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Is “M.A. in Missional Church Studies” an Oxymoron? Can Seminary Education be Missional?

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Can one prepare for Missional church leadership at a seminary? There are some who flat out say “No.” For them, true missional church leadership must be “practice” focused. Theology (academic) is too abstract, impractical, and not related to the practice of ministry in the field. Yet “practice” is what defines missional ministry. Therefore traditional seminary training has become outmoded as a means for training the up and coming leadership of the missional churches.
This is not a new argument. The evangelical mega-church pastors basically said the same thing in the 70’s. Seminary training did not teach you how to exegete for the masses. It was not connected to the “business” of doing church in any “relevant” way. And so 30 years later we have a church short on theological integrity, long on pragmatics. We have a church which the emerging churches blame for stripping the Christian church of its witness and succumbing to the cultural forces of consumerism. I suggest that the LACK of theology, the LACK of a historical sense of who we are and where we come from, and the LACK of a theology of culture is what led to the current Walmartization of American church life in evangelicalism. Does missional church leadership risk making the same mistakes? Will the missional church leaders of tommorrow follow in the footsteps of current Amercian evangelicalism by avoiding formal disciplined theological and cultural training?

I argue that we should not dispose of the seminaries. And I argue this not just to insure I keep a job (as a seminary professor). I argue we need a sense of our history, of orthodoxy, of theology and Scripture, and sense of apostolicity, an historical connection to the history that we pass down in Christ. But we should do this in a pedagogy that does not separate the learning from the field of practice. The two should be in partnership. We should do all of this in a pedagogy that is entwined with spiritual formation, community and worship. We need regular times when we bring those preparing for missional leadership together to combine formal study, spiritual disciplines, community and worship. We need communities of Christ (missional churches) where these missional leader candidates can live among and then learn, watch, and participate in some supervised ministry that is edifying a church body all the while carrying on a means to support themselves. We need coursework that engages the theology and cultural issues of the situation we face in the new post-Christendom. A combination of all these elements in a seamless relationship will prepare leaders to start, lead and develop new missional communities.

I have been asked to head a new ministerial degree at Northern Seminary with an emphasis in Missional Church Studies (M.A. C.M.). The intent of the program is to deliberately prepare missional church planters/pastors theologically, culturally and practically for ministry in the post Christendom/postmodern cultures of North America. I have suggested we will need to structure a community life where we worship, eat and pray together in monastic ways. We will need certain practices of spiritual disciplines and a worship life together. We will need to do all of the above in modules, groups that can keep the same students together in training throughout their entire program. They will come together three to four times a year for one week, two week and/or three week intensive periods of study/class time, prayer, worship and community. Their work in the field will be coordinated with education in theological and historical study. We will coordinate a network of missional churches that can feed off the interns that provide the fertile ground for the working out of our theology over time. The end will be the well prepared person, spiritually, intellectually, character-wise, and skills wise for the task, the very different task of leading a missional community in our times. They will all look different from the traditional pastoral candidates of the past and from one context to the next.

And so I remain convinced as ever of the need for a theological education that combines practice and theological disciplines. I remain convinced that the problems of church today as represented by the various forms of pragmatism in the evangelical church stem from over pragmatic, under-thought-out-practice that has little engagement with history, doctrine or culture. The result has been students that capitulate the church to the pragmatists. At the same time I am convinced we do not need overly intellectual seminaries that produce arrogant egg heads ill suited for ministry. We need a missional seminary if that is possible.

If you can buy any of this, what would be the core courses for a Missional Studies Masters Degree in Ministry here at Northern I propose the following. What do you think?

Prerequisites
A core requisite of courses that develop fluency in the Scriptures (Old Testament and New) and church doctrine (Systematic Theology). This is just plain necessary for any pastor to navigate the terrain for his church community.

The Church’s Missional Identity in Culture
There is such a naïve understanding of the Christian’s relationship to culture in evangelicalism fostered mainly by past protestant liberal orthodoxies (H.R. Neibuhr, Tillich). One simply cannot go into the new cultural territories of missional church planting without a grasp of subtler and more critical engagements with culture. From Neibuhr to Yoder, Tillich to Hauerwas to Foucault, a sample of these readings can give all future pastors a basis upon which to engage culture as well as shape and foster a culture in their own churches.

The Church in the Postmodern Context: Theology and Practice
A basic course in ecclesiology and the issues we face in being a church in these new cultures. An historical and Scriptural understanding of what it means to be the church is necessary to stem the decline in visible Christian life in the over pragmatized current day evangelicalism.

Christianity & Pluralism: The Challenge for Mission and Evangelism
Everywhere I go this issue of pluralism is big. It is a hurdle we all must face in our cultural witness. Any pastor entering missional territory must have a firm sense of where he or she is going on this issue.

Justice and the North American Church
I believe that both the moral majority and the political left have ruined this issue. We need to examine the ways we talk about justice from the Scriptures, in the ways we embody it as a people and in terms of social engagement. We need to examine the ways we have divide personal issues of ethics from social ethics. We need to examine how the protestant doctrine of justification by faith has contributed to separating justice from salvation. All this would allow us to lead communities of justice in ways emerging churches talk about but rarely see.

Reconciliation, Racism and Gender
We need a basic course on the issues of Race, Gender Economic Class structure that we all face in democracy and capitalism, which the church must address if we are to be a visible witness to the world. We need to examine the history of these issues in N America and then address the way current society has not overcome them and how the church of the Eucharist offers an alternative practice.

Missional Leadership
Leadership must take different forms than the business models that predominate Christian ministry. We must examine where we get our notions of leadership from, engage Scripture and practice on the issue and then find places to get shaped and mentored into the servant leadership of Christ that will be so required to foster congregations in the new worlds of Western post Christendom.

Preaching as Worship
We need preachers who are skilled to proclaim, call people out of a modern cultural malaise into the reality of Jesus as Savior and Lord, Coming King. How do we do this? How do we preach to stir and reshape the imaginations of the people to live into the life and mission of God here on earth, not just distribute information like another self-help course? This coursework/practicum will be key!

Worship and Spirituality
The theology and assumptions by which we enter and lead worship, and the spiritual disciplines, are essential for the new post Christendom, post modern landscape. We are in essence producing experience, sculpting character out of our participation in worship, the Scriptures and the ancient discplines by the Holy Spirit. People of my evangelical heritage are sorely ill prepared. This is Robert Webber’s strength at Northern. We are all praying for his recovery in Christ from his serious illness.

Theology at the End of Modernity
I don’t know about this one but I’d sure like to teach it. Would a reading course be helpful that would introduce the basic thinkers of postmodern philosophy and then the major theological engagements with postmodern thought. There will be selections from philosophical writings from figures such as Lyotard, Derrida, Foucault, Baurillard as well as Wittgenstein and Rorty. There will then be some selections from theological writings of McIntyre, Milbank, Ward, Hauerwas, Lindbeck, David Bentley Hart as well as some reactive evangelical writers such as McLaren, Carson and Millard Erickson. The student will then write a paper outlining his own theological and practical engagement with postmodernity. Would such a course be necessary?

Well enough of my initial thoughts on an M A in Christian Ministry – Missional Studies. Anyone out there have other suggestions? Is seminary out of date and irrelevant to the missional church pastor in training? I would appreciate any comments on the subject.

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