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This article was originally posted on Aug. 3, 2015.  But in light of the renewed interest I’ve personally seen in this topic.  It seemed appropriate to repost this article.  I hope these concepts change your way of thinking as much it changed mine.

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“A strong case can be made for the fact that we are entering a new era of theological education. A new paradigm is emerging,” said Jeff Reed, CEO of BILD, International.

This quote comes from a Paradigm Paper he wrote in 1992 which made the case for a shift in theological education, as well as served as the outline for this very article.  Ideas for this post all come from Jeff’s Paradigm Paper.  It’s simply adapted for an easier read.

The Contemporary Paradigm

Our current seminary system is based on models that come from the scholastic period.  The goals of this university model were to establish a centralized, unified teaching, to provide students with access to a large library, and allow for greater devotion to learning.  It thrived in the United States for a number of reasons – the demand for more ministerial candidates during the Second Great Awakening, growing denominationalism and theological schisms, population movement into the West, and the desire to professionalize the training of leaders.

classroomThe current model has been so very useful in the past few centuries.  However, since the university model itself is not prescribed specifically by Scripture (the only thing that is prescribed by Scripture concerning theological education is that we must effectively train and commission new leaders), it is the duty of every generation to assess whether this model is providing the church with the most effective path for theological education.

In his Paradigm Paper, Jeff said it perfectly, so I’ll just quote him:  “Unaware to most, the desire to formalize and professionalize the ministry changed more than the form of theological education; it also changed its very nature.  The study of theology shifted from a wisdom to an academic orientation… Theology lost its soul, and the pursuit of knowledge replaced the pursuit of wisdom.”

It was an unavoidable byproduct of the system – academic disciplines became more important than experiential knowledge of leadership of the church; pastors as mentors of ministry apprentices were replaced by professors and scholars, who by nature, reproduce more professors and scholars; and finally, the Master’s degree became the standard for ministry preparedness, as opposed to the standards prescribed by the Apostle Paul in passages like 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9.

The Changing Paradigm

With these significant changes in the nature of theological education, we have seen a few of the consequences of this model.

  1. The enormous cost of post-graduate education sometimes leaves money to pay for the degree as the only barrier between a mature believer becoming recognized as a legitimate leader in the church.

    cathedral classroom

    Photo credit: Always Shooting / Foter / CC BY

  2. Graduates sometimes make it all the way through their degree, only to find out that, while they can certainly perform academically with the Scriptures, they do not have the skills to lead a group of sinners toward maturity in Christ.  Sometimes they’re just inexperienced… but sometimes they realize this late in the game that they never had the spiritual giftings to do it.
  3. Perhaps most importantly, the church in the global South is growing so rapidly with new believers that they literally cannot pump out enough leaders from their seminaries.  It is not something we can even imagine in North America, but it is a serious problem when millions of new believers do not have leaders to establish them in the faith.

Through these difficulties, we see that the current system needs a change.

A New Model for the New Paradigm

Jeff Reed proposes that we make many changes to our current theological education model.  Among them are the following:

  1. Theological education be church-based, rather than institutional, so that during the course of quality learning, the growing leader can learn from experience through actual shepherding, leading people, and recognition of leadership.  Allow the qualified leaders of churches to be the mentors of developing leaders.study
  2. Churches take on the foundational role of training leaders.  Seminaries become resource centers for the churches.  The scholars and professors become mentors for already-developed leaders who desire specialized tracks of ministry.
  3. Lower the cost of theological education by decentralizing the training centers.  No more large tuition rates to pay for on-site room and board, heavy program and staff, etc.
  4. The curriculum should be based on the actual emphases of the text of the Scriptures, rather than relatively obscure theological controversies that have done more to divide the church over the past few centuries than bring unity.  Special focus should be given to Scripturally addressing contemporary social issues of our culture.
  5. Character development and the pursuit of wisdom must be fully-integrated into the student’s educational experience.  Not just given a token nod in a “Spirtual Formation” class.

Are these points controversial?  You betcha.  But you have to ask yourself – is he wrong?

You have to see, Jeff Reed isn’t just coming up with problems and expecting others to solve them.  He, along with BILD International, has developed The Antioch School of Church Planting and Leadership Development.  It provides Bachelor through Doctorate programs with accredited degrees through a truly-church based program.

The Antioch School has accomplished all these things and more.  Jeff writes that their system comprises of the following:

  • A 10-year church-based strategy guide for churches.
  • A 30-course core curriculum and lifelong learning update system.
  • A comprehensive seminar training network.

    study 2

    Photo credit: jaykimdotnet / Foter / CC BY

  • A comprehensive church-based assessment strategy built around a life development portfolio, with a minimum of seven years ministry experience built into the assessment.
  • An online computerized resource center.
  • A publishing and translation network.
  • An international network of resource scholars.
  • An international network of individual churches and associations of churches.
  • An interface strategy with theological seminaries, graduate schools and Bible colleges, and other training organizations.
  • The cultivation of church-based regional resource centers, a new generation of seminaries.
  • An international network of such resource centers for the purpose of writing, holding councils, and sharing resources.

Can you see the vision?  Can you see how significant this change is?

Maybe you think this will never take off.  Well, maybe it’s taking off slowly in the U.S. because us Westerners are stubborn and traditional.  But worldwide, the Antioch School is in a trajectory to legitimately train 1 million leaders in India alone, and 10 million leaders worldwide by 2025.

Are you curious how this theological education form can take root in your context?  Check out this video:

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Also published on Medium.

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