Tag Archives: seminary

Seminary 2.0

Bill Kinnon talks about a video he shot a couple of years ago with Eddie Gibbs

In an interview I shot with Eddie Gibbs a couple of years ago (no longer available online, I’m afraid), Eddie talked about the present seminary model that leads to students incurring huge debts in pursuit of their Masters Degrees. He commented that his banker, financial advisor and a real estate agent he knew were all M.Div’s who couldn’t afford to work full time at a church – they wouldn’t be able to service their seminary education debt.

Eddie was bold enough to suggest that seminaries needed to learn how to give their education away for free – like MIT and Stanford are doing. (Not that I expect to see that any time soon.) He also suggested that churches needed to be the ones sending folk to seminaries, paying for that education and expecting the seminarians to return to their sending community to work there or to be sent out from that community to plant new churches.

This is where the Disseminary makes so much sense to me.

Training for today

Last week I got an e-mail from a friend who is in leadership in his local seminary.  While some seminaries are theologically focus, this one is a pastor factory whose primary mission is to produce pastors.  Years ago if you remember, I talked about a Personal MDiv and I was asked for some feedback.  I didn’t have that much to add to the conversation but I offered this up.

  • An understanding of how communities work:  The church can be a prophetic voice in a neighborhood or city but unless it is a big box mega church outside of town, it is often a neighbor and therefore has an impact on how that neighborhood interacts with it and each other.   Some churches are amazing neighbors while others can be jerks.   Each neighborhood has a different vibe and feel to it.  I walk the 15 blocks to work quite a bit and just by walking through Mayfair, Caswell Hill, and Riversdale and I can feel the differences.  Jane Jacobs may be the best pick to start with if you are talking about an urban context but there needs to be a framework for understanding the ebb and flow of a local neighborhood and community.  I am not sure how we missed this but I imagine that for long the church was the centre of the neighborhood that we haven’t adjusted to being ignored or looked down on by the neighborhood.  As Darryl Dash wrote in Christian Week, at one time being near a church meant a higher property value.  That isn’t the case today.
  • How to start something: After reading Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, you realize that many of the missional examples are not churches but are businesses, NGO’s, or non-profits.  Believe me, nothing I learned in school taught me how to deal with funders, investors, or banks.  How to write a decent business plan, bootstrap, when to go for angel investment or a loan, when to hire.  Those are skills that need to be learned somewhere.  I can imagine AKMA disagreeing that this should be a part of any seminary’s curriculum and he may be right.  If it isn’t a part of a formal education, make it readily available to those that do need those skills.  Guy Kawasaki and Garage used to do a Bootcamp for Startups.  Perhaps something like that offered occasionally from a denominational perspective would be helpful.
  • Ethics: A lot of church leaders I know of have odd ethics.  Maybe it is just me that finds it odd but hiding money from the taxman, lying to avoid conflict or accountability, a love of money, or just going through the motions is considered okay.  When I worked at Lakeview Church, we posted the full script transcripts of sermons there.  Friday the site was busy but on Saturday it was even busier.  Most of the traffic was from outside Saskatoon and it was all browsing and downloading sermons.  A friend of mine used to joke that if you wanted him to preach better sermons, Max Lucado had to preach better sermons.  It isn’t just out of the way pulpits where this happens.  I listened to one speaker who has written on leadership and integrity steal a litany from Len Sweet without credit.  Although to his defense, he probably never wrote the talk himself or his books.  My point is that ethics seems to have been lost along the way.  Either that or we are doing a horrible job of vetting clergy.
  • Cost: At what point do we have to find a new way of training clergy or accept the fact that only the wealthy or the heavily indebted will be able to enter pastoral ministry.  Tom Sine has talked about this for years and he is right.   The impact will be that only affluent congregations will be able to hire seminary educated clergy and smaller rural, inner city, missionary organizations will be priced out of the market.
  • Common Sense: A friend of mine wanted to plant an inner city church yet decided to move into a middle upper class neighborhood.  Does this strike anyone else as idiotic.  He wanted to be their pastor but not live around them.  (yeah, I just realize that I offended some of you)   I hesitate to add this because

I am oversimplifying the issues quite a bit and these were real simple off the top of my head answers but I thought some of you may find them interesting.

I am sure you have your own opinions.  Feel free to leave them in the comments.

