In his article, Bonfiglio suggests that we rethink our assumptions about where theological education happens and reconsider the role of the church in ministerial formation.
Bonfiglio’s ideas stimulate us to consider other alternative models for equipping ministers. For example, if we take missional theology seriously, what would a missional seminary look like? Missional theology challenges us in three ways.
First, we should reconsider the context in which we live and realize that we no longer are part of Christendom where the church in some form was dominant in society. The place where we live is a mission field.
Second, we must rethink the Gospel message we embody and proclaim. Our driving imperative is the missio Dei, the mission of God, which calls all people into relationship with God.
Third, in light of the first two statements, we must reimagine ourselves as missionaries, people of God on mission in the world. This means that baptism is an ordination to mission and that mission happens not within the walls of the church on Sunday but in the marketplace every day of the week.
If we take this missional theology seriously, what would be the marks of a missional seminary? Consider several possibilities:
A very small physical footprint. A missional seminary would have a very small physical presence. Rather than investing in property and buildings, a missional seminary would invest in people--faculty and students--and the means of delivering instruction and resources.
A robust digital presence. Online learning and an online library would be key to the work of a missional seminary. Although instruction would not be exclusively online, synchronous and asynchronous classes would provide both flexibility for students and access to quality teachers.
A network of providers. A missional seminary would actually be a network of micro-seminaries. Online instruction would be supplemented by face-to-face cohorts hosted by churches, denominations, para-church organizations, and not-for-profit organizations. In partnership with each setting, the seminary would design courses of instruction that meet the need of a particular cohort and context. Instruction would be available online and through on-site presentations by faculty.
An emphasis on praxis. There would be no field education or contextual learning courses in the curriculum of the missional seminary since every student would be involved in ministry on a paid or volunteer basis. Those with full-time secular employment would find placements where they would practice ministry for several hours a week. Class assignments would not be theoretical but have immediate application. For example, an assignment in a biblical hermeneutics class would require a student to teach a small group in his or her placement using the skills learned in the class. An assignment in a Christian heritage class might require a student to look at a social problem in his or her ministry context through the lens of a historic event.
A broad clientele. Classes would not only be available to those who seek to become clergy. Although diverse educational backgrounds would be taken into account, courses of study would be provided for those seeking full-time ministry roles, those who will be bi-vocational ministers, and those lay persons who will assume part-time or volunteer roles in the ministry. This takes into account the idea of “all baptized believers are ministers.”
Some of these ideas are becoming practices in theological education. Approaches to teaching, formation, and accessibility are changing. Even accrediting agencies are encouraging adaptability and experimentation.
In developing the missional seminary, there would be other matters to consider: accreditation, denominational requirements for ordination, and similar matters. The most important concern that the missional seminary would address is bringing ministerial formation closer to the context of ministry in order to practice the missio Dei.