Training pastors and planters for urban contexts in context (part 2 – The curriculum)

I want to continue the conversation by talking a little about the type of curriculum I would like to see in a local church context and how that can be delivered.

1.       Pastors and planters need a thorough knowledge of God’s Word.  They need to be able to teach it faithfully.  The curriculum needs to include Biblical Studies.  This is likely to include an overview of the different books of the Bible, their authors, when they were written, genre and purpose.  They will also need to know about exegesis and hermeneutics.  It will be beneficial if they have some awareness of Biblical languages.

2.       Pastors and planters need to know how God’s Word fits together in order to apply it. They also need to be able to spot and confront error. The curriculum should include Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology.  A knowledge of Church history will help guard against error.

3.       Pastors and Planters need to be able to engage with people as they apply God’s Word. They will need to learn about apologetics and pastoral counselling.

4.       Pastors and Planters will need to know how to lead biblically but also practically. Teaching on leadership skills and decision making should form part of the curriculum.  They will also benefit from training in communications skills.

Do you notice anything about that? The answer is that there is nothing novel there in terms of content. They need exactly the same things that a decent seminary curriculum is providing. 

However, there are a couple of differences to mention.

1.       We need to keep coming back to the end goal and what you are assessing for. We are not assessing people for their academic ability so we are not primarily concerned with their ability to engage with obscure or controversial theories in academic language.  This does not mean that there isn’t a benefit in being able to write because sometimes this will be the most helpful way to order your thoughts or communicate a point. However, what we are looking for in terms of style and length will be different. Also, seminary assessments don’t necessarily capture all the requirements we should be assessing, including: “can you preach?” “Do you model a godly family life?” Are you able to lead people through challenging decisions?” “Can you counsel someone?” 

2.       There will be a specific focus to application – just as there is with a missions or children’s and youth curriculum. We will want to bring this out as we go along. I would include something that helps trainees think through their cultural context both in terms of contextualisation and the problem of idolatry.

3.       In my experience, the integration tends to happen more overtly and more immediately.  So, think about our Faithroots resource “Who is God?” We have not offered modules on Systematic Theology (The Doctrine of God), Apologetics, Ethics, Pastoral Counselling etc. Rather, we have started with the question “What are the truth and lies people believe about God?” That question has kept us thinking about how knowing the truth about God enables us to give a reason for our faith in evangelism, know right from wrong and offer pastoral care. The Systematic Theology, Apologetics and Pastoral Counselling stuff is all integrated together.

4.       The way we teach will be different.  I think the key difference is this. If you are at seminary, you sit in a room with a number of other students, you have a time-table to adhere to with deadlines including end of term assessments and the end of the course.  In the local church context, especially where someone is being trained as they get on with gospel work, then these constraints are eased. The question is not “when is the deadline” but what does the student need? Groups are likely to be small allowing for a tutorial feel. You are able to slow down, speed up, take a detour etc.  Assessment is not about pass/fail at the end of the course but about seeing how the person is progressing, where they need additional coaching and where their specific strengths and weaknesses are that can be complimented within a good team. This also means we want assessments that highlight those things rather than focusing on a grade as a score.

5.       Following on from point 4, the feel should be more of the football team being coached than of the students being lectured.

I believe that such a curriculum can be delivered within the local church.  This will include having good Bible teaching that the whole church benefits from, guided reading to stretch trainees and additional resources such as workshops, tutorials and online training material such as faithroots.

I know that there is disagreement about this among practioners but I am optimistic about the part that existing seminaries can play in making this happen. Union with its Learning Community model, Oak Hill through its Acts 29 partnership – Crosslands and Moorlands College are making significant steps. I don’t think we are there yet. I also think that the Evangelical Colleges should work more and more closely together -we should see this as partnership not competition.  I also want to re-iterate again that we should not subcontract out training to others, it remains the responsibility of the local church but this can be supported and supplemented by courses.

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