What For? The Idea of an Advanced Theological Education

There are many reasons to pursue additional theological education. You’ve been in ministry for a while. You’ve gained a base level competency in Biblical studies, theological subjects, theological history and culture enough to be able to navigate leading a church community/congregation. But now you realize you are facing cultural challenges unimagined in seminary. These issues may be ecclesiological (my church is so program focused we can’t engage), cultural (I have no idea how to engage the issues in pluralism, justice, race, sexuality that I’m facing almost every day), theological (how do I understand the gospel, Kingdom, revelation, the Bible, conversion for this new language I find myself in?) or cultural (I don’t have an understanding of what race, power, distance, gender etc. is never mind how to be present and engage these issues). It seems we do not need more Biblical studies, more academic theology. It seems we need a new way of doing and practicing theological engagement and leading a congregation into Kingdom engagement for the gospel outside the boundaries of church.

I have described this way of leading as pastoral contextual theologian. The starting point is the pastor as participant observer – an ethnographic term that means you are firmly implanted in a context listening observing. Knowing how to be present in a way that does not exert undue unilateral power, knowing how to ask the right questions over time and code them for certain tendencies and narratives, is the starting point. Theological reflexion and cultural reflection then happens post this contextual presence. And out of this reflection on a question comes an opening to the future and a leading into that. This I believe is a way to understand what every pastor/church leader has to go through regularly. We train people in our Doctor of Missional Leadership to do this: into competency as a pastoral contextual theologian.

The picture (attached to this post) is of the first 6 graduates of this program (out of the 13 that were in the first cohort. The other 7 will follow next June ). I’m in the back with the purple gown. I wasn’t paying attention (evidently).  Congratulations to our first graduates!. These are some of the finest cutting edge minds in Missional church ministry. They make us proud here at Northern! We start our 3rd cohort this January 2016. We need to close the application process in the next few months. Below are the seven one week courses that guide you through the process of becoming a pastoral contextual theologian. . McKnight, myself, Al Roxburgh are just some of the instructors. Here’s a link for more information.

If you are interested e-mail me or call the admissions office at Northern Seminary


Overview of DMin in Missional Leadership Courses

1) The Mission Shaped Church in Post Christendom (David Fitch)

The practices of the N. American protestant church have largely been dependent upon Christendom assumptions that make mission a program of the established church. The theology of Missio Dei, the onset of new post-Christendom contexts in N. America presses for a fresh approach to cultivating missional congregations. This course examines the cultural assumptions, theology that undergirds the practices of the church. It then re-describes the historic practices of church for the shaping of congregations in Mission

2) Becoming Doctors of the Church (Mark Mulder)

This seminar orients the doctoral student to being a contextual pastor theologian. It teaches the student ethnography as a pastoral discipline and research method. Fundamentally, the course places each student as a pastor within his/her own ministry context as opposed to a researcher above the context operating upon the field as an object for research. The student will learn the basics of constructing an ethnographic project, how to define his/her “field,” record the narratives, ask the right questions, make substantive observations, and then reflect theologically about what has been seen and heard.

3) Biblical & Theological Reflection on Ministry & Culture (Geoff Holsclaw/Fitch)

Each of us engages in life and ministry on the basis of our own “working” theology.  This course seeks to help the student define his/her own theological assumptions and to then be able to integrate sound theological understandings into the practice of contextual ministry.  At the end of this course, the student should a.) Come to grips with several theological convictions that lie at the foundation of his or her life and ministry, b.) Begin the development of a theological framework for engaging the ministry situation/issue the student anticipates as the main issue in the upcoming DMin thesis.

4) Incarnating the Gospel in Culture (Dan Shefield)

This course explores the inter-section of gospel, church, and culture by bringing together biblical, theological, cultural and social science resources to the issues of engagement with one’s particular context. We will learn how to exegete the deep patterns and structures of a community’s life within a context in order to recognize how such issues as power, distance, gender, place, race, gender etc. influence an understanding of the gospel and contribute to the shaping of the church.

5.) The Bible in Context: Gospel, Kingdom and Salvation (Scot McKnight)

The contextual theologian must both understand the Bible in its original context and be able see his/her own context thru the Bible.  He or she must be able to move from the text to interpreting his/her local context through the lens of what God is doing as revealed in the Bible. This course examines three key themes of the Bible: gospel, authority, and kingdom, along with the related issues of atonement, conversion and women in ministry. During this class, we are learning how to understand these issues first Biblically. This provides the foundation from which to reflect off the context and understand the context in terms of what God is doing. The student will leave this course with a thorough understanding of gospel, kingdom, and church for the practice of interpreting these themes in a local context.

6) Missional Leadership (Alan Roxburgh)

While North American culture is passing through a period of rapid, discontinuous change, little has been offered to church leaders in terms of frameworks and resources to understand and lead church systems through this change. This course provides an alternative framework for understanding the nature and effects of discontinuous change, transition and liminality. It provides a constructive methodology for non-linear leadership based in the theologies of God as Trinity, creation, and the Spirit as one who forms a future among a people.  Using systems and complexity theory, this course blends theology and ministerial practice in a new understanding of leadership to open up the future and make provocative proposals for the church to move into the future.

7) Thesis Design (Fitch)

This seminar walks the student through constructing a thesis that begins with a driving question and the participant observer located in a ministerial context. Then an ethnographic process is constructed, theological and cultural concepts located, and a bibliography constructed that sets the stage for a final performance of an original contribution to contextual theology.  The approval of the thesis proposal that comes from this class sets the stage for the final thesis that provides the capstone of the Doctoral process. 

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