Today, 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?