Previous posts in this Series:
In my last post I tried to make a case for the necessity of theological education of missional leaders being rooted in missional community. With this as a contextual prerequisite, I would further suggest that the ultimate aim of a missionally oriented process of leadership training is the formation of Christlike character.
It is too naive to suggest that Christendom was wholly uncritical of the character of Christian leaders. It is more accurate to say that there’s an inherent assumption within Christendom that if we can only ensure that our leaders believe all the right things, their character will follow suit. This has turned out to be a deeply lamentable mistake.
It may be necessary for me to reiterate at this point that I am no anti-intellectual. You would never find me downplaying the importance of continuing study, exposure to new perspectives and ideas, or deep, thoughtful reflection. Instead, I would suggest that a missional vision of theological education will only value intellectual dimensions of training inasmuch as they contribute to the formation of Christlike character in missional leaders. Therefore, we might expect a missional vision of theological education to…
1) Train leaders how to think as opposed to telling them what to think. This is only possible when we humbly buy into the reality that our systems of truth are all fallible and trust that encouraging leaders to follow Jesus is preferable to warning them of the dangers of venturing outside of a particular theological grid. Thus, through books, articles, media, speakers, discussions, conferences, etc., we may freely (and wisely!) expose leaders to various biblical/theological traditions and perspectives. Where the rubber meets the (missional) road, so to speak, is in the questions we encourage students to ask of what they are being exposed to. I won’t go into them here,* but I submit that a missional vision of what it means to be the Body of Christ inclines us to ask different questions of all that we learn than that of Christendom.**
2) Conjoin all intellectual study with missional practice. Only given the assumptions of Christendom could we have divorced religious study from community based missional practice and witness. A missional vision of the church and theological education is characteristically and relentlessly incarnational. Missional theology is nothing if not that which we come to know about God as we participate in God’s mission in the world through the Body of Christ. In this light, I would suggest that each and every aspect of intellectual study find its place within a structure of missional practice which includes both personal and corporate spiritual disciplines.
3) Develop a community based assessment of a leaders process of character development. When character formation is the central issue in the equipping of missional leaders, time frames are perfunctory. It’s not one’s ability to make it through a process that qualifies them as a leader, but the manner in which they participate and their holistic development from start to finish. It takes a community to discern these things. As valuable as having the commitment and support of a community is to a leader in training, their willingness to speak the truth in love regarding their development is every bit as essential. Incorporating various means of mentorship and scheduling regular checkpoints between leaders and communities are key components of a missional vision of theological education.
What we know and what we can do as leaders isn’t just meaningless w/o Christlike character, it’s actually negative, destroying the very nature of what it means to follow Jesus and participate in God’s mission in the world. As Jesus was only worth following inasmuch as he said and did as God said and did, so too are his disciples w/o power and authority if they are not leading out of this sort of Christlike character.
This is all relates to the subject of my next post, the shaping of convictions. Hope to have some helpful dialogue before then though, so let’s have at it!