Have you ever had an experience or been presented with a perspective and just intuitively known that if you really let that experience or perspective in that it would have earth-shattering implications for so many other things? It’s like “imagination dominoes” – it’s seeing, maybe for the first time, that if you decide to nudge that first piece, you can just imagine a whole sequence of things that are going to follow after it.
This is what happened to me in grad school as I encountered “missional” perspectives of God, the Church, leadership, and culture. There were ripple effects of these perspectives that are still very much shaping me. Perhaps unsurprising to regular readers of this blog, one of the most significant points of contact between those waves and my core interests and calling has to so with the field of theological education.
Essentially, as I began to take on a greater understanding of God’s missionary nature and work in the world, not only did my theological perspectives shift, but I realized that if I really followed that understanding through, it would mean embracing a new paradigm for how we understand the nature, purpose, and practice of theological education.
My own grappling with this issue first took shape in a dimension of my masters thesis, “Restoring Hope to the Church in Western Culture: Exploring the Relationship Between Culture, Theology, and the Church.” That was way back in 2006! Then, I revisited the issue in a more focused way toward the end of 2009 in a 9-part series, “Toward a Missional Vision of Theological Education” (PDF of all the posts here). At the end of 2011, I had the opportunity to collaborate with 3DM in drafting a white paper on the subject, “The Missiological Future of Theological Education.” Back in April I got to bring some of these reflections into a closer dialogue with the Anabaptist tradition by offering the paper, “The Role of Seminaries in Subverting Empire: Toward a Missional Vision of Theological Formation” (audio is here, my talk starts around 41:15. Let me know if you’re interested in the paper itself).
It’s interesting to look back and see both evolution and continuity in how I’ve sought to work out my own thinking. No doubt the evolution that I see has come as a result of additional years of pastoral ministry, opportunities to work in theological education in the area of program development as well as that of an adjunct instructor, LOTS and LOTS of dialogue with faculty, administrators, students, and practitioners, and of course countless pages of reading.
Anyway, all that to say that this past weekend I had the privilege of offering my first academic paper on this topic at the American Society of Missiology, “Toward a Mission-Shaped Vision of Theological Formation: Implications of the missio Dei for Theological Education.” This represents the latest iteration in this 6-year journey of attempts to articulate a theological rationale for how we think about and practice the education and formation of Christian leaders. I’m planning to roll this paper out via blog posts over the coming weeks. If this is something you’re interested in, I hope you’ll wade in to the discussion.