I love my school -- I can't picture doing what I do anywhere else in the world. The people here -- students, admin, and other faculty -- make this place fun and dynamic...Recently I was part of an all-day "dreaming event", a time of discernment to see where God might be leading us. What is my dream for the future of my school, Fuller Theological Seminary, as we look to equip ministers in the 21st century? In other words, what is God doing in the world, and what ought to be our response?
I had five minutes to present a few unfinished ideas, and here is what they were...
When Eddie Gibbs and I set out to research new forms of church in the West, were surprised at what we found. We had church growth eyes – the bigger the better – I mapped all the Gen X churches in the world, their music, irreverent preaching, their videos, their candles, their drama Sunday night services. After digging for awhile, I saw another dynamic at work -- a new form of church that was not generational in scope, one that often went by the name 'emerging'.
Like many growing communities throughout the world, Emerging Churches
meet in homes, cafes, or as networks. They eat together, serve the
poor, create worship together and gather around Scripture. They focus
on Jesus. They pray several times a day. They would rather invite
someone into their home than argue about their faith. They do not
understand the difference between sacred and secular.
These communities might not meet in a church building, they might not have a pastor, and they might not pay anyone for their service to the community. They do not understand the concept of ordination, nor do they ‘go to church’. They are not directly connected to any European church tradition. They are organic in their ethos -- business or institutional models do not make sense of their community. These movements are fast-growing on all continents and serve as the pattern for many non-Christendom forms of church.
My many conversations with Emerging Churches led to a number of dreams I’ve had for Fuller:
Dream 1 (of 4): I dream of serving entire communities rather than individual students.
How do we equip men and women for the manifold ministries of Christ and
his church, when these communities have shared leadership? When the
leader is not the teacher? When the teacher is not the pastor?
A seminary training model is built around the idea that a single person or a set of staff workers has most of the gifts in a particular church community and then we train that one person or group of persons. But, what do we do when the gifts are spread throughout the community as they are in many new forms of church? How do we continue to train the many, rather than the few?
I dream that my seminary will move away from the professional training model and will equip entire communities for mission.
Some ways to do that ? Perhaps the seminary might contract with a community on a subscription basis, train their people in the skills they need, e.g. one person takes a preaching class, another takes community formation, another Greek…In a sense, we allow community degrees. Churches or networks pay by community – their community contracts with the seminary so that their community will have access to their resources –
In a very real sense, the community receives the M.Div. rather than the clergy…
Dream 2 (to be continued)