Feedback

Lately I have been noticing the increase in negative mail to the worldwide headquarters of Super Dave Osbourne/jordoncooper.com (we sublet the place when Super Dave isn’t working). Some of the recent mail is on the low quality links and bias that this blog has. Several are complaining about the sports links, my liberal world view, and how this blog has little to do with the emerging church anymore.

I have replied to many of them individually but I realized, all of them are related as well so here is my bigger explanation.

As many of you know, I work in a homeless shelter/half-way house that is also the emergency after hours for social services. That is all on the website and after that, most of what I do is protected by non-disclosure statements. Some people who work in similar places, blog anonymously or using SixApart‘s VOX blogging system but for me, I don’t talk that much about it and prefer to leave it at work. Even stuff that I see outside of work on the street has been tough to process this week and for that reason, I have been going to a spiritual advisor to talk through some of the frustration of not being able to do more. (at work, part of my evaluation is asking me if I think another job would be a better fit for me — after thinking though it, I am not sure if even being the Minister of Social Services could tackle the job properly — so I said, I am fine where I am at)

The evening shift is often a zoo. A booming Saskatoon economy has made work a lot busier and housing harder to find. The other night I watched a guy wander down the street with a knife in his side and didn’t even find it that weird (ambulance was following him as well), I am often drained emotionally and to unwind, I enjoy some tea and sit down and watch the news and Sportsnet Connected. I have the web and a paper at work and if I am lucky I can read through some of the New York Times and Google News but when I get home, I am tired and ready to give up the good fight. Watching some highlights takes a lot of the stress of the day away. The other reason I watch and blog about sports is that I love sports. While not a great athlete, I played hockey for years, baseball, rugby, soccer, basketball, high school football and skied a lot growing up. I know that sports have been derided by many in the church in favor of the arts but I appreciate both. My family was a sporting family. I have a catcher’s mask that is four generations old. Like a lot of families, sports was a bonding thing growing up and it is the same for Mark. I think it was Pete Ward who wrote this in Liquid Church, sports may be one of the ways the Holy Spirit brings life back into tired people. Unless it is the Edmonton Oilers or the San Diego Chargers, then it is devil’s way of destroying people.

So why so little on the emerging church? I linked to this post by Kester Brewin a couple of weeks ago in which he describes why he is so bored with the emerging church conversation.

For me the ’emerging conversation’ has become too much like a whole bunch of people mouthing off… Pretending to listen, by occasionally quoting others, but, for the most part, just yabbering on about their little world regardless of what others are saying. In the book I mention some of the conditions under which a system might become ’emergent’, or ‘self-organizing’, or ‘a learning system’, to use different syntax. One of the key conditions is an ability to sense and respond to its environment. And this requires careful listening. I think we’ve lost the art.

I agree with Kester although I am not sure why that is although I am sure I am part of that problem that he is speaking about. I used to find the conversation a lot more interesting although I find it really narrow and in some ways I find it has gotten narrower. Part of my problem is that I have been strongly influenced by Canadian political scientist, Thomas Homer-Dixon who wrote The Ingenuity Gap which makes the powerful case that we wrongly take a very narrow view of the problems of the world and the problems (and the solutions) are often shared and more widely connected.  This idea has influenced me more than people realize and explains why blog moseys from idea to idea at times.

I have always hated the term Godblog, (excused me as I go and wash after typing it) and this site has always been a blog about the liberal arts in which as a part of that because of vocation or passion have blogged about the church but now after several years of it, there isn’t a lot of new stuff being said, especially online. Even Mark Driscoll‘s hate filled rants against Emergent are getting repetitive.

Despite the boredom with posting about this stuff online, there is a bunch of different stuff happening offline that is exciting. Several conversations with friends have reminded me we often get judged by our writing on these things called blogs but they are only a small window of our lives. Church of the Exiles is working with others to create a local alternative seminary in Saskatoon. Resonate is setting up a micro publishing house to help the emerging church in Canada and has two books in development and all of this is happening outside of the 40 hours (although this week it was 60 hours) that is spent at work. On top of that is Soularize and Soularize Feedlive that I am helping with. Don’t say I am not engaged with the church. I think I am more engaged now than I was when I was being paid (although I have a lot less meetings).

 
So keep up the feedback coming.  I may or may not take it to heart.  I have some hockey to watch.
 

