Rachel Ciano studied at Sydney Missionary and Bible College, as well as completing subjects by distance through Morling College whilst living in the UK, and Christ College (formerly PTC). She commenced studying in 2004, and graduated in 2010 with a Bachelor of Theology (Hons). She is currently lecturing in Church History at Sydney Missionary and Bible College, and is involved in church-planting in a multicultural context in Sydney with her husband, who is the minister of the church.
TGCA: Can you tell us about your life before studying theology, and how you ended up at college?
I studied towards a Bachelor of Design (Visual Communication) and Bachelor of International Studies (Spain) at University of Technology, Sydney prior to Bible College. Although I enjoyed both these areas immensely, it was a 6 year degree, and as I progressed through it, my convictions regarding Christian ministry were growing. Because of this, I eventually reached a point where I could no longer continue with my studies, and left the course after 3 years. I started Bible College part-time the following year, and couldn't have been more pleased with the change!
TGCA: Were there any life experiences before college that you think were particularly beneficial?
Being involved in ministry (both in a local and cross-cultural context) before and during college was beneficial, because it meant that it sharpened my questions and enquiry into the specifics of Christian ministry. The lectures took a more concrete form, and could be implemented immediately.
TGCA: What were the high-points and low-points of studying theology?
The high-points often intersected with the low-points, as with much of the Christian life! The challenge of studying theology is to keep moving what you learn in a lecture to worship of God and obedience to him in his Word. The high-points for me were when I had a very real sense and awareness of knowing God through his Word, and then of course, that needed to translate into life-change, which could be painful at times! Conversely, the low-points (times of personal hardship) were also the times that I felt I drew closer to God in his Word. So, the high-points and low-points went together.
TGCA: Do you have any particular lessons from (or regrets about) your years at college?
The college where I studied most (SMBC) did everything in their power to help us learn to preach in a faithful, engaging, meaningful way. I certainly learnt this—and I got to preach during my time there—but I wish I had taken more opportunities at the time to have more of a go at it, so I could have become sharper in a helpful environment.
TGCA: Were there any surprises?
As I commenced Bible College, I had imagined that, at the end of the course, I would have most on my thinking on the Bible and theology sorted out. This might have been the mistake of youth perhaps, or just plain naivety. It didn't happen. But Bible College did give me the tools and skills to become a life-long learner—and the theological and biblical framework to test and evaluate ideas.
TGCA: How has studying helped you live and serve Jesus?
It has deepened my love and knowledge of God by deepening my love for, and knowledge of, his Word. The people I studied with, both faculty and students, also helped sharpen me. Proverbs 27:17 comes to mind, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
TGCA: What factors went into your decision to study where you did?
For me, it was a pragmatic decision at first—it was somewhat close to where I lived, it offered part-time studies, my husband had studied there. So going into it, I wasn't as informed as I could have (should have?) been. However, in God's sovereignty, I think if I had sat down and really gone through all the options thoroughly, I would have come to the same college. The focus on training in the Bible, a natural outworking of that being a focus on mission, the emphasis on spiritual formation, the inter-denominational nature of SMBC was good training for ministering in a context where not everyone will agree with you on every point, – all these things suited the context God was preparing us to minister in. Having said that, we are fortunate in Australia to have so many biblically sound places to study theology, which takes the pressure off as we think about where to study.
TGCA: Do you have any advice for people who want to go into ministry but aren't sure whether they need to study theology?
The foundations you lay by studying theology will set you up for a lifetime of fruitful ministry. More than that, the work that God will do in you as you immerse yourself into studying the Bible in such an intense way will be invaluable. 1 Timothy 4:16 is helpful here, "Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers." Studying theology is part of laying important foundations in watching your life and doctrine closely. Bible college is of course no guarantee of faithfulness, for as Paul says, we need to persevere in them, however it will help establish you in the practices of what this means. While the enthusiasm that many have to just "get out there" and do ministry is admirable, sometimes that impatience can lead to unnecessary hardship and mistakes down the road. A few extra years invested in studying the Bible is nothing compared to the long life of ministry ahead, in whatever context that is.
TGCA: Are there principles you would suggest for those working out where to study?
It must be a place where you will learn the Bible thoroughly and faithfully. It must be a place that will encourage you to engage your heart as well as your head. It must be a place that helps you move from the theoretical to the practical outworking of what you are learning. It would be helpful for it to be a place that will prepare you for the specific ministry you have in mind at the end of your studies. If you can tick these boxes, then you are set. Pray that God will reveal which place in particular he would have you study, and go for it!