Training Every Believer For Mission, Not Just Pastoral Care For Congregations

IMG_8410Today, my friend Marty, on his blog “CHOSENREBEL’S BLOG,” reposted an article written back in February of 2011.  It’s titled;

“LESLIE NEWBIGIN’S RADICAL INSIGHT INTO SEMINARY CURRICULA.”

 The Thesis of the article is;

 Seminaries are not Structured to Deliver the Right Kind of Graduate for the Mission of the Church.

 You can read the complete article HERE.

In the Cloud Forest Region of Ecuador, where my wife and I have been missionaries for over 7 years, we participated in the launch of and continue to work in a new seminary.  It’s called “Seminario Noroccidente” (Northwest Seminary), and I am an adjunct professor of Missiology and assist in Ecclesiology and Hermeneutics.  It’s a new work which has as its premise 8 hours of class instruction and 712 hours of application monthly.  I struggle with the other professors who have adopted much of the philosophy that Newbigin speaks of in the referenced article.  

What I found particularly valid in that post was one of the comments in answer to a question posed by Marty.  That question was “What can we do to change the way we train people for ministry so that the triumphs of the Gospel (past) and the glories of the Gospel (present and future) become the “ordinary consciousness” of all who call themselves Christians?

Here’s the response:

Here’s my list for things we should to better train folks on the seminary level for kingdom advancement through the Church:

1. Integrate mandatory, communal missional ministry into the seminary curricula. Create reasonable, achievable, and measurable goals connected with said ministry (especially for evangelism).

2. Have seminary profs participate in aforementioned missional ministry with students.

3. Read more biographies/histories of great evangelistic and mission-minded saints and movements from Church history. Make sure that at least half of this reading is preoccupied with NON-WESTERN saints and movements.

4. Teach theology through the lens of missiology rather than teaching missiology as the red-headed step-child of theology.

5. Stop making Sunday morning preaching the crown jewel of the pastorate. Without question, excellence in preaching/teaching of the Word among the saints at the local level is essential. However, we teach this to the exclusion of the broader panorama of what the Lord wants His leaders to do and be for the sake of His Church and His Kingdom (see Eph. 4:7-16).

6. Have multiple evangelism courses that require seminarians to learn about and practice various modes of evangelism (contact evangelism, relational/conversational evangelism, small group evangelism, etc.). Students would get some field education/internship credit for these. Evangelism on the local/neighborhood should figure into this.

7. Have classes in which seminarians would do nothing but pray. These would be pass/fail, and your grade would depend on whether or not you physically showed up. Different modes of prayer would be explored and practiced (meditation, intercession, solitude, etc.). Space would be alloted for reports on the way in which the Lord is meeting everyone in and through prayer.

8. A certain number of class days out of an academic year should be set aside for just hearing stories from proven pastors, missionaries, and evangelists . These kinds of stories help to fan into flame believers’ passion for ministry. Furthermore, such stories give saints the permission to dream big concerning the power of the Lord through His people.

9. Provide more teaching on the equipment of the saints for vibrant ministry.

10. Mentor seminarians on the merits of neighborhood and local investment. Inculcating long-term rootedness in a rootless, wandering culture can ensure more effective ministry and stewardship of God’s resources for the future.

I thought the response was well thought out and poignant.  It comes on the heels of an article I just wrote yesterday entitled “For Where Your Church Treasure is, There your Mission Heart Will be Also,” and carries much of the same concerns.  The only caveat I would raise, is that I don’t think these things should be reserved for people at “seminary level.”  These points are valid and applicable for every believer.  As recently as this past Tuesday, I was speaking with another local leader regarding our seminary, and he said “I fear that many of these students, when they have received their training, will not engage mission, but will instead focus all of their instruction inward.” 

To be fair, we also have other avenues of preparing people for missions and ministry which include what we call “Discipleship Group,” and the daily practice of Making Disciples in over 25 local communities.  In addition, we are ramping up what some would call an “Un-Seminary.” It’s a process of quickly ramping up believers to be missionaries in their own contexts.   

So, if we took Marty’s question and revisited it with that sentiment, what would you add or change to the list above? 

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    1. I would take issue with #4, because teaching theology through the lens of anything is a route to bias and error. Theology is the study of God Himself. Proper study of God leads to proper understanding of mission. Mission is crucial, but not paramount. Mission is the commandment … God is the Commander.


      • I understand Jailer…

        But what if “mission” is an attribute of God? What if He is the sent and sending one? He sent His Son, the Son Sends the Spirit. God then, The Father, The Son, and The Sprit, is a Missionary God. Christology informs Missiology which in turn informs Ecclesiology. “Theology,” is what we call our study of these things and comes later.


    2. May I ask another question Miguel?

      Why in the world do we need Seminaries and Bible Schools at all?

      Think about it.

      Did Jesus set up a Seminary. NO!

      Did Paul and the other apostles start Bible Schools wherever they went? NO! (the school of Tyreneius – I don’t even remember how to spell it – was NOT a bible school, it was simply a convenient place for Paul to teach).

      What did Jesus and the apostles do instead of today’s high fallutin baloney?

      They recruited disciples and taught them in the context of everyday life and everyday contact. They taught them by example. I know I don’t need to tell you this Miguel.

      Seminaries and Bible Schools are just so much modern, religious baloney. An attempt to train people through worldly means.

      Can the Lord through His Spirit train someone? You bet!

      Can He use the Body to help train someone? To help them know what it is to live a holy life? How to pray? How to love as Christ did?

      What else is there?