Wisdom Wants To Be Free

I remember reading with great interest about the idea of the Disseminary when AKMA and Trevor started posting about it a couple of years ago. As the idea evolved, I started to think more and more about new ways of theological education in my local context and in many ways, it influenced the formation of Resonate as well as some articles I have written over the years. Those thoughts also came up in conversations with the Church of the Exiles as a way of thinking about theological education. This spring I had some conversations with a couple of other churches about starting an alternative seminary to make quality theological and Biblical teaching available to those who want to explore that in Saskatoon for free. As summer came, those conversations got lost in the excitement of a hot Roughriders start, a couple heatwaves, and escapes to the nearest lake but as the weather has cooled and summer comes to an end around here, we are looking at seeing it happen. Of course we are not the only ones to have done this. The Alternative Seminary in Philadelphia, the Invisible College in Kingston, Underground Seminary in Ohio and even City Seminary of New York have all explored how to bring contextualized theology to their cities.

It will look quite different in Saskatoon and my partners in crime and thinking of a January 2008 launch. If you are interested in learning more and would like to offer some feedback, drop me a line at coop AT exileschurch.org and I’ll keep you informed.

Contextless Links

Talking about living life

Over the last 10 months people have commented over the decreasing amount of fresh content on the site and the reliance on links around here. Someone one criticised me as being a link blogger like kottke.org which I took as quite a compliment as I am a big fan of his blog but they are right in that the amount of original content around here is becoming as rare as a fair and balanced news report on Fox News.

So where did all the content go? Looking back 10 months or so, we started the process of planting Church of the Exiles and I started working full time at the Salvation Army. While I do have internet access at work, I don’t have a lot of time to surf the web although if our office. My bookmarks are Flickr (for wallpapers), Saskatoon weather (helps me make decisions on housing for people), Yahoo! Sports and Yahoo! and Google News (self explanatory), and some links to frequently asked questions (what time buses run, library hours, job search stuff), that sort of thing. The reason I don’t surf that much is that for most of my shifts, there is a steady stream of people that need something or the other and that is what I am paid to take care of. Like most jobs, there is also some paperwork to be done, databases to input stuff into, and some chatting with co-workers. That is 40 hours of my week spent at work.

Other than that, the Church of the Exiles is a labour of love and there is stuff that needs to be done by myself and as a group. That takes up time. Many of the things that I have blogged and written about will hopefully come to life in Exiles but it takes time and a lot of small steps. A friend of mine keeps saying, “I always overestimate how much stuff I can accomplish in the short run but am amazed by how much stuff I get done over the longhaul.” Despite that, a lot of steps need to be taken in the short run for Exiles and more hours taken up.

As I write this post, I am reminded of the underground seminary some of us are trying to start and the work that it needs to keep it moving.

When I have time at home, there are the joys of home maintenance on a 80 year old home, a dog with a compulsive fetching disorder and slobbery tennis balls, frisbees, and sticks to toss.

A couple of weeks ago when I started shopping for Mark’s birthday presents, I felt sick to my stomach. When I turned seven my relationship with my father got a lot worse and he was gone by the time I was eight. By Christmas his last year around, I remember thinking he hated me and when he left, I blamed myself. While those feelings are from the past, I want Mark’s next trip around the earth to be better than mine was so I find myself spending more time with him. By the time he is eight, he will probably be sick and tired of having me around but for now I am reminded of my past and the desire to make sure his future is different. Plus, we have a slingshot to master and some knives to carve things with.

So what does that mean for the blog? It means that I am spending a lot more time living life then doing it. I enjoy being a pundit but I much rather enjoy starting things and living life.

Richard Dawkins as an "enthusiast"

On Becky’s blog she is quoting Richard Dawkins who makes the claim that he may be passionate but is not a fundementalist.

No, please, do not mistake passion, which can change its mind, for fundamentalism, which never will. Passion for passion, an evangelical Christian and I may be evenly matched. But we are not equally fundamentalist. The true scientist, however passionately he may “believe”, in evolution for example, knows exactly what would change his mind: evidence! The fundamentalist knows that nothing will.

First of all, I might as well just say this. I am an evangelical but I am not an fundamentalist.

