Preparing for MissionaryHood

It seems more and more, people preparing for ministry in North Ameirca have to make a choice. Will I serve God’s mission in the established church as a member of the professionalized clergy? Or will I become a missionary to our culture: the increasingly secularized post Christian society of North America where people largely exist outside of the influence of historic Christianity. If you make this latter choice you are really entering a vocation that looks very different than what we have become used to in the set role of senior pastor. There are challenges in terms of bi-vocationalism (which in many ways is more essential to mission than to financial survival). But as I said in the Missio Alliance meetings this past week in Washington DC, missionaries in N America will need more theological education not less. And they must do it (I strongly recommend) over a prolonged period of time (5-8 years) with a manageable cost structure, all the while staying in context as opposed to moving and taking on a very expensive professionalized degree that presupposes a large salary in an established church after graduation.

But what do I mean by more theological education? I mean there will be more challenges theologically and culturally as one enters to be present among the mission fields of the West. For the missionary, the cultural/theological challenges are mind boggling – justice issues, church/culture relation, witness among/with alternative sexualities, gender issues, pluralism and other religions, what is the gospel today? versus within a specific Euro tradition, what is the authority of the Bible in a world that is no longer an Enlightenment monolith, and what is the church/Kingdom relation?  All these issues/questions take on a new urgency in the land of post Christendom versus those who minister within the four walls of a church and these questions have largely already been answered for several years.

So, if I were discerning preparation for ministry today, and understood my vocation as a missionary calling, I would discern my future theological training with these questions in mind. Then I would look for a seminary where I could at a minimum learn the following:

1.) The New Perspective on Paul and all the soteriological issues surrounding it . The longer I live, the more I am convinced that the traditional evangelical/Lutheran emphasis on forensic justification only gets at a narrow slice of our new life in Christ and what He is doing to restore and renew our lives and our world in Christ. I believe you must study well the history of the developments within gospel and Pauline scholarship so as to discern, preach and prepare people to understand the fullness of the good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ for the whole world.

2.) The Incarnation of God in Christ and how this sending of the Son changes everything in terms of what we experience and know of God and the world. Jesus refocuses everything. And from Him comes the Holy Spirit and the renewal of all things. How the incarnation is part of the Triune work as well as how it grounds us in mission I think is poorly understood and yet is foundational for the person in mission.

3.) The Kingdom of God from its roots in the Old Testament through Christ to its consummation in Revelation. For me you must know/understand the riches of the whole story including all that led up to God working in the world to bring His rule and reign, His restoration of the world from the ravages of sin in Christ. This grounds you for whatever issues you must face.

4.) Christian Ethnography. You must know and understand how to read context, how to humbly be aware of yourself, the power you inhabit so as to submit it to the larger context in terms of what God is doing. You must learn how to ask questions, listen, and read the stories you hear theologically all from within the context you live and minister.

5.) A New Deeper Understanding of Church. What does it mean to be church? Why do we do the things we do that we call church. How has church become a Christendom bound institution? How can church be gathered for mission as opposed to maintenance.

6.) The Cultural Issues. You must gain a deeper understanding of/and the means to navigate the cultural issues we are facing in the new cultures of post Christian N America. This includes pluralism, multiple other religions all around us, alternative sexualities, justice issues and how to engage our world as the church, not merely another social service agency.

To me the place where I (#5,6) work,  Northern Seminary, with people like Bob Price (#4), Cherith Fee Nordling (#2), Scot McKnight (#1,3), Claude Mariottini (#3) and Michael Quicke (#5,6),  is a very unique place with professor-practicioners skilled and practiced in teaching/leading each one of these conversations.

I know I’ve missed a lot here. What do you think are the key things/areas/issue that need to be fleshed out to be prepared for missionaryhood?

Posted in Missional Leadership, Post-Christendom
8 comments on “Preparing for MissionaryHood
  1. A. Amos Love says:


    Me thinks – What you “Think” is much to complicated…
    With to many big edjumacated words. ;-)

    You ask…
    “How has church become a Christendom bound institution?”
    Isn’t The Answer found in the proper spelling – “Christian-dumb?”

