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?