This is an article from my previous blog that I wanted to reschedule to keep focus on this priority
People who know me well will know that I have a particular concern for encouraging good quality theologically training, especially when it comes to potential pastors and planters in urban contexts.
To be clear, my own position is not against seminaries. I benefited from study at Oak Hill Theological college and remain a keen supporter both of them and of Union School of Theology in South Wales where we sent one of our members to study a few years back.
My position is that:
- Campus based study is not the only place where those sorts of benefits can be realised
- For many people, the culture, location and cost of campus-based training means that it is not necessarily possible, nor the best option.
- We still want potential pastors and planters who are not able to attend campus-based training, in the words of Mike Ovey “to be the best possible gifts to their churches.”
That’s why I believe we need to think seriously and creatively about how we train people, in context and how we equip people who may not flourish in a formal academic setting but are perfectly capable of teaching God’s Word, pastoring churches and leading in mission.
Towards that end I think some progress is being made. Crosslands are doing superb work in developing their flexi academy. I am praying that this proves fruitful in equipping people in all sorts of different contexts for ministry. I also understand that Moorlands Bible College are working hard with various partners to encourage in context training.
For a couple of years, we partnered with Union School of Theology to offer one of their Learning Communities. One of the great benefits of this innovation is that you study together with a mentor who is currently engaged in local church ministry. You get the benefit of dedicated theological trainers of the calibre of Mike Reeves, Steffen Jenkins and Cor Benema alongside the experience and input of pastoral practioners. This means that there is lots of opportunity to integrate theory with practice, how does what I will learn in the classroom translate into the pulpit and the counselling room? Another benefit is that because you are working through the course together with someone who has previous theological training alongside you, this helps to integrate learning. On many occasions over the past year, we’ve been able to stop and talk about what we learnt in our church and mission module linked to what the Old or New Testament lecturer had said or other aspects of the students’ reading and experience.
I believe that Learning Communities facilitated through a partnership of local churches and Gospel centred seminaries provides a vital way forward.
At the same time, I believe that there is still much to do. Here are the four priorities I would set for Seminaries and churches
- Because the local church is the means that God has given to us for carrying out his mission to proclaim the good news and gather people from every nation as disciples of Jesus Christ, it is important that seminaries recognise that they are there to support local churches in that work. This means there must be a means for an ongoing conversation about how best they can do this. Some form of regular national forum between representatives of churches and theological colleges might assist with this.
- Linked to the first point, we need to guard against an attitude that sees evangelical seminaries as in competition with each other in a market place. Rather, their role should be as Gospel partners seeking to serve Christ’s mission together. Different seminaries will each bring their own specific contributions. We want to help students to find the right place for them to train for the sake of long term Gospel ministry.
- We need to recognise that 2 or even 4 years of either part or full-time training s no-where near enough to fully equip people for life long ministry. We need to keep looking at how we ensure lifelong learning is facilitated.
- We need to keep working at finding ways to equip people from non-academic backgrounds and to open up theological training to a more diverse range of leaders.