Returning Theological Education Back to the Local Church Part 2

August 26, 2016
I planned to address B. H. Carroll’s desire to raise the value of the Pastor as Scholar in this blog, but I decided to take one more shot at why I believe accredited theological education can and should be part of the local church’s discipleship and leadership development ministries. (Stay tuned for next week’s blog on the planned topic.)

Dr. Linda Cannell, who led Carroll’s Fall Colloquy in 2015, acknowledged “Emerging Initiatives in Theological Education Related to the Church” in her book, Theological Education Matters but warns of what may happen as churches seek to “develop leaders in context” on their own:

As supporters of church-based efforts disparage the seminary, they flirt with the danger of losing the depth and missing the vital questions that a true community of scholars brings to the development of the whole people of God. (266-267)

A “community of scholars” has unlimited value to the fellowship of believers on mission with Christ. This community of scholars within the community of faith and learning can influence disciples and leaders on how the church leads and serves in generations to come. While churches send fewer and fewer leaders to be trained in seminaries, they are creating their own schools of learning for those who lead and serve in their single context. What happens to the larger, historic knowledge of the church? Are the skills learned in one context transferable to anther one?

Cannell also concluded, “The ideal of a church and school partnership is well founded; the reality is much harder to realize.” (272) I believe we are in an historic place of opportunity to see if such a “well-founded” ideal can be realized.

While attending ICETE’s International Consultation in Antalya, Turkey last November, I learned of the several ways in which theological education is made available to church members and leaders. Steve Kemp, Academic Dean of BILD International’s Antioch School of Church Planting and Leadership Development, offered six models of formal and informal theological education and bases of delivery. As I observed his presentation, I realized that Formal Church-based model was not on his list. This is where I see Carroll would fit into his taxonomy.

Listening to Kemp raised the question to me again, “Is it possible to have ‘formal,’ accredited theological education ‘based’ in a local church?”

Since my time in Antalya, I have learned of two examples of emerging models of church-based Christian education.

Eternity Bible College in Simi Valley, CA is an extension of Cornerstone Community Church. ABHE recently accredited the college for their undergraduate degrees. The college grew out of the church’s desire to incorporate education into their mission of making disciples. Francis Chan, EBC’s Founder, writes on their website:

Our mission goes beyond education to discipleship. Our desire is that students will not only learn from teachers, but know them.  We don’t expect students to observe a healthy church, but to be a critical part of it.  We plan to place students in secular settings where their faith is going to be challenged, and walk with them through the battles.  At the core of all we do is discipleship.

Eternity would fit into the “formal church-based” model for training leaders with accredited, undergraduate degrees.

Another model has emerged in Birmingham, AL between Highlands College and Point University, a regionally accredited university. The college is an extension of the multi-site Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, AL. Rather than pursuing accreditation of their programs, Church of the Highlands has created a partnership between their college, which offers certificates, and the university, which offers accredited degrees. (See the colleges FAQ page for more.) Highlands model is a partnership of “informal church-based” and “formal campus-based” theological education to provide training for church leaders.

Theological training is finding its way back into the local church out of a desire to further develop disciples of Jesus Christ. To note, both examples are undergraduate programs, which leaves room for graduate degrees like the MDiv, MACE, and the various ministry-related Master of Arts degrees. Both examples are from megachurches with the resources and member/staff populations to support their own form of theological training. But is this too limited a model to fit the needs of a local church in global settings? Are there additional ways in which to make theological education accessible to the local church without the requirement of megaresources?

The Carroll Teaching Church model is one way to meet this need. A Teaching Church creates a partnership between an accredited seminary and the members and leaders of a local church. Such a partnership looks something like this:

  1. The Carroll network of Teaching Churches can be described with the analogy of a “school building.” The Carroll Center in Irving, TX may be compared to the administrative offices found in any school facility. The classrooms are the Teaching Churches that may be found down the “media hallways.” These “remote classrooms” are found throughout the Carroll teaching network.
  2. Along with the highest quality of training for men and women who seek degrees for full time Christian Ministry, it is also the goal of Carroll Institute to provide the highest quality continuing education and training for church members and leaders within Teaching Churches. These participants are called “Readers.” Readers at Carroll Institute take classes much like auditors in other institutions.
  3. These Carroll Teaching Churches are examples of an emerging model of seminary training in the local church. Each church has a unique partnership with Carroll, and some are more engaged than others, but they all have agreed that accessible, affordable, achievable theological education is what they want for their members and leaders.

I am enthused about the “emerging initiatives” to fill the void of theological education in training local church members and leaders. I look forward to the many ways in which Carroll and other seminaries will be part of the solution to this critical issue facing the church today.

Let’s talk about it:

What church based models of theological education are you aware of?

What are the advantages/disadvantages of church based models?

How would you design a discipleship program in your church that integrates theological education?

 

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