The confusion of these terms is irritating and until George W. Bush became President, they did mean separate things. Jimmy Carter is an evangelical. Tony Campolo is an evangelical. Jim Wallis is an evangelical. At the same time James Dobson, John Hagee, Ralph Reed, and Jerry Falwell all claim to be evangelicals as well. It is an awfully large camp but not all evangelicals are fundamentalists and to be honest, we don’t all believe the same things like evolution, only male leadership, or Biblical literalism. I grew up in an evangelical household and I don’t even remember discussing these things growing up. I think my mom may have been a closet literalist but the lack of moat and parapit around our house meant that she was too ashamed to being it up much 🙂

Secondly, I disagree Dawkins insistence that science is somehow pure in its pursuit of knowledge. One of the better books I read last year, 1491 (Amazon.com) is a tale of scientists refusing to give up on their theories and attacking other theories of the origin of civilization in North America. It is a story of people not changing their minds in face of evidence. I am not saying all scientists are fundamentalist, just that fundamentalism can be found in all fields. If you have ever listened to Joe Morgan call a Oakland A’s game, even baseball has people who can’t see something that is outside of how they see the world and this is a game which is supposedly all statistics (and yes I am killing the metaphor by calling Joe Morgan a fundementalist but his closed mind approach to sabremetrics shows an awfully closed mind).

Also, in one of my favorite blog posts of all time, AKMA, writes to incoming seminary students about the pursuit of truth in theology and the Christian life.

I start from the premise that everything about discipleship (and ordained ministry is in many respects simply an intensified mode of discipleship) grows out of the practice of truth. All the different theological disciplines, all the techniques and skills and habits you learn, derive their importance from the Truth you live; whatever facts you memorize, whatever devices for handling parish (diocesan, academic) organization, if they do not contribute to articulating a Truth that goes deeper than your personal preferences, your family’s habits, your community’s prejudices, those learnings amount to nothing more than gilding on a goose-egg. sooner or later, the egg will rot, and a pretty exterior won’t take away the stink.

The Truth will sustain your discipleship, even the intensified kind, with a nourishment, a light, a harmony, and a sense that do not depend for their validity on buzzwords, platitudes, fads, simple answers or correct answers (whether of the popular or academic sort). It’s not for nothing that Acts shows us the earliest followers of Jesus calling their fellowship as “the Way.” Ours is a Way entrusted to us from saints who knew it much better than any of us is likely to know it. That Way grows in us by the work of the Spirit, but we ought to make room for the Spirit to form us in the Way and cooperate with the Spirit in bodying forth the Way in our lives.

Are there fundamentalists out there that fear a truth outside of their worldview? Absolutely. Some of them are listed above and proclaim their fundamentalism proudly. Even among the GOP presidential candidates, some believe in a young earth seven day creation of the earth in face of overwhelming scientific evidence (This undermines my argument but last summer at Arlington Beach during the Free Methodist camp, there was a display up that linked people like me who don’t accept a seven day creation/young earth to secular humanists and homosexuals who are destroying the faith – I thought I should let you know what a heretic I am). While there are Christian fundamentalists out there that can not or will not accept new information outside of a specific framework, there are many of us whose pursuit of truth lead us to faith. For others it was witnessing the supernatural (in my case seeing a miraculous healing in response to prayer growing up) while for others it was a personal encounter with God or as Plantinga has written over the years, some of us just have “faith in God” and it is logical to do so. I don’t see that as a contradiction to evidence. In the end, I have to disagree with Dawkins, he is as much of a fundamentalist that he claims to be against.

Related:

The Present Church

Below is a rather wordy article for my denomination‘s magazine to help get people thinking outside the box in how we see the local church. Not sure if it worked but people have been saying nice things about it to my face at least 🙂

For Lent this year, I decided to give up politics. In the past I had given up caffeine, chocolate, television, and even NHL hockey playoffs but this year I decided to step back from following politics which is something I spend too much time thinking and reading about. Of course this meant trying to ignore the Quebec election of which I had some success in doing. On Monday, March 27th, I was agonizing over the final edits of this article, which was supposed to be about the future of the church. I decided to take a brief television break and was confronted with some really boring choices. While surfing channels, I found myself watching CTV Newsnet and seeing what the talking heads were saying about the Quebec election. Before I caught myself, I heard the panel chortling to themselves over the comment, “Who could have predicted that this result was going to happen to Jean Charest?” I remember the exact same comment being said during former Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow‘s final election when he was handed a minority. A couple of hours before that I remember a well known political commentator leading off his networks coverage with, “Is there anything that will stand between the NDP and another strong majority? No there isn’t”. Well the prognosticators were wrong that evening as well.

