A few years ago, I was fulfilling a summons by an organization within my denomination to put together a ministry of encouragement for our students and faculty in our theological schools. So, for about ten years I scouted-out these students and faculty in about fifteen different seminaries across the country, and visited them. I engaged in many fruitful conversations with the students, with faculty, and administrations. We even conducted several national seminarians’ conferences.

That opened my eyes to some realities that were quite disturbing, and significant unrealities in the whole theological education process. There were almost no courses in disciple-making, or ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church), or missiology (the study of the church’s missionary mandate). It also revealed that most of the faculty had never had any successful pastoral experience, but were selected on the basis of their creditable academic degrees. It also turned up the fact that many of the students also had never demonstrated any significant or fruitful leadership in a Christian community, but were basically looking for themselves, i.e., trying to put their lives together. … I don’t want to appear too negative since there were any wonderfully gifted students and faculty present who were a blessing to each other.

But something was missing. The question comes: How do you discern and train those who are to equip God’s people for their own work of ministry in the realities of everyday life? How is the Christian community to be formed to be dynamically engaged in the mission of God?

Now, shift scenes. One of those denominational seminaries was about to initiate a curriculum revision, and had appointed a faculty committee to expedite this process. They were mad aware of my engagement with those fifteen seminaries, and invited me to meet with them over a continental breakfast on my next visit. It was a very congenial conversation, so that in the process one of them asked the big question: “What have you observed and learned that will help us in our assignment?” Now, hold that question for just a moment.

It just so happened that several weeks prior to this conversation, the official Presbyterian Poll had released its finding that the Presbyterian Church (USA) was: “a denomination of Biblically and theologically illiterate laity.” That’s a stunning indictment. I responded to their inquiry of me by passing along this finding from the poll, with the comment: “I don’t have the ability to evaluate what, or how you are presenting your present curriculum, but whatever it is … it simply isn’t coming through to the men and women who occupy our pews, and are the objects of our ministry.”

If the church is to be “the missionary arm of the Holy Trinity” (as some of our Latin American friends term it) then there must to be a dynamic and transformational engagement with the apostolic message. The ministry of the laity in the Monday morning world, and the realities of each person’s incarnation, simply has to be our consuming motivation. Stand by …


About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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