Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A New Approach to Theological Education

In the fall of 2005, Central Baptist Theological Seminary launched its “Teaching Church” initiative. This initiative is described on the seminary’s website in this way:

A new vision for making theological education more accessible is becoming a reality. Rather than requiring all learners to come to the historic campus in Kansas City for their ministry preparation, Central began offering classes toward degree and certificate programs at four sites - Omaha, Nebraska; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma;, and Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Central is using an apostolate model, which means that theological education will be more itinerant and more closely linked to congregational contexts.

Three years into this effort, two of those sites are alive and well—Milwaukee and Murfreesboro (and the seminary has relocated to a new site in Shawnee, a suburb of Kansas City). The way that these programs are administered and staffed continues to evolve, but the seminary is remaining true to the vision stated in the last sentence above. This vision has two key components.

First, theological education is brought to the students. Classes are taught by professors from the main campus in Shawnee or qualified adjunct professors from the area where the site is located.

Second, theological education is linked to congregational contexts. The second part is developing as the programs gain confidence and experience. Speaking on behalf of the site at First Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, all of our students are involved in congregational settings either as pastors, church staff members, or volunteer leaders in the local church. Practitioners from local churches have been guests in various classes addressing subjects such as new church starting, the emergent church, pastoral counseling, and worship. This will be even more evident as we begin offering our first Ministry Praxis (field education) class in the fall.

This “apostolate model” offers “just in time” training for called individuals who are already part of a local congregation. Although some students will seek out special assignments for the ministry praxis course, most will continue to work in settings where they are already invested in ministry. Isn’t this better than having to start from scratch in a setting where one has to learn the culture as well as the “family system” of a new congregation?

The model also offers expanded opportunities for lifelong learners. Several individuals at First Baptist, Murfreesboro, and other congregations have signed up to audit some classes for their own personal edification and Christian formation. This is good not only for them but their congregations as well.

I hope that we will take even more advantage of the congregational resources in Murfreesboro in the coming days as we work together to develop a new model of theological education for the 21st century.

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