institutional Governance
(N = 305)

Inter-institutional comparison on governance items highlight both similarities and differences among the expectations of respondents. On {16} three items—operational efficiency, faculty involvement in decision making, and resources provided by tuition and subsidies—the expectations showed no statistical differences across institutions.

For all institutions, but particularly for the seminary and Bible college, respondents identified the importance of “evaluative policies for institutional performance.” Similarly, “periodic self-studies” were ascribed high importance. What kind of evaluative policies presently exist in these institutions? Only with regard to “student involvement in decision making” were expectations different by institutional type on this dimension.

Two items focused upon the importance of cooperation—with supporting constituencies and with other Mennonite Brethren institutions—and high expectations were held on both items for all institutions. Although these institutions have different supporting constituencies, it appears that church leaders were sufficiently convinced of the importance of cooperation to surmount these structural differences in achieving closer cooperation. How to develop cooperative policies among these institutions may deserve the best efforts of educational and church leaders within the brotherhood.

Faculty and Staff

Respondents were invited to indicate the level of importance that should be placed upon seven items concerning faculty and staff. Taken as a total group, Figure 4 shows that expectations were more uniform on items on this dimension than on any other. Only 12 of 42 inter-institutional mean comparisons were statistically significant.

The most important expectations for faculty and staff were that they would “model a Christian life style” (4.84) and have a “commitment to institutional goals” (4.62). These expectations were held for each type of institution, and the overall mean scores were higher on these items than on any others. Least importance was given to the protection of faculty “to express controversial ideas” (2.97). It was difficult to understand the lesser importance attributed to “faculty-student interaction outside the classroom” for high schools than for other types of institutions. Respondents placed equally high importance on “faculty involvement in local churches” for the seminary, Bible college, and Bible institutes.

Student Life

The last dimension contained six items regarding student life. Data profiles in Figure 5 show considerable variations in student life expectations {17} for different institutions. In total, 25 of 36 inter-institutional comparisons reached statistical significance.

Figure 4
Institutional Means for Expectations
Regarding Faculty and Staff
(N = 305)

According to church leaders, the most important student life expectation for the seminary was “involvement in community and church service” (4.51), although concern for a “Christian life-style among students” (4.36) was almost as strong. Leaders perceived that “Christian life-style among students” should have greatest importance for the other types of institutions. The concerns that should have least importance for different institutions were: seminary and Bible college: inter-school athletics (1.96 and 2.62, respectively); Bible institutes: cultural programs (2.97); high schools: student involvement in community and church service (3.24). Interestingly, the lowest mean for {18} student life expectations was considerably higher for high schools than for other types of institutions. A stronger custodial perspective for high schools and Bible institutes may be suggested by the differences in the range of mean scores on this dimension.

Figure 5
Institutional Means for Expectations
Regarding Student Life
(N = 305)

General Concerns

Respondents were also invited to express their expectations through written comments and to answer specific questions regarding major policy issues. About one-half of the comments related to institutional mission and one-fifth to program concerns. Less than 10 percent of all comments focused upon governance and faculty members, and 15 percent pertained to student life.

Cooperation. From time to time there have been proponents of closer cooperation with other denominational groups in providing educational services. Slightly more than two-fifths of the respondents in {19} this survey favored such cooperation for the seminary, Bible college, and Bible institutes, and three-fifths favored it for the high schools.

Two-thirds of the respondents also favored the formulation of a comprehensive philosophy of education for all Mennonite Brethren institutions. Such a formulation could contribute to a sense of denominational unity and strengthen the aims and purposes of each institution. Of course, each institution would still need to identify its own mission and program distinctives within such a broad statement.

Coordination. A pervasive concern expressed in various ways in this survey was focused in the final question regarding the development of general policies to coordinate program development, articulation, recruitment, and fiscal planning for all Mennonite Brethren institutions operating under separate boards. Again, two-thirds of all respondents favored efforts to establish such a coordination policy. In the view of some, such a policy is long overdue, and it has become especially necessary since the seminary became a General Conference institution. Educational goals could be pursued more effectively at each of the institutions if such a policy were developed.


This paper provided an overview of the expectations of Canadian church leaders for Mennonite Brethren institutions. The survey results could be useful for dealing with specific issues as well as for addressing more general concerns. In any case, the task of clarifying expectations has just begun.

Clearly, church leaders can articulate their expectations for educational institutions. On some issues they differentiate among institutions; on others they hold similar expectations for all. How institutional boards, administrators, and faculty respond to such expectations may be a measure of their commitment to church constituencies.


  1. John A. Toews, A History of the Mennonite Brethren Church: Pilgrims and Pioneers, ed. A. J. Klassen (Fresno, CA: Board of Christian Literature, General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, 1975), p. 254.
  2. The survey instrument and a full report of the study may be obtained from the author at the Postsecondary Education Centre, 7-133B Education North, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2G5.
  3. The results of such comparisons appear in the full report.
Abram G. Konrad is professor and coordinator of the Centre for the Study of Postsecondary Education in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta, Edmonton. He is also the chairman of the Board of Higher Education of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches.

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