A while back my twitter friend Chris Chappotin asked a great question about what is missing from the Missional Conversation. In response to that he asked if I would be willing to be one of many who responded in a blog post, briefly detailing my thoughts.
While their is certainly much room for conversation about what is missing; in my context as both a church planting pastor and a church planter strategist, their are two areas where we could stand to do a bit more thinking. The first is how the missional conversation/movement engages in a rural setting and the second is, what is the place of theological education in the missional conversation/movement. Since each of these warrants their own attention in a separate post, we will begin in reverse order.
The Place of Theological Education
I had the privilege of attending and graduating from Midwestern Seminary here in Kansas City. The professors, by and large, at Midwestern are top notch scholars, each of whom care deeply about their field of study and communicate with a passion and clarity that is second to none. I could spend the next several hundred words waxing eloquent about how each class I took, with very small exception, instilled in me not only a greater understanding of God and His Word, but also a more reverent humility. To be completely honest, of all the classes I completed there were only 1 or 2 I would consider not worth the time or effort. Yet, while my time at Midwestern did many many things for me, both as a follower of Jesus and one who serves the local and regional church in a vocational way, I can say without hesitation that it did not prepare me adequately to be a missionary into culture. Rather, the bulk of my theological education focused on preparing me to be the CEO or manager of a multi-tiered religious organization.
Mission was presented as an arm of the church, rather than its organizing principle. Disciple making was discussed in terms of program and curricula and not apprenticeship in the way of Jesus. Little time, if any, was given to how it is that this Gospel we believe and proclaim should change the communities in which we live, other than in the strictest evangelistic sense of personal conversion.
The remedy for this predicament in my opinion is two fold. First, their needs to be a re-purposing of sorts on behalf of schools of theological education. Too often our Christian culture is prone to reaction rather than pro-action, and our schools are no different. While there are some exceptions to this, namely Northern Seminary and their offerings in Missional Leadership, most of our schools are continuing to offer the same course of study they have for decades. While the doctrines of our faith and the confessions we hold should remain for the most part unchanged, the way we prepare to impact the vast lost-ness into which we are called should always be evolving in response to and anticipation of the culture milieu we encounter on a daily basis. How can we expect the people we shepherd and share life with to live as the sent ones of God if we as their leaders don’t have a framework for this ourselves?
Secondly, their needs to be a realistic expectation on behalf of those choosing to attend a seminary or Bible college of what they are getting themselves in to. Many of the men, and women, I sat beside in class viewed seminary as their meal ticket to an inside job with air conditioning instead of a trade school meant to provide them with skills and tools to fulfill their calling more effectively.
So in conclusion, what place does theological education have in the missional movement and conversation? My hope is a prominent one! As schools of higher learning commit to devoting more of their required courses towards preparing students to be missionaries into culture; and as more students view the time spent in study as vocational training in the best sense of the word, then another great era of mission sending could be upon us. However, if schools continue on the same path, and students with the same attitude, my fear is we will continue our trend of becoming more and more monolithic and more and more in danger of losing our voice and potential for lasting and meaningful change.