Saturday, February 27, 2010

Deploy and Debrief


I was reading along in Reggie McNeal’s Missional Renaissance when I suddenly stopped and said, “I recognize this!” McNeal was writing about Kingdom-based leadership and the need to shift from a “train and deploy” approach to a “deploy and debrief” approach. He wrote,

“Movement leaders can and must still be prepared this way. Let’s start with the seminary clergy-training level. Eventually, the strangulating hold of accreditation will further relax to allow training regimens to be offered alongside deployment, employing delivery systems that permit people to stay put in their communities of relationship and leadership influence. Those wanting theological education to prepare for church leadership roles will no longer have to disrupt their families, move and live as transients for three to five years to secure their academic prize, and then have to try to reestablish life and relationships in some new place. Online technology is already creating nonresidential alternatives to the typical approach of residential studies. Seminaries will still offer a residential track for those who prefer it, but the main delivery will shift to nonresidential students who access online teaching at their own pace while integrating what they learn into their every day life and ministry. This will greatly increase the scope of theological education.”

McNeal’s model is happening this weekend in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Six students are spending eleven hours of their weekend studying Christian Heritage with a young woman who will soon receive her doctoral degree from a respected graduate school of religion. They range in age from mid-thirties to late fifties. One is a personal trainer; another works for the regional office of an insurance company; one student is responsible for the plant operations of 14 hospitals in east Tennessee; and another is an administrator with a government agency. Of the other two students, one is a part-time associate minister of his church and the other is a full-time minister to students. All but one is married. Four have children at home. All are involved in leadership roles in local congregations—either volunteer or paid.

This model offers students an opportunity to pursue ministry preparation without disrupting their families and their ministries. A strong online component is being developed to offer more flexibility and options. Two of the students mentioned above traveled three hours or more to participate this weekend. Online options will cut down on the number of travel hours involved while still involving them in a community of fellow learners. The Association of Theological Schools has been supportive of this effort to provide an alternative form of theological education.

Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kansas, First Baptist Church of Murfreesboro, and the Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship joined in a partnership over five years ago to offer this “teaching church seminary” approach. This was long before McNeal wrote his book. Only rarely have I found myself “ahead of the curve” when it comes to innovation! It’s exciting to be part of an initiative that is reinventing (or recovering) the way we train leaders for the church.

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