Editor's Note: This article is part of an online symposium, "Does Seminary Have a Future?" hosted at Patheos. Read other perspectiveshere.
We began this series by suggesting that while we passionately affirm seminaries' critical educational role, the more important "accrediting factor" from a Kingdom perspective is their ability to produce graduates who have acquired, increasingly, 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 reimagining and reforming the processes of theological formation according to a truly theological vision of the missio Dei and its relation to the Gospel and the Church.
In our second post, we sought to outline the central features of the praxeological principle. A 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.
Now we'll sketch the second educational principle, again drawn from the life and ministry of Jesus. The processes of theological formation, we believe, must be 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 concerns and skill-sets revolve not around managing churches as part of an ostensibly "Christian" culture, or in the interest of "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. The vast majority of seminary students are completely on their own to figure out how to pay for a seminary education, and most will carry a staggering amount of debt for years, even decades, after graduation. To make matters worse, attaining a seminary degree does not translate into a proportional ability to get any job, let alone a job that will pay off 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 more financially sustainable systems of theological education.
Lack of proximity is a problem not just of affordability, but also of accessibility. While we applaud the efforts of the increasing number of seminaries that offer distance- and distributed-learning programs, more innovation is needed. Seminaries should embody the character they seek to instill 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. Institutions that are truly mobilizational will happily release power and control as they devote their time and energy to initiatives that make quality theological education more accessible, whether or not those initiatives benefit the institutions. The future of theological education belongs to those who care more to prosper God's kingdom than they do to prosper themselves.
Prepare Cultural Pioneers
The ecclesial vision of Christendom provided for a theological education system that sought to form Christian leaders who would be faithful managers or custodians of the church at the center of culture. 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 designed to impart missionary and not merely managerial skill-sets.