Conversations about the church in North America are changing. The seeming endless focus on programs and strategies is being reframed by the emerging understanding of a missional church. Popularized in the late 1990s by the book, Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, (please link to this in the bookstore) this conversation is being picked up by numerous denominations and is starting to shape theological schools and seminaries across the country. We are now experiencing a growing recognition that churches need to rethink ecclesiology from a missional perspective.
This conversation is increasingly becoming a core discourse of seminaries and schools of theology. Many are now looking at how to frame their curriculum and practices of leadership formation around the missional conversation.
Allelon has invited twenty-four theological schools and seminaries to partner with it in looking at how missional leadership formation can happen within theological education. This is a moment when many schools are recognizing the need to re-conceptualize theological education in relation to the practices of leadership formation for the church.
Over the last sixteen months, Allelon has been in conversation with these twenty-four seminaries and schools across the United States and Canada. Our conversations have been about how we train a new generation of leaders for the contexts in which we now find ourselves. It has involved consultations and conversations with the Presidents and Academic Deans of each school. The result has been a growing recognition of the need to address the institutional culture, faculty ethos, and theological curriculum of the school in to engage in missional leadership formation from the perspective of a missional theology.
It has been surprising and humbling to experience the responses of Presidents and Deans to these conversations. In February 2007, each President will bring a five-person team comprised of themselves, their Deans, faculty and Board members to an initiating meeting in Dallas. This meeting is something that has never happened before. There is a diversity of schools coming together from across North America for a common dialogue that recognizes the need for a major shift in their paradigms of leadership formation as well as a willingness to work with new coalitions.
The Project is a kairos moment offering a huge opportunity to affect the lives of church leaders for generations to come. This is a big project! It is one that no single group or organization can sustain alone. We will need partners to walk with us in innovating something that can change the nature of theological education and leadership formation in North America. We are convinced that we are shaping something of massive importance to the church.
The Project is designed around missional theology and its implications for leadership formation in schools and seminaries. A missional theology seeks to understand and act upon what God is doing in the world. Its focus is on the understanding that God is a missionary God and that the church is called to be a sign, witness and foretaste of God’s intentions for the whole of creation. This approach to theology is beginning to engage and redefine the leadership paradigms being used to train men and women for the changing contexts in which churches in North America now find themselves. Leadership formation in these schools involves questions about both the curriculum and practices that need to be designed for the shaping of leaders who can cultivate local communities and inter-relate these communities within the systems they serve.
The development of such curriculum and practices requires critical theological reflection on the processes that seminaries and theological schools are presently using to help form leaders. This means working from the perspective that all theology needs to be, in reality, understood as missional theology. It is about how we understand God’s presence and work in the world. Our conviction is that the primary location for such theological reflection is the local church. Over the last century or more the connections between schools and local churches (which has been the most perduring and essential relationship throughout the history of the church) have been weakened to the extent that local churches become only recipients of the products of the schools. These shifts occurred gradually over the last one hundred and fifty years but now represent a major obstacle to the formation of missional leaders. For these reasons, this Project’s work is focused toward shaping an interactive learning community between schools and local churches that will connect missional theology with leadership practices. Some of the initial steps in the Project will involve each school in the following activities:
PROJECT TO DATE
Over the past two years a majority of the schools choosing to participate in this Project have approached the Allelon Missional School Project Team (Dr. Alan Roxburgh - Lead Coordinator, Dr. Patrick Keifert, Dr. Craig Van Gelder and/or Rev. Dr. Brian McLaren) requesting assistance to understand, evaluate and innovate mission-shaped leadership within their schools. Roxburgh, Keifert and McLaren met with twenty Presidents from these schools, or their representatives, at the annual American Academy of Religion meeting in Philadelphia in November 2005. As other schools heard about this developing conversation, they asked to be included.
It was clear by late fall of 2005 that a significant number of quite diverse schools desired to collaborate in a shared project of how to order the work of theological education around the missional conversation. A two-day consultation was convened at Luther Seminary in February 2006 to investigate what such a shared project might look like. Follow-up phone conversations with each school invited their input into the draft design and secured their commitment to participate in this project.
The Allelon Missional Schools Project is the result of this consultative process with these diverse schools. It recognizes the changing character of theological education and the importance of leadership formation as a key focus of the missional conversation. A further description of this multi-year, two-stage Project is provided for your further study.
- Develop Research Skills and Conduct Initial Assessments – Develop the research skills to assess their current capacities and areas for improvement in engaging missional leadership formation.
- Develop a Missional Theology – Rethink its curriculum and current practices for contributing to missional leadership formation from the perspective of a missional theology informed by their specific traditions.
- Develop Congregational Partnerships – Cultivate partnerships with key local churches to discern how to engage in missional leadership formation and explore how to work as an interactive learning system for this purpose.
- Build Organizational Capacity – Develop internal capacity for engagement in organizational development and change by proactively involving key constituencies and stakeholders in its research and planning process.
- Learn With and From One Another – Learning from what other schools are doing and to partner with particular schools around shared interests and projects.