Wednesday, November 09, 2011

seminaries as missional orders planting missional communities

it is unethical to send gifted, idealistic, and high-potential young leaders into intractable, dysfunctional congregations that will grind them up, disillusion them, and damage them for life

So suggests Brian Mclaren in a recent article on the future of seminaries. He argues that seminaries are doing a great job of providing a robust intellectual environment, ecumenical diversity, are soul-friendly and engaged missionally and offer a rich communal life.

I was talking to colleagues about this very issue over the weekend, expressing concern about the places that talented young ministers can end up in churches that have a slogan:

an unchanging church seeking an unchanging world

Brian offers a simple suggestion: “turn towards the development of new faith communities.”

What a grand suggestion. I would frame it as seminaries forming themselves as missional orders planting missional communities. And it is where, I think, we at Uniting College are structured to head with the Pioneer stream of our Bachelor of Ministry: a degree based on a student spending their time hands on entrepreneurial ie actually planting something – whether congregation or justice project or art collective and around that experience being formed as a leader and in relation to the wisdom of the church in the past.

In the article, Brian acknowledges that this is not for everyone and again, I agree. My response is to suggest that rather than individualised field work, the seminary select some “mission sites.” These would be diverse in context and in partnership with local churches. Seminary lecturers would be expected to be embedded in these projects, offering their talents in relation to these missional sites. One could be in a poorer suburb, another in a new build area, another in a pocket of sub-cultures. (For those reading this in Adelaide, I am actually thinking of specific sites 🙂

Students would select a mission site, thus finding themselves in clusters of learning through planting focused on a mission sites. The clusters and the sites would allow for a diversity of giftings to be explored, for some to develop mercy, others to plot radical justice, others to nurture being pastoral, others speaking evangelistically. By clustering they are being formed in ministry as team from the start. As a cohort of people, students will enter and exit, around a stable core of people. Gathering at College will be shaped by the issues of these contexts, the College will be praying for these sites (think contextual pictures around the College walls). Over time, new faith communities develop. Seminaries as missional orders planting missional communities.

Anyone else up for such ride?

Posted by steve at 05:22 PM


  1. Sounds great! I like the idea of being embedded in a social justice project while learning about prophets, Deuteronomy and Luke!

    I found working in youth mental and getting involved a bit in politics health while writing my MTh was excellent food for practical theological reflection.

    Comment by Paul — November 9, 2011 @ 7:54 pm

  2. Interesting suggestion Steve. I have always had good church experiences (up to now) but there have been plenty of gifted young leaders sacrificed to the system and I would love to what would happen if those still full of idealism were allowed to pursue it

    Comment by Hamo — November 9, 2011 @ 9:46 pm

  3. good thoughts steve. I spent the first several years of ordained ministry dying a thousand deaths. Came very close indeed, twice over, to throwing it all in.
    I’m glad now that I stuck it out, but it seems a terrible waste of people’s time and energy and talent to put them in hellish posts with inadequate support. What’s the point?

    Comment by maggi — November 10, 2011 @ 8:56 am

  4. I concur with you quote above “an unchanging church seeking an unchanging world” and with Maggi’s sentiments as it resonates with my first two ministry placements since ordination. Both have been (continue to be) challenging as they were nothing at all like the very structured, sanitised and well thought through placements whilst in seminary (you don’t want to scare anyone away at that point). Indeed we were told at college that our formation would place us 100 years ahead of the church (in terms of our theology, understanding of leadership, structure, worship, ecclesiology, mission etc) but I suspect now that 100 years is conservative. I should strongly pursue moving my remaining MTS Units to the ACD and tap in to what you are proposing….

    Comment by Simon — November 10, 2011 @ 9:29 am

  5. I understand some of the thoughts you sharing Steve, but… Who do we then send to the ‘unchanging church’? I agree that as a church we send people out, especially into new ‘missional sites’, but what would happen if ministers/church sees the ‘unchanging church’ as a much needed ‘missional site’ instead of a negative space?
    I also think that there is as much a need for support for ministers in ‘unchanging churches’ as there is for sending people into new ‘missional sites’. Both have the risk of feeling lonely and overwhelmed, disconnected from the people they are trying to serve and overwhelmed by the demands being placed upon them. How do we build a better support network for people in ministry?

    Comment by Matthew Stuart — November 10, 2011 @ 2:56 pm

  6. Ok.

    Comment by Dan Anear — November 10, 2011 @ 4:04 pm

  7. Matt,

    I think you raise 2 important issues. Thanks.

    first re who do we sent to “unchanging church” – we send folk who have ministry experience, who know themselves after a few years of ministry, who’ve been formed in their habits by a mission environment.

    second re support – yep, and that should be in place in the Uniting church through Supervisor and through a person’s network. That should be a given for any and all in ministry, irrespective of context,


    Comment by steve — November 10, 2011 @ 4:19 pm

  8. […] Taylor has posted an interesting piece about the nature and role of seminaries following on from an article by Brian McLaren. Within […]

    Pingback by Journey through the field of life » Blog Archive » Vicar Training — November 11, 2011 @ 2:28 am

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