Monday, September 25, 2006

Back to the future?

The US is making plans to return to the moon. And guess what? The crew vehicle will be a space capsule! Yes, the new Orion spacecraft will look like the old Apollo crew vehicle and not like the space shuttle. The Aries launch vehicle will be based on the shuttle launch system, but the crew will ride on top of the booster "where God intended for them to be" (according to one veteran astronaut). The new space system will be a mixture of the old and the new, the proven and the innovative.

Perhaps there is a word here for the church. Whatever we undertake, it is always a mixture of tradition and innovation. We look to what God has done in the past, but we trust the Spirit to bring fresh insights and understanding for the present and future.

In THE SKY IS FALLING, Alan Roxburgh points out two tribes in the church that are seeking to deal with discontinuous change--the liminals and the emergents. Those who come out of the mainstream are the "liminals." These are the folks who bring institutional memory to the dialoque and are seeking stability. On the other side are the "emergents" who bring innovation and imagination to the mix and are more than ready to embrace radical alternatives.

The liminal folks basically want to retool what has worked in the past. The emergents want something new, realizing that it may or may not work! Roxburgh reminds us that both need each other and both need to realize that the Spirit of God is already among the people of God offering a way through this time of change.

We look to the future without throwing out the past. This may just be the way forward for NASA and the church!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Face to face learning

This past weekend, David May of Central Seminary was in Murfreesboro to teach the first session of the introductory New Testament course. There were 14 students present, three of those "lifelong learners" who are taking the course for their own personal enrichment. This brings the number of students at the Murfreesboro site of "the teaching church seminary" to 12 degree-seeking students and three lifelong learners.

This was seminary education at its best. Dr. May is an excellent teacher, and his interaction with the students was positive and helpful. The students came with high expectations and those were fulfilled. For three hours on Friday night and 10 on Saturday, they were challenged to learn more about the New Testament, its people, its setting, and its implications for our time.

Although much education can be accomplished online (especially with those who are digitally savvy), there is no replacement for face to face, personal interaction. I am pleased that the Central seminary program offers this as the major part of its Master of Divinity studies. Students need to interact with God-called women and men who love the Bible so much that they have committed their lives to its study. Faculty members need to get to know students who are making sacrifices to pursue their education in preparation for ministry. Quite fankly, I think "church happened" around those tables this past weekend.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Future of Seminary Education?

About two years ago, I became aware of two very specific needs of our constituents which I felt were not being addressed by moderate theological institutions. First, I knew several mid-career adults who were exploring the call to ministry but could not pull up roots and pursue theological education in another state. Second, I knew some individuals who were already serving on church staff--either full-time or bivocationally--and desired additional training, but they did not understand why they had to give up their ministries and relocate to obtain a seminary degree.

I contacted several CBF related seminaries to see if any had an interest in providing a satellite or extension site in Tennessee. About the same time, Mike Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, expressed a personal interest in this opportunity. The most positive response I received was from Central Baptist Seminary in Kansas City. Dr. Molly Marshall was interim president and academic dean at that time and expressed an interest in developing a site in Murfreesboro as part of CBTS's new strategy of becoming "the teaching church seminary."

The church provided housing for the classes, Tennessee CBF provided promotion and my services as volunteer site coordinator, and we identified local people who might serve as adjunct faculty.

Last year was a slow but important first phase as the seminary offering two courses on site in the fall and two in the spring. All classes were taught on weekends. Laura Moore came from Kansas City to teach Hebrew Bible both semesters and Mike Smith taught Christian Heritage. Laura had six students the first semester and five the second. Mike had about ten each semester, four of those lifelong learners. The number of degree-seeking students fluctuated as some "tasted" the possibility of local theological education and decided that it was not for them.

This weekend we launched the second year of classes and saw the fruit of the labors of Molly, Laura, Mike, and myself as well at those of Steve Guinn, director of admissions, and Dean and Lisa Allen, CBTS administrators. The first weekend of the Formation for Christian Ministry class had 12 students enrolled. Seven were returning students and five were new students. I anticipate that all will be back next weekend for the New Testament class taught by CBTS professor David May. We will probably have three lifelong learners as well.

This response is a clear validation that the need we perceived is very real. There are God-called women and men who want to develop their skills for ministry and will invest the time and money to do so, even in the midst of busy lives.

Is this the future of theological education? I believe that it is at least one very viable stream. I am grateful for all of those at Central Seminary who have nurtured this dream and to Mike Smith and FBC, Murfreesboro, for being a part of this bold experiment.

What does the future hold? Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

He brought a child to his side . . .

I don't know how you spend your weekends, but grandchildren usually play an important role in the weekend schedule for Rita and myself. We spent time with Erin (our two-year old granddaughter) on Friday, then took Noah (our seven-year-old grandson) to the football game on Friday night where our 17 year old granddaugher, Kayla, was in the half-time show. Noah spent the night and we took him to his soccer game on Saturday morning. Tomorrow we plan to have lunch with our 19-year-old grandson, Bryan. OK, I'll spare you the pictures, but you get the idea--children and grandchildren are important to us.

This was brought home to me this morning when our pastor, Mike Smith, preached on Luke 9:46-50 where Jesus attempts to settle an argument among his disciples about "who will be the greatest" by bringing a small child to his side. Mike pointed out that in Jesus' day, grown men ignored children in public settings. It just wasn't done! So Jesus' action was particularly surprising as he pointed out the value of one of the least in society by identifying himself with the child.

As I looked out over the congregation, I noted children sitting with their parents, one father holding his daughter in his lap, and a little boy cuddling up next to his mother. Certainly this says something about the value we have come to place upon our children. To cap it off, three youngsters made public professions of faith at the close of the service!

Children are important to us as Christ-followers. I admit that there are times when the emphasis may get out of balance. We've come a long way from the "children should be seen and not heard" approach of a previous generation. We are much more aware of the potential inherent in each child and the importance of encouraging them to develop their abilities and gifts. As a result, we invest time in their education and nurture, both in the church and elsewhere.

But think about this in light of the text Mike used this morning. First, we value children not just because of what they may become, but because of what they are. Although least in the kingdom, they are important in and of themselves. Each child has intrinsic value in the sight of God. Second, we must recognize that not all children are valued, even in our supposedly enlightened society. Some struggle just to survive. What are we doing to help such children?

Whatever we invest in children--either our own or others--is well worth the effort. It is part of our God-given calling.