Open Mike

Wei-Han Kuan catches up with Mike Raiter, out-going Principal of the Melbourne School of Theology.

Michael Raiter moved to Melbourne from Moore College to become the Principal of the Bible College of Victoria in 2006. He has steered BCV through a number of significant changes, including moving to a new location and adopting a new name, Melbourne School of Theology (MST). It was announced earlier this year that he would not seek to renew his contract beyond the end of 2011. Essentials caught up with Michael recently.
Michael, why have you decided to leave MST?
On the positive side, I really want to spend more of my time in teaching and preaching—it’s a ministry that gives me great joy and encouragement.
There are joys and frustrations with every job, and I increasingly found the demands of administration and management wearing me down. There’s also the constant pressure to watch student numbers each year. It’s what I call ‘the tyranny of enrolments’. Of course, any college needs good enrolments or it simply can’t function, but enormous pressure is placed on the person at the top. I’m never asked about the calibre of the students who study at MST. I’m only ever asked, how many? There are ebbs and flows in enrolments, and I’ve seen both over the past 5 years. There’s been a modest increase this year and, hopefully, that trend will continue. But ultimately, I want us to keep on attracting godly, able students with a heart for the gospel and mission—and I believe we’re doing that.
You’ve certainly steered the college through a lot of change in the past few years. You’ll be remembered as the principal who sold Lilydale and changed the name of BCV to MST, won’t you?
You know, the reality is that there have been other, very significant, changes. We’ve combined the Chinese department on to the same site, which has been a big plus. And we’ve made the aviation department more independent, which was a logical move for us. The Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths has the potential to make an enormous impact in the church and the world. There’s been an incredible amount of change.
One of the more controversial changes has been the loss of the residential model of training. But we’ve gained a wonderful, modern, functional facility. God has blessed us with this light, airy, welcoming place that people actually want to hang around in. The reality is that we’re living in an image-based culture, with more part-time rather than full-time students. So having an attractive facility closer to where many potential students live is a real blessing.
The college just celebrated turning ninety. Age is a mixed thing. On the one hand, it signals that we’re safe, reliable, trustworthy, unflinching in our commitment to world mission. These are things we have a responsibility to maintain. But on the other hand, it also means that we’ve been around a long time, and we can appear and feel weary. We all agreed the college needed rejuvenation.
That begs the question, which change are you most proud of?
In many ways the things I’ve already mentioned are externals. The real strength of a college is in its faculty. I’m proud of the men and women who are serving at MST. They take personal godliness seriously, love and submit to the Scriptures, and have the necessary clarity about the Gospel. Those are things that we can never take for granted.
What about those people who say that you’ve also made the college more Anglican?
I don’t think that’s true at all. I’ve worked hard to maintain the college’s interdenominational character. That’s part of its history. And it’s one of the things I personally enjoy most about the place. But two out of the three latest appointments to faculty have been Anglican. I would have preferred if they were Baptist, Church of Christ and Brethren, but the reality is that you have to go with the best qualified applicant, otherwise you’re not doing the college or the students any favours. Really, denominational affiliation plays no part in making appointments. And, finally, they were Council appointments—it’s not just up to me.
I mean the same thing could be said about our faculty’s gender balance. We esteem women in ministry and in leadership, but again, we have a duty to go with the most qualified applicants.
The other thing that we’ve tried to do is to lower the age profile of our faculty. So all three of our latest appointments are under 40, and have either recently completed or are completing their doctoral work.
It seems like you’re leaving MST in good shape. What sort of person do you think the college needs next?
Well, it’s not up to me to decide! You can have two basic types of principal: either the preaching, teaching type, who will give the college a wider profile; or you can have a manager who is gifted, and finds enjoyment in, the administration and many issues to do with just running a college well. They got the former when they appointed me. It would be ideal if you could get both in the one person, but I think they are pretty rare!
And what’s next for Mike Raiter?
I would like to focus more on preaching and teaching. As a family, we would prefer to stay in Melbourne. We’ve really come to love this city. We’ve made friends and formed good networks—including among the EFAC types. We have a daughter about to enter Year 11 (senior high) and so it would be good not to move, for her sake. But you know, we’re open to overseas work. I’d need a lot of persuading to pursue parish ministry in Sydney. I mean, they have large and full colleges there, and the Gospel needs in Melbourne and other cities seem so much greater. We’ll wait and see what God has in store for us.
Mike, thanks for talking with us. I’m sure you’ll have many friends in the wider EFAC family praying for a good next step for you, and for MST.

Update. The Revd Tim Meyers has been appointed Principal of MST commencing in 2012.