Monday, February 15, 2010

Educating Leaders for the Church

An editorial entitled “Seminaries Under Pressure” in The Christian Century makes the following observation:

Seminaries and their constituencies should use this moment to consider new pedagogical models as well. Take, for example, the longstanding disconnect between the practical fields of ministry and the academic disciplines of Bible, theology, ethics and church history. Curricular discussions have focused on how to help students integrate the practical and theoretical aspects of study, but most efforts end up maintaining the division and placing the burden of integration on the students more than on the curriculum and the faculty. Is it time to organize courses around the life and mission of the church?

The last sentence is something of an accusation, isn’t it? The writer is implying—or stating—that theological education is NOT currently organized around the life and mission of the church!

Although this may be true in many situations, I have had the opportunity for the past six years to be involved with a seminary that takes the life and mission of the church seriously. Since the fall of 2005, I have been associated with Central Baptist Theological Seminary in an effort to offer theological education in middle Tennessee to students who are already involved in local church ministry and desire additional theological training but are not able to relocate to pursue that goal. Despite some growth pains, the program has gone well. The Association of Theological Schools has affirmed our effort. One student has already completed her master of divinity degree and three more are on track to do so this May.

In most cases, I have found that those who have taught students in this program have taken seriously the “teaching church seminary” approach of Central. Students are encouraged to share insights from their local church involvement and to apply what they are learning in the local church. Some of the adjunct instructors are serving as ministers to congregations. In Ministry Praxis classes, students spend two semesters in churches or other ministry sites to develop their ministry skills and apply what they have learned.

The integration of theological education and local church ministry is not seamless, but we are making great strides toward that goal. We want to build up the Kingdom of God through developing men and women who are “biblical knowledgeable, theologically articulate, spiritually healthy, humanly sensitive, and professionally competent.” Central is accepting the challenge to “organize courses around the life and mission of the church” and can serve as a model to others.

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