The Need for Pastors as Missionaries
Leading a church to being present in its local context, and then engaging this context with the gospel, is the missional task. It takes both theological skills and practical skills, both a theological understanding of mission, and the ministerial skill to lead a church to be present in that mission. This is why Northern Seminary created a Doctoral degree in Contextual theology. It is an intensely theological degree, but it is also intensely practical (we originally called it “missional leadership”). Here’s what we learned was essential to a pastor-theologian’s education in contextual theology:
Early on we realized we needed to teach pastors how to listen to the people in the context, be self-aware, learn how to recognize narratives, locate struggles, understand power and its various cultural dynamics. We said “ethnography,” the skill of researching like this, needs to be taught to pastor-leaders and so we hired Mark Mulder from Calvin College to teach our students how to do it in a seminar. We asked Bob Price, another skilled ethnographer, to come alongside students and coach them on ethnography.
We needed to help pastors let the Bible shape how we think about the gospel, the Kingdom, and the way God speaks. We must ask these questions again of the Bible so that we can enter into the context of Scripture without enforcing our own historically received views on it; to translate and find new entry points between the Scripture and our contexts. We asked Scot McKnight, a leading voice today on Kingdom, Gospel and the Hermeneutics, to teach these skills to our students.
Along the way we realized how important it was for pastors to understand the dialogue of theology and context if they were ever to be able to discern God’s work among the places they inhabit for the gospel. How does the church engage a context as sent ones, with a theological tradition and Scriptural truths, and yet allow what God is already doing in these places shape the starting points for engagement? How do we learn and change from the dialogue? We asked David Fitch to lead courses on church and mission, and the dialogue box of Contextual theology.
We realized how necessary it is for pastors to think about the culture dynamics they enter into. We must all examine our own assumptions as well as develop ways of reading the forces at work in our cultures to then be able to listen, discern and respond as people of the gospel, Kingdom and the Scriptures. Power, socio-economic inequalities, privilege, celebration, what we value and what we marginalize, pain and violence, and the narratives that drive them must all be examined. We asked professor Soong Chan Rah to lead us and teach pastors on these skills. We do not think there’s anyone better.
Lastly, we realized that pastors needed a way to think and re-imagine the future so as to lead congregations into new places for mission. More than techniques for leadership, pastors need ways to think, provoke, and shape a new imagination in their congregations. They then need tactics for leading our people into the places where God is working outside traditional church. From these places new seed is sown, new works of God discerned, and new proclamations of the good news of Jesus Christ are proclaimed. We asked Alan Roxburgh to come and teach us on all these things.
After these six classes, we gather to assemble on the ground project that leads a congregation into Mission. It becomes the capstone doctoral thesis. And yet it is just the beginning of learning the ways of leading church into Mission, and helping others do the same. Together with a cadre of world-renowned thesis supervisors, and David Fitch over-seeing the program, we believe we have assembled a world-class degree in Contextual Theology. If you are interested, we have 5 spots left for a January start. All applications must be in and finalized by July 31. Contact David Fitch or our admissions office ASAP. We would love to have you!
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