    You ask…”
    What do you think are the key things/areas/issue
    that need to be fleshed out to be prepared for missionaryhood?

    1 – .Can you – Hear His Voice? – And Follow Jesus?
    …And when you Follow Jesus – He makes you a fisher of men. Yeah – Jesus does it. ;-)

    John 10:27
    My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they Follow me:

    Mat 4:19.
    *Follow me,* and I will make you fishers of men.

    2 – Can you – Learn Directly from Jesus? – NO middle man? – Like His Disciples?

    John 6:45
    It is written in the prophets, And they shall be ALL taught of God.

    Deuteronomy 4:36
    Out of heaven he made thee to *Hear His Voice,*
    that *He might instruct thee:*

    3 – Can you – Preach the Kingdom of God? And see the sick Healed? – Like His Disciples?

    Luke 9:2
    And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.

    Luke 10:9
    And heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them,
    The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.

    Paul, came in the demonstration of the Spirit, and of dunamis Power – 1 Cor 2:4.
    And God confirmed – His Word – With “miracle sign”s following. Mark 16:20.

    If someone can NOT – Hear His Voice?
    If someone can NOT – Learn directly from Jesus?
    If someone can NOT – Pray and See the sick healed? See miracles?

    Are they “prepared for missionaryhood?”

  2. Brandon says:

    I would ask, “why seminary?” What makes it a necessary (and often quite expensive…maybe this isn’t the case with Northern?) requirement for being a missionary to your own culture? My experience has been that you reproduce what you are, and if seminary educated is what you are and that’s what you are naturally reproducing as barrier to mission, that’s going to greatly hamper people you are trying to disciple from entering into/following you into mission. If we take the great commission at its word, we are teaching obedience not knowledge anyways. I ask seriously, as I don’t think you give a good answer.

    • David Fitch says:

      … fair question. I think one can certainly get a theological education in other ways than seminary.
      I do believe, in whatever way you grow theologically,it takes being with some form of a community of ‘theologians,’ people working out of the history of who we are as Christians together. Otherwise we really never do get beyond who we are theologically. We remain captive to the theological upbringing we were given when we became a Christian. We don’t know where this came from or why. We lead out of our own myopia. In a culture that is static this may work. But in a changing culture, with new questions we haven’t recievd before, and new situations we haven’t faced, how do we grow?
      I have seen multiples of leaders flame out without a theological grounding/formation. I have also seen, in more Christendom places, where the culture is less challenging, leaders thrive with a minimal (but still some) formal training. Many times I have seen people with no group theological reflection process have problems being sufficiently present to dialogue with others. Every dialogue turns into a imposition and defense of what they believe. I have seen leaders lead out of a ‘business’ mentality with no theological reflection on why this isn’t the gospel. They needed to think through stuff within a community of theological reflection. Of course, A W Tozer was one of those rare witnesses to the gospel that had no theological education. It is possible. But for most, there’s no substitute.

      And yes, we need to make it more affordable … kinda of like I was suggesting in the post.

      Blessings to you in your own learning …DF

      • Brandon says:

        Thanks for the response! I hope I didn’t sound too antagonistic in my initial question. It was early in the morning and my politeness filter wasn’t yet fully engaged. :) From my side, I’ve seen too many enter the seminary world only to come out with irrelevant notions of what ministry & life is or so financially strapped that they are burdened more than they know what to do with and on the flip, have seen just as much theological growth from a community committed to go deep (my personal favorite expression would be a regular theology pub gathering) in a regular ongoing manner and in concert with the leading thought of the day coupled with thought that has stood the test of history.

        A lot of my thought currently comes through the lens of engaging the majority world, particularly among people that have had zero engagement with anything Gospel or theological in nature. In these contexts formal theological education generally develops holistically and from the ground up to be accessible to all, not just some, and in response to specific need(s). (It’s been 5 years since I was regularly engaged in missional activity in western contexts so I’m admittedly a bit out of touch…as you’ll see below I’m striving to re-engage through “thought” intentionally into this crowd though)

        Anyways. I was just having a discussion a few weeks ago with a colleague and we were both lamenting the lack of regular engagement between the missional church crowd and those working towards DMM, particularly amongst the unreached of the world as we both felt like there was much we could learn from one another. Any sort of engagement we’ve seen has been relatively loose and superficial (when it could be quite dynamic!).

