Total Church 15: Training

This is part 15 of our series Total Church by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester. Blame and credit for these posts must be shared by the Wednesday morning Total Church reading group:

This section is a call for us to rethink many of our presuppositions regarding theological training.  This is not an anti-theological colleges tirade but rather a challenge to switch our focus in training from the isolation of seminaries to the context of ministry and mission.  Local churches (or groups of local churches) are the best context in which to train young men and woman for mission in their context.  Content and context working and training together.

“In residential colleges the academy sets the agenda.  With on-the-job training ministry and mission set the agenda.” (p117)

If the goal of training is to be involved in God’s mission then it makes sense that the context of training should be breathing that same air.  The unwritten assumption that in order to be qualified for ministry one must have a 3-4 year theological degree is simply not a biblical requirement.

This kind of training, at least at one level, makes sense in a modern world where learning happens in the academy, where knowledge is dispensed by the professionals, and gathered by the learner.  But in a postmodern world the values and the means of learning are profoundly different.  What matters is outcomes orientated (missional), learning is done in a multi-media, multi-tasking, on the job manner.  Discussion, participation and contribution are all key values in the learning process.  Even on a cultural level it makes sense that we rethink the nature of learning in a changing world.

But more importantly is the realization that our requirements are not necessarily biblical.  The value of training, learning, being able to handle the word, developing a Christian worldview etc are all very positive outcomes of the theological college.  As well as an ability to mature theologically in an intense period of time.

The question though is – if theological maturing is separated from missional context, are we actually furthering theological maturity or are we enabling academic competence in matters theological.  True theological maturity must result in passion and involvement in the mission of God.

Timmis and Chester, also question whether the manner of training (i.e. theological colleges) are not an indication of the type of people most evangelicals are working with.  Colleges suit a certain type of people and and this then becomes the shape and the norm of what it means to be a church leader.

“Most church leaders today are middle-class graduates who were trained in a college and whose qualification for ministry is a degree.” (p117)  Most of our assumptions about training and leadership are middle-class.

In Africa, it can be worse, as most of our assumptions are not only middle-class, they are also Western. This has a number of implications:

1) Many young black men and woman after graduating from a theological college are no longer in touch with the township they grew up in.  Or they struggle to think with the same categories as the very people they went to college in order to minister to.

2) Much of the curriculum assumes middle-class facilities (e.g. microphone or buildings), Western issues (e.g. the existence of God, the spirit-world is not a big focus) and styles/assumptions of teaching and teacher-student relationship that are foreign to Africa.

3) We are not preparing young black (or any colour for that matter) men and woman to be most effective in an African context.  Often the material being taught is excellent but little thought is given to the context of the mission.  Learning new concepts is not the biblical model of training.  But learning-to-do is what the Bible everywhere commands.

In closing, I think Chester and Timmis are right to call us back to a more context-rich manner of training.  A style they term “training on the road”.  I think the Bible has a similar term – disciple.  I do not think that we must put discipleship in a one size fits all box.  But I do think we can recover a bit more of the original picture to enable us to minister more effectively in Africa.

Discipleship is a life long, communal, learning and doing, on the road following of the master on his mission.

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~ by John on October 14, 2008.

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