Portrait of a Graduate

Let me paint you a portrait. Not a familiar sort of portrait like the Mona Lisa where a face looks back at you with an enigmatic little smile. This picture is not composed of paint. One reason is that my artistic abilities aren’t quite up to da Vinci’s standards Another is that what I’m trying to draw goes beyond physical appearance. So this portrait is drawn by words; it is a sketch of what, in biblical terms, are far more important things than what you and I happen to look like physically.

We have spent a lot of time recently asking ourselves lots of ‘Why’ and ‘What’ questions. Why do we do what we do? What sort of churches do we long to see growing and developing in Ireland? What are the missional challenges facing the church in Ireland today? What are qualities and abilities of students graduating from IBI that we would most love to see? How can we improve and deliver courses that can best facilitate the development of these qualities and abilities?

We’ve spent time talking with leaders and students. We’ve also spent time as teachers discussing this as a team and with others with expertise in theological education. It has been both an exciting and challenging process. One outcome has been “A Portrait of an IBI Graduate” for both our BA and MA degrees.

That’s the context. So, without further ado, here is a ‘Portrait’ of the qualities and abilities we hope to see in someone graduating from our three-year BA degree in Applied Theology. It begins with the student’s ‘heart’ since this is the core requirement for any Christian ministry and then goes on to ‘Head’ and ‘Hands’. *


HEART: a heart of love for God and others

To this end, IBI graduates should show:

  • a commitment to see people and communities transformed by the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This flows from a deep love for God and love for others and particularly a desire to see the church fulfil its missional calling;

  • a living, growing faith in Jesus Christ evidenced in a Spirit-formed character of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control worked out in a local church community;

  • an ability to model Christ-like servant-leadership via sacrificial and costly service of God and others; a clear focus on their God-given calling; and consistent discipline in their own spiritual development – in prayer, listening to God and others, a desire to continue to learn and grow and associated willingness to admit mistakes and seek forgiveness;

  • a humble awareness of weaknesses as well as strengths; keen awareness of how much they do not know; a continued desire as a disciple to keep learning and growing across cognitive (head), affective (heart) and hands (behavioural) domains; a willingness to be accountable relationships with others;

  • an attitude that values all people as made in the image of God; willing to work across cultural, denominational, ethnic and other boundaries; able to work well with, and learn from, others; a desire to see others flourish and develop in their faith and gifting; a mature non-competitive attitude that delights in the progress and successes of others; a commitment to fostering unity in the face of disagreement and division;

  • a commitment to ministry ethics and the biblical requirement for godly integrity for all disciples, particularly those in leadership; wise self-leadership in terms of time, family and church responsibilities, work, money, physical health; critical self-reflection around ‘orientation of the heart’ – the loves and desires that shapes life at a fundamental level.


HEAD: a mind committed to life-long reflective practice

To this end, IBI graduates should show:

  • an understanding of the Bible and its overall story of God’s redemptive mission;

  • an ability to use a range of tools to interpret, engage with and apply the Bible to personal life, mission, ministry, and society;

  • an informed knowledge and understanding of essential Christian beliefs and how they have developed historically and contextually. Students should be able to reflect on and continually be developing their own theological framework for life and ministry;

  • a broad understanding of the social, historical, cultural and religious contexts of Christian ministry (in contemporary Ireland). In particular students should have a knowledge of the developments and beliefs associated with Irish Christendom (particularly Irish Catholicism) and post-Christendom (the values of liberal secular democracy such as individual freedom, pluralism, tolerance and equality) and be able to reflect critically on such developments in light of Christian theology;

  • an ability critically to integrate continued biblical and theological learning and research to key ministry areas such as Bible teaching, church leadership, pastoral care, discipleship, youth ministry, mission and preaching in order to keep evaluating, developing and reforming personal and corporate ministry practice;

  • critical and honest self-understanding. Students should ‘know themselves’, their gifts and abilities, strengths and weaknesses, and be able to relate learning self-critically to their own ministry and personal development;

  • an ability to think clearly and well; to be able to describe accurately, analyse, assess and develop appropriate Christian responses to issues arising in the course of everyday life and ministry; an ability to engage fairly and constructively with other viewpoints at a theoretical and personal level.


HANDS of servant leadership committed to empowering others

To this end, IBI graduates should have the ability to:

  • set a vision within their particular context shaped by God’s redemptive mission in Christ, expressed through his church;

  • plan, develop and continually review missional strategies for implementing vision within their own context;

  • encourage, equip, and release others in Christian ministry at both an individual and group level, through one-to-one relationships, team leadership and public teaching and/or preaching;

  • study and teach the Bible in an accurate, creative, culturally relevant and life-changing way;

  • develop relationships that foster teamwork and mutual-partnerships and demonstrate a commitment to Christian unity, reconciliation and peace-making;

  • research, assess and develop appropriate responses, through speaking and/or writing, to theological, ethical, pastoral and practical issues that arise in the course of life and ministry;

  • care for others in a pastorally informed way and be able to discern when to refer people on to suitably qualified and experienced health professionals;

  • communicate clearly and winsomely, in a variety of settings, their own personal story of faith in Jesus Christ and explanation of the gospel message.

Of course the development of these attitudes and abilities is not easy or automatic. It involves a lot of work, honesty, a willingness to learn, an openness to the Spirit of God and a desire to serve. So please do pray for staff and students as we engage together in this work of transformation for the glory of God and the good of the church in Ireland.

We’d also be interested in what you think – feel welcome to get back to us with comments at patrick@ibi.ie


Patrick Mitchel


*An invaluable resource in this process has been Perry Shaw, (2014). Transforming Theological Education: A Practical Handbook for Integrative Learning. Carlisle. Langham Global Library.