The phrase made me think about a book I had read a couple of years ago by Canadian political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon called The Ingenuity Gap. One of the books recurring themes is that we live in a world with a tremendous amount of variables which are overwhelming and make it very difficult to predict the outcome of our decisions. The book goes to show how complex our inter-connected world is and how poorly we understand how it works despite our proclamations to the opposite. From the food chain in the English Channel, to water planning in Las Vegas, to international markets during the Asian currency crisis; time and time again experts missed something that invalidated all of calculations for the future. Not only is it hard to know all of the variables that will influence our future, we are constantly hit by fads that while seem important, really aren’t (like election news stories over which tie color resonates best with voters)

As I returned to edit my article for Mosaic, I realized that I was probably making the exact same mistake. There are too many variables, too many things that can change. If the all knowing pollsters and Mike Duffy can’t forecast a 40 day election, how do we talk about the future of the church farther than that? All of the variables of culture plus the complexities of denomination and local church dynamics make it hard to predict any future.

So what can we talk about? Instead of talking about the future, it may be helpful to discuss the the factors that are happening now that will impact the future. To often organizations live in the past as it is easier to understand and don’t have the needed conversations on what is happening the present that will shape their future.

Post-Christian Canada and the West

In a couple of books I have read in the last year, they have referenced some recent studies that point out by 2040, under 5% of people in England may be Christian (only 9.4% are attending church now) According to church statistics, the four main UK denominations, the Church of England, the Roman Catholic, the Methodist, and United Reformed Churches, are all suffering from a long-term decline in attendance figures. The good thing is that they realize this and are trying new ideas to reverse the decline. The Anglican and Methodist Churches have started their Fresh Expressions initiative which encourages new expressions of church like alternative worship, and even the Archbishop of Canterbury plans to be broadcasting his sermons on YouTube in an acknowledgment that more and more Anglicans just aren’t in church on Sundays. While some of the initiatives talked about as other Fresh Initiatives seemed a little off the mark, it is encouraging that the Church of England the Methodist Church in England are acknowledging that something has to change.

In Australia, things aren’t that much more encouraging but in a recent book called The Forgotten Ways, missiologist Alan Hirsch sees it this way

A combination of recent research in Australia indicates that about 10-15 percent of that population is attracted to what we call the contemporary church growth model. In other words, this model has significant “market appeal” to about 12 percent of our population. The more successful forms of this model tend to be large, highly professionalized, and overwhelmingly middle class, and express themselves culturally using contemporary, “seeker friendly” language and middle-of-the-road music forms. They structure themselves around “family ministry” and therefore offer multi-generational services. Demographically speaking, they tend to cater largely to what might be called the “family-values-segment”–good, solid, well-educated citizens who don’t abuse their kids, who pay their taxes, and who live largely, what can be called a suburban lifestyle.

Not only is this type of church largely made up of Christian people who fit this profile, the research indicates that these churches can also be very effective in reaching non-Christian people fitting the same demographic description–the people within their cultural reach. That is, the church does not have to cross any significant cultural barriers in order to communicate the gospel to that cultural context. (pg 35)

In the United States, the number attracted to the idea of church may be as high as 35%. Canadian polls suggest that about 20 – 30% of Canadians may share values that would be open to going to church (approximately 20% of people say they attending church regularly but that number is often inflated by people exaggerating how often they attend church). That number is a both a blessing and a curse. It shows that at least about six to seven million Canadians are open to the values articulated by the church which do provide a large pool of Canadians for the church to draw from but even that is difficult as pollster George Barna sees the family values segment of the population to fall by half in approximately fifteen years.

While nothing is wrong with those within that segment, most of us as Free Methodists would be there and by in large, they are not that offensive of a people group. Six million Canadians is nothing to sneeze at and does provide a significant opportunity for the church but that is only part of the story.

