Saturday, May 20, 2006

for missio dei

When I was an undergraduate, I decided to become a professor of New Testament or Greek in either a Christian college or seminary. I wanted to be a part of training the church’s future leaders. This decision seemed to require that I go to where I could find the necessary books and the folks who had read and studied them. And so I transferred to another college where I could complete a bachelors degree in Classical Greek and Bible. I then entered Seminary to continue my work of preparation.

But then midway through my Masters’ work, I almost quit school when I came to the conclusion that seminaries (at least my seminary), while doing a fine job at preparing biblical scholars, weren't preparing spiritual leaders. I found that the statement of one of my professors was true: "We don't train you how to be pastors. We train you how to answer Bible questions."

But rather than dropping out, I decided to finish what I had begun and came to write my thesis on how the first century church trained her leaders. I wrote that the seminaries expect the churches to send them people ready for spiritual leadership and the churches expect the seminaries to send them people ready for spiritual leadership and that as a result no one was doing the work of preparing spiritual leaders. I fear this is still too true today. Traveling to a distant place at great expense to focus on information – even biblical information – for an extended length of time might not be the best way to become a leader.

In their wonderful investment book,
FutureWealth, Francis McInerney and Sean White argue that society changes as the cost of information declines.

The Protestant Reformation could be cited as an example of just such a societal change .
Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440. As a result it was less expensive to provide people with information about God and Christianity and folks were less reliant upon the religious hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church. Society changed in the 16th century when religious leaders broke away from that existing leadership structure.

With the advent of radio, before the United States entry into World War II, FDR was able to appeal directly to the American public to convince it to lend Great Britain equipment (
Lend-Lease). The now ubiquitous television further lessened the cost of information and has transformed society in myriad ways.

Author Rex Miller (The Millennium Matrix) calls the time of radio and television the period of Broadcast and says that we now are in the Digital or Interactive Age.

The Internet brought two innovations to mass communication. It dramatically lowered the cost of platform – today in the West almost anyone can reach millions through blogs or websites. And the new online medium also enabled information purveyors to
interact easily with their audience. Furthermore, information collectors and transmitters can interact as peers, synergizing with one another for superior results (this also has profound implications for how the church can now do theology).

Accordingly, it's less necessary than ever to go to where the books and those who have read them are. But that is still the default approach in the developed world for training Christian pastors. This is not too surprising. In technological development, first comes hardware, then software, and then - lagging way behind - is people finally executing the most efficient application of new technology. Consider the high casualties as a result of the American Civil War combatants using archaic 18th century battle strategy with 19th century technology. They just lined up against each other and mowed each other down with better weapons.

But our challenge today is not just that we aren’t fully optimizing current technology as we train leaders. We also are relying overmuch on information as the omnicompetent mode of spiritual transformation. (We see leadership development and spiritual transformation as significantly overlapping). We see a more holistic approach practiced by Jesus and advocated by his first followers.

Some consider that modernism has played a role in this overemphasis.
Descartes - considered by some as the father of modernism - in his Discourse on Method, wrote, "all things…are mutually connected in the same way, and that there is nothing so far removed from us as to be beyond our reach, or so hidden that we cannot discover it…." Perhaps such an implicit assertion of the vast ability of the human mind laid the seed for the church’s unwarranted confidence in information as the primary path for spiritual change. Perhaps this jump in logic occurred because information acquisition is so easily measured. The certain measurement of the degree to which someone has mastered a specific body of knowledge might be over-interpreted as indicating a mastery of that which transcends mere knowledge. And yet, as neither the brain surgeon nor the air traffic controller can master their tasks through reading books, so also the successful pastoring of Christians requires far more than information acquisition. Something else is necessary. This deficiency in our approach to the formation of spiritual leaders is far more significant than our not taking full advantage of the latest technology.

Jesus definitely transferred information to his disciples; we are not advocating that biblical knowledge is anything less than absolutely necessary. But Jesus also spent time with his disciples, lived with them, ate with them, served with them, and interacted with them. After Peter and John were arrested and brought before the Jewish leaders, Peter proclaimed salvation in Jesus Christ to them. Luke records that the rulers, scribes and elders “observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13, NASB, emphasis mine). Mark notes that earlier Jesus “appointed twelve—designating them apostles —that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14, NIV, emphasis mine). Being with Jesus – and not just hearing what he had to teach – was a critical component of his followers’ development. Paul reflects this same emphasis when he advises his protégé, Timothy, that he should “continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them (emphasis mine, 2 Timothy 3:14, NASB). The impartation of information in the New Testament – admittedly a critical component of spiritual formation – is not divorced from the relationship which is its context. While the declining cost of information might make it easier for us to over-depend on it for spiritual change, it is the local face-to-face connection that is the typical context for spiritual growth. When folks list what’s been most spiritually transformative in their lives, they usually list names, not books, classes, lectures or even sermons. And when this relational context of spiritual development is recognized, it is then that the declining cost of information can truly be appreciated and utilized. For the cheap availability of biblical information now makes spiritual formation geographically agnostic; one can get the information one needs locally and stay in local community and local relationships. A promising leader need not be ripped out of their local context to grow in the womb of some far away high tower. They can grow where they are planted to give back to those from whom they’ve received. was originally created five years ago to supplement a class that I was teaching at
Cedar Ridge Community Church while on staff there. Later I purchased the domain from CRCC and developed it further. is now being relaunched under a new design and structure to aid mentors and protégés and anyone who is looking for a portal to excellent websites and articles (and some original material) that cover theology, praxis, leadership, and other topics of interest to the church in postmodernity.

There are two online contexts of interaction around the faithmaps material: the emergesque blog and the long-running faithmaps discussion group. And while genuine spiritual connection does happen in these and other online contexts, is primarily intended to supplement life-on-life spiritual discipleship in real time. Such online resources then become not the silver bullet of growing into Christ, but one valuable set of resources in a multifaceted, very interpersonal, and very local process.

We do not mean to sound the death knell for the theological seminary. First of all, we need such graduate schools as the academic study of the Scriptures, theology, the church, etc. is also necessary. And, secondly, a more holistic, balanced, and relational model could perhaps be developed in a seminary context (and maybe it’s already out there).

However, in days to come, we genuinely hope that a new praxis and model of leadership development will arise that is more holistic, local, relational, and one that fully takes advantage of our new information situation.

for God’s kingdom and glory,

Stephen Shields
Ellicott City, MD
May 2006

A very special thanks to Levi Fuson and Liquid Design for the fine job they did designing the new faithmaps.


mrexmiller said...

Great sweeping overview. The challenge in each age is to not let the technological tail to wag the relational dog - no matter what form.

Model, impart and then model and impart.

This assumes - covenant relationships in a tangible proximate faith community.

God Bless
Rex Miller

Stephen said...

Thanks Rex. Agree. We have to avoid both the charybdis of technological triumphalism and the scylla of a luddite aversion!

Ted Gossard said...

Stephen, Yes. I certainly agree, having gone through seminary. And in my case, not having the kind of church orientation needed to suplement that.

But the academic barrage of seminary has been known to suffocate spirituality (or at least, not enough air). Though I certainly agree that the academic side is important too.

Your proposal of a wholism that doesn't leave the needed academic behind, is good and helps me envision better, what seminary or education for would-be pastors, needs to be. Thanks.