Church Networks and Pedagogy

As we speak, thousands of seminary trained students are graduating from their respective universities and will be hitting the denominational (and non-denominational) church marketplace, flooding the perhaps over-saturated church job market in hopes of finding stable employment and being a part of the next Great Awakening.

Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic but I myself am one of those graduates so I guess I can romanticize a little.

With this world of possibility opening up to many graduates, I, like others, have been considering the best course of action. I’m a bit of a mutt denominationally so I’ve been wondering, should I look to join a particular denomination? Is the non-denominational and congregational church the way to go? How does this line up with my theology and ecclesiology?

Then there are always Networks…

As my mind tossed around this question, like the proverbial graduation cap I turned to the medium through which all scholarly work is shared and academia is thoroughly vetted – Twitter.

Below is the question I, rather off-handedly, posted:

“Wonder if denominations r giving way to networks? @ecclesianet @SojournNetwork @Acts29 @missioalliance? Effects on theology & denom dogma?”

It obviously touched a nerve because I received a lot of great replies. So let’s continue that conversation:

It seems that just as often as one hears about the decline of denominations, often times within the so-called mainline denominations, you also hear of the growth of a new church network. In fact, Acts 29, one of the larger networks in America, has in ten years developed partnerships with over 500 churches around the world! These partnerships are developed both through the planting of new churches and the merging of existing churches with the Acts 29 network.

This begs the question – if indeed more and more churches become partners with networks should we expect to see the mode in which theological discussions occur change? If so what changes should we expect to see within the current medium, that being the denominationally based seminary? If indeed the more congregational model of church networks overtakes the current denominational structure will networks support Christian higher education or will a new model of education arise out of this burgeoning movement?

As networks continue to grow and more and more churches merge within this framework will we see a condensing of the old dogmatic divides that exist between predestinarian Presbyterians and libertarian Nazarenes? Will this allow for more collaboration and perhaps a uniting of a schismatic Christendom or will the differences simply be accented into fewer camps?

As many graduating seminarians hit the job market these are the types of questions that one must consider. The growth of church networks within America is encouraging and must not be overlooked by graduates or the church at large. Networks are bringing an evangelistic zeal and a third option to the current dualism of the denominational – non-denominational church marketplace along with an added support to those who desire to be more congregationally based and yet ecumenically connected.

Still, we must consider this trend and its effect on the broader theological discussion; will this bridge the divide between divisive dogmas or will it simply reinforce the theological hills that divide us? What effect will the rise of networks have on seminaries and Christian higher education in general? Will networks begin offering their own form of theological and ministerial training and will they make this training mandatory for their partnering pastors? If not, and more and more potential pastors opt out of the seminary and the student debt attributed to that education, and instead choose to work within a church network that does not expect or encourage them to receive a seminary education, should we expect to find fewer and fewer seminaries and fewer and fewer classically trained pastors?

Obviously the question of the validity of seminaries can be asked but this question is different. Here I am asking, with the growth of networks, will the option of seminaries be available to those who wish to engage in Christian higher education, and if not what will the medium be for theological discussion in the future?

As a graduating seminarian myself I am thankful for my time within the current structure of Christian higher education. I have had the opportunity to learn and to be challenged and guided by an academic community that understands the importance of their work and its impact on the local church. If indeed networks overtake the current denominational structure and choose to forgo the academic and ministerial medium of seminary I will be truly disappointed. However, we must consider the medium in which theological discussion can continue and we must take into account the tremendous opportunity that the network format affords us to unite the Church.

So what do you think?

If networks grow, what effect will this have in Christian higher education?

Do you believe the network format will breakdown divisive denominational dogmas or will it simply emphasize the areas of disagreement within the Church?

[Image by bensonk42, CC via Flickr]