As part of their forum on, “The Future of the Seminary,” the 3rd of 4 articles that I’ve contributed to, Ministers are Mobilizers, Not Managers, went up the other day. You can find the previous articles both here at lifeasmission as well as over at Patheos…
Again, this is some edited content from a more comprehensive white paper that I worked on. You can find the whole paper here as a resource at thefutureoftheologicaleducation.com. Hope to see some helpful conversation emerge there, here, and over at Patheos as well.
In terms of our particular contribution to this forum, we began by suggesting that while we passionately affirm the important role that seminaries play educationally, from a Kingdom perspective, the more important ‘accrediting factor’ is their ability to graduate students who have increasingly taken on both the character and competency of Jesus. Given those aims and the ways in which our systems of theological education have been corrupted by the (non-missional) assumptions and characteristics of Christendom, we suggested that the central task before us is identifying educational principles guided by a theological vision of the missio Dei as it relates to both the Gospel and the Church that can help us re-imagine and re-shape our processes of theological formation.
In our second post we sought to outline the central features of the first of three of these educational principles, that of being praxeological. This praxeological orientation to theological education would result in the cultivation of reflective practitioners – leaders for whom the practice of mission and ministry and critical theological and missiological reflection always go hand-in-hand.
Here, we’d like to provide a sketch of a second educational principle, again drawn from the life and ministry of Jesus, that we feel must inform our processes of theological formation, that of being mobilizational – geared toward the training of missionary leaders.
One of the most disastrous effects of Christendom upon our systems of theological education has been the unhelpful assumption that the Church does and should exist at the center of our society. Under this vision, seminaries have equipped leaders who would excel at managing and maintaining this system. However, as the missio Dei and its implications for the Gospel and the Church come back into focus in Post-Christendom, we submit that our systems of theological education must be re-imagined for the purposes of training missionary leaders. These will be leaders whose concern and skill-set revolve not around managing churches as part of a culture believed to be “Christian,” or even further, around church growth, but around mobilizing the people of God for participation in God’s mission in the world. We submit that a truly mobilizational system of theological education will be, among other things, affordable, accessible, designed to prepare leaders as cultural pioneers, and judged on its ability to cultivate leaders who are competent to make disciples and mobilize others for faithful participation in God’s mission in the world.
Unless you happen to live in a certain place, going to seminary requires the time and expense of uprooting your life and moving to another location. In addition, the vast majority of seminary students are completely on their own to figure out how to pay for a seminary education. A staggering number of students carry an enormous amount of debt for years, if not decades, following the completion of their program. Not only is this problematic because of the current costs of seminary education, but increasingly, attaining a seminary degree does not translate into a proportional ability to get any job, let alone one that will alleviate students of their debt. Moreover, because seminary degree programs remain, in large part, shaped by the assumptions of Christendom, students may quickly discover they are ill equipped to faithfully engage with the practical realities of ministry in Post-Christendom. In order to be truly mobilizational, it is incumbent on us to re-imagine systems of theological education that are vastly more financially sustainable.
Lack of proximity to the kinds of formational education that we are talking about isn’t just an affordability problem; it’s also an accessibility problem. While we applaud the efforts of the increasing number of seminaries that value distance and
distributed learning opportunities, we would suggest much more innovation is required. Increasingly, seminaries need to embody in themselves the kind of character they should be instilling in their students. In other words, just as we need to mobilize leaders, we also need to imagine what it might mean to mobilize theological education itself. Institutions of theological education that are truly mobilizational will happily release power and control as they give their time and energy to initiatives that make quality theological education more accessible even if they don’t directly benefit. The future of theological education belongs to those groups and institutions who care more for the work of God’s Kingdom than they do their own.
Prepare Cultural Pioneers
The ecclesial vision of Christendom provided for a system of theological education that mainly had in view the creation of Christian leaders who might well be described as managers or custodians of the church at the center of culture. But, with the significant shaking occurring as we move from Christendom to Post-Christendom, the maps we previously used for theological education prove unhelpful and misleading. In direct juxtaposition to a Christendom-shaped reality, a missional understanding of God and the Church compel us to give our time and attention to the equipping of missionary leaders capable of pioneering in a world without maps. This will require the re-imagining of structures and programs that are designed to impart to students, missionary, as opposed to managerial, skill-sets.
Cultivate Disciple-Makers and Mobilizers
A final aspect of theological education that is mobilizational is the central importance of equipping leaders to be disciple-makers and mobilizers of God’s people for mission. However, a particular person might be individually gifted, their ability to leverage that giftedness in concert with the biblically unifying commission to “go and make disciples of all nations,” is a fundamental marker of their fit for Kingdom ministry. Said another way, we suggest that a profound understanding of one’s giftedness and a correspondingly profound track record of the exercise of that giftedness as a means of making disciples and mobilizing people and communities for mission ought to be seen as a basic requirement for the completion of any seminary program.
In short, as the Church is increasingly pushed to the margins of society, it has (we have!) the opportunity to rediscover the missional nature of God, the Gospel, and the Church that was eclipsed within Christendom. Among other things called for by this rediscovery is the complete restructuring of our systems of theological education as we seek to equip leaders who can serve the Church out of missionary rather than managerial perspectives and skill-sets. We offer additional thoughts along these lines in the full paper, available here and check out the video and other resources at thefutureoftheologicaleducation.com.