      I’ll take being in the presence of a real Christian who knows the Lord and how to walk before Him so that I can learn from their life any day than to sit under the “greatest” Seminary professor anywhere.

      Religious man will chafe at what I say but I believe it is the truth.

      Carlos


      • In a little known passage in Acts 19 we get the clearest glimpse of what Paul spent his days doing when he wanted to plant churches in a city. Luke records that after Paul abandoned his original method of working through the local Synagogue he rented space in the School of Tyrannus and held daily discussions there for about a two year period. This is most likely what he was doing in Synagogues before this time and we know this was what he did during his house arrest in Rome (Acts 28). This discipleship center was the public and constant activity and he supplemented this by also training in individual house church meetings (Acts 20:20).

        http://jeremypryor.wordpress.com/2007/12/17/the-tyrannus-effect-pauls-neglected-strategy-for-city-wide-discipleship/


      • Carlos, I think you have hit the nail on the head.

        To a seminary, training means filling heads with knowledge; this may or may not encourage the owners of those heads to become missional.

        But making disciples (apprentices) gets people working alongside the master and sends them out to do the same; mission is practical and is built in to the process (it’s not optional).


    3. If one analyzes the overall perspective behind seminaries and bible schools it is essentially one of saying that certain individuals CANNOT do the work God is calling them to do as well as they ought to do it UNLESS they first get trained at a seminary or bible school.

      That underlying mentality is a affront to the sufficiency and power of the Lord working through His Spirit in EVERY believer.

      We end up with artificial, unbiblical, and ungodly distinctions between believers. Between those who have been “trained” at seminaries and bible schools and those who have not.

      Those who attend such things will of course give lip service to the truth that the Lord, the Word in everyday reading and life, Body interactions, and the presence of the Spirit in every believer are enough to equip every single one of us to fulfill our calling but when push comes to shove such people act hypocritically in that for them…it’s not enough.

      What they do (vs what they say) shows what they truly believe.

      If what I have listed above is enough…why bother going to or promoting the idea of a seminary or bible school?

      Why make unnecessary distinctions of status between those who have a Doctor of Divinity (or whatever one calls the degree) and those who don’t?

      Carlos


    4. Miguel
      You must know that the work you are doing there, which is invaluable, underfunded with people and $ etc, is far different than the well greased hamster wheel system in the developed world, and as such, any lessons learned in either world are probably inapplicable to the other.
      Churchianity in the developed countries started off as pure religion ;itinerant, local and simple, but human nature inevitably defaulted back to carelessness and comfort zones once the gospel had effectually rid societies of the worst evils.
      What plan is in place to stop that from happening in Ecuador?
      Seminaries were the distilled culmination of a developed religious culture, whether it was Elijah’s Israel, Plato’s republic, the school of Tyrannus, the universities of the middle ages in Europe or today’s landscape.
      I find them mediocre at best as cultural change agents, and at worst, they become crypts of ideas, endlessly debating minutiae, and instead of ages of collected knowledge being channeled to do gospel work, they churn out armies of little popes who usurp the local nature of the work of the kingdom thru individual member of each congregation.
      Seminaries have specialized biblical knowledge, repackaging the Word into specialized carriers, who then spread out to the furthest corners of the kingdom to confuse the simple with volumes of facts.
      But on balance, they’ve also been a framework for publishing and record keeping, attempting to guard the contextual nuances hidden in the ancient languages of the bible, as well as legitimizing genuine scholars, many whom have contributed greatly to the greater good.
      But they may have had their day, at least in their current form.
      I think we’ve arrived at a critical mass of understanding, historical and otherwise, and for myself, I expect future theologians, scholars and teachers of every kind to lead the way by example in living out a simple, but demonstrably articulate discipleship.
      To whom much is given, much is required, and the day of hiding behind rimmed glasses, in libraries and convention halls, removed by degrees, income and class from the unwashed masses, is over.
      Seminaries must produce men and women who are mature and careful followers of Christ, that others can know and emulate, which makes them leaders, or else they should get out of the way.
      And the more local the better.
      This obsession with bigger, further and more all encompassing is unworkable and unnecessary
      Jesus is a local grower; very organic, and quite able to mature committed disciples without top down management from some austere hallowed hall of learning or Jerusalem, or anywhere else.
      The bible from start to end patterns leaders who are local, known by their lives to all, are tested and tried by those they are examples to, largely unable to fool anyone because they live daily among their brethren.
      The entire church landscape is littered with the bodies of clergy and laymen alike, who are burned out, lonely, hurt, sinning or weak, and all the theology amassed from the ages cant offer any practicable solution to stop the bleeding.
      What good are they if we are all in such a mess?
      Haggai asked his generation, who were the front line troops; gutsy, noble hearted patriots returned from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem, why they had stopped building Gods house and were busy on their own houses. They were active and busy but complaining aloud about the lack of power, resources and blessing of God as their enemies nibbled away at their heritage.
      That’s us, if we’re honest enough to admit it.
      The solution was to go up the mountain, gather wood and bring it back down and rebuild the destroyed temple, but still on the original foundations laid by Solomon.
      There’s a simple, and profoundly difficult lesson there, one that involves abandoning our current agenda and returning to the original pattern.
      That’s got to be us too.
      If seminaries can contribute to that, so be it, but I’d bet money on the table that this criticism won’t be passed on to any seminary, let alone agreed with by most who benefit from them.
      Blessings
      Greg


    5. Something I’m thinking about…often the Acts 19 passage is brought up when discussing Seminaries. Paul did this for two years and helped set the world on fire. How long were the learners with him then? Couldn’t have been long at all. How long do learners spend in Seminaries now? Rather then months its years.

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