I’ve been thinking a little more about the shape of theological training and the role of local churches in that, particular as we consider how to train and equip people for urban mission and planting. I want to suggest five propositions.
- That local churches are responsible for ensuring that pastors, planter and missionaries are trained. This does not mean that they have to do this all by themselves in isolation. It does not deny the place of theological colleges. However, there should be a proper sense of partnership. This means that the local church cannot simply sub-contract out the responsibility to others. It means that when someone goes to Theological College that a substantial amount of training needs to happen before, after and outside of college. It means that the church should continue to support the student through training not just financially but by prayer and conversation. As we’ve supported someone through college, I’ve taken the time to regularly talk with him about what he is learning, to encourage, challenge and also to learn from him. It means that local churches will take a lively interest in curriculum content. It means that we will share in meeting the financial cost of training.
- We need to keep thinking about making sure that the training is right for the individual and their context. Not everyone will be suited to residential education and not everyone will come in with previous experience of Higher education but that does not mean that their training has to be dumbed down. If someone is excluded from quality theological training because they lack experience of Higher Education or are unable to relocate to a campus context then that is to our shame.
- All training for ministry will include a “full time” dimension for a period of time. This means that for example with the Birmingham West Learning Community that we are not offering a part time programme. The classroom and study element towards’ Union’s GDip may only be 25 hours but the commitment we are encouraging is full time with time taken to shadow and observe as well as get hands on practical experience of ministry being an equal and just as important element of the training we offer.
- Initial training should encourage a life-time of training. I think a vital quality that church leaders should have is that we should be teachable and continually learning from God’s Word. We should not see formal training as a hoop to jump through but an important element in a life time of studying God’s Word. The aim should be to teach good practice for life and encourage ongoing reading and reflection.
- The purpose of training is to serve Gospel mission in God’s Kingdom through the local church. This means that someone considering training shouldn’t be thinking primarily about what would suit/benefit them but what the needs of God’s Church is. This starts with the local body. At the same time, local churches must consider the greater needs of God’s Kingdom and not try to constrain people because of their own immediate needs.
Is there anything you would add?