        • David Fitch says:

          Good stuff… I just have a few points to add from my limited perspective.
          The Missional church perspective is developed from within the Western sphere, for a postChristendom cultural malaise that is sweeping the West and sucking immigrants in with it over two generations of time. It doesn’t wish to stikc its nose into the Majority World .. for alot of reasons … To the extent Africa/S America are Christendom places … with majority Christian populations … the dynamics are quite different. Plus .. we prefer .. I would say for missional strategies to develop there indigenously just like we prefer that here … anyways… blessings on your labors!!

  3. Dan Jr. says:

    OK David I’m with you. Your learning track is spot on. I think mission in the future needs to be theologically robust and sociologically discerning. Moving communities on mission, into the neighborhood, in Post-Christian cities is not for the faint of heart — it has almost killed me in the past. Training is essential. But I wonder if the Seminary can offer the training necessary? I sometimes wonder if it’s too out of shape, overpaid and bureaucratic to keep up? (maybe your school is the exception) I’ve gone to school off and on over the last 15 years and have never felt it was worth mthe deep sacrifice it required of me. It’s always killed my budget, took a toll on my family and pulled my energies out of my context. Maybe we need a bigger imagination for ongoing (emphasis on ongoing) development for missional pioneers?

    Can we create a nimble coaching network that gathers every week pressing into theology and praxis? Can this network be lead by a mix of Theologians and Shepherds? Can the curriculum be evaluated and adapted from year to year? Can the price be cheap $300 to $500 a year? This is what I think led by JR Woodward is beta testing right now. Obviously I’m biased because I work with them. But can we converge crowd-sourcing, technology, accountability to others, Father and Mothers of the Faith, rigorous study and fresh intel from practice?

    Just poking brother. Peace

  4. Andrew Van Leerdam says:

    Me thinks that seminaries, bible schools, “houses of holy” thinking find a way to bridge the cultural gap. Why teach the same thing and get the same results. Why not teach Philosophy and Theology and and leave the “counting the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin” teaching to the dustbin of history. Why not have these places teach the Incarnation of Jesus, the Life of Jesus the Death of Jesus and His subsequent Reign as Prophet, Priest and King.

    Why not have churches send out missionaries into the fray of N. A. Culture and give them tools to succeed. Pay these missionaries for housing and entertainment and offer them several management courses in Fast Food or whatever low paying job they will succeed in and let these people begin the process of establishing missions here in N. A.

    I think that Seminaries, like Universities are in the teaching arena for their own Kingdom Building.

    Just how this Canadian sees life!

  5. Thanks for this post. though I’ve already had my formal theological education and kind of stumbled into being a missionary to North America.
    I was in seminary from 1996-2001 started in one seminary and finished and received my M. Div. from another, both institutions at the time were flexible enough and even encouraged a pace that extended my time in seminary. Even though I was prepared for the solo or Sr. Pator role in an established church, I still find that at least in my situation, the theological education I received prepared me well for my current work as a missionary to our culture. The difficulty for myself has not be so much the result of a faulty theological education as institutional expectations of what that theological education was for, and a failure of providing structures to support such work after theological training. but this seems to be what Missio Aliance is trying to do, and in my own way I am seeking to create such a structure as well based on a different model I think.
    I’m still trying to encapsulate what is like to have been trained with old expectations of ordained ministry and yet at the same time was encouraged in that training to look beyond those expectations. Based on my theological training what I have ended up doing makes perfect sense and yet it was totally unexpected and in that sense my theological education and the denominational structures it served didn’t prepare me for this. But in terms of content I think both seminary’s provided me with what you list as needed, and I agree btw. Except that the New Paul scholarship was just really beginning as I left seminary.
    In any case your post was encouraging to this pastor who has found himself to be a missionary to our culture.

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David Fitch
Betty R. Lindner Professor of Theology
Northern Seminary
DMin in Missional Leadership
Prodigal Christianity
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