Of course what is to make of the people outside of that family values segment? Depending on how one looks at the numbers, anywhere from 65% to 85% of Canadians are removed by various degrees from that category and from those values. They make up the vast bulk of Canadians that have to overcome some obstacles to come to our churches as the church is not even on their radar. According to what Alan Hirsch writes in The Forgotten Ways, in addition to not being on the radar for most people, a large percentage are at some level alienated by the church. From bad experiences, to strong preconceived ideas about Christianity or from a cultural context that is hostile to Christianity, it would be as hard for them to be a part of a church as it would be many Free Methodists to join a non-Christian religion. Doing “church” better; PowerPoint, better music, wittier or more theologically astute sermons probably won’t make any impact on those that are outside the church because they are unlikely to bother entering the doors in the first place.

The other factor in society is that there has been a breakdown in the mass markets. Where at one point a church used to pick a neighborhood and then put down it’s roots and if church was “done right”, it had a good chance to reach their area for Christ. Depending on the church, property values actually rose if you were closer to a church. A middle class neighborhood would have middle class people in it with middle class values. Today that is changing where traditional people groups have segmented and segmented again. The mass market is shrinking and those neighborhoods are made up of a variety of sub-groups.

What does that mean for the future of the church?

While it is popular to lament the loss of the Christian fabric in Canadian culture and condemn those that don’t share our values, that probably won’t do anything to reverse the change. Complaining that people don’t go to church anymore won’t change anything.

When Anglican Bishop nd missionary, Leslie Newbiggin came back to England at the age of 65 after spending most of his career in India, this is what he found.

Ministry in England, he discovered, “is much harder than anything I met in India. There is a cold contempt for the Gospel which is harder to face than opposition. . . . England is a pagan society and the development of a truly missionary encounter with this very tough form of paganism is the greatest intellectual and practical task facing the Church” (Unfinished Agenda).

It is hard, Newbigin knew, for a Hindu or a Muslim to come to worship Christ. For an Englishman, it would seem, it had become even harder.

Whats life for the church going to be like in a post-Christian Canada. A world in which we are seen more and more irrelevant? There isn’t a definite roadmap or program to follow and I think the mass segmentation will force the church for the first time in a long time to chart their own paths as we enter into new territory. That being said, there are some that have been at this for a little longer and have adjusted to their own contexts.

The Freeway in downtown Hamilton is both a church community and coffee shop serving both those looking for coffee and a place to connect online as well as the urban poor.

Three Nails in Pittsburgh is an Episcopal church plant that has embedded itself into the community by meeting a need that I never would have thought of and that is making really good New York City style hot dogs. They helped open a restaurant that used to be called Hot Dogma but was sued over the name so now they are called Franktuary. Their motto in case you are wondering is And the meat shall inherit the earth.

Harambee in Pasadena, California Back in 1982, Navarro Avenue in Pasadena, California had the highest daytime crime rate in Southern California. Believing that the only way they could make a difference was to move into the neighborhood, Dr. John Perkins started a ministry on “blood corner” (named because of the drive by shootings). Twenty five years later it had largely changed the neighborhood and curbed the violence. Not only that but it has prepared two generations of church leaders as well on a campus that is essentially several small houses with a common backyard. It doesn’t take much to change the world.

The same can be said about emerging congregations and church plants in the Free Methodist Church. Ecclesiax and ThirdSpace reach artists and creative types in different ways because their local contexts are different.

Some Anglican churches in London, England empowered and nurtured new faith communities who met in their own buildings. Most often with no staff or clergy, these communities formed what is now called alternative worship and is engaging a portion of England’s population that would never enter into a traditional worship context. At the same time they give new life to traditional congregations.

Some churches in urban areas saw what a place called Paragraph NY did, which is create a place that is essentially a gym but instead is a place for writers and creative types to work. They looked at a lot of unused space, got a good coffee maker, and wireless Internet and opened up the doors… and people came in.

At the end of the day, the church is going to have to learn to reconnect with their community as opposed to rely on the community to come to them. Whether or not churches can do that will largely determine how long of a future they have.

The Future of Theological Education

I remember being a conference years ago when the comparison was made between the average income of baby boomers measured against things like education, mortgage, and transportation. Then they compared my generation. Everything was more expensive but especially education and at that moment I realized that the Freedom 55 commercials were not targeted at me. The presenter put it into what it meant for the church. To go to seminaries like Wheaton or Fuller, it meant that you either had to be older and saved up some money, come from a wealthy family, or willing to take on a large amount of student loan debt. This has affected even smaller Bible Colleges who are faced with an aging donor base and less contributions which has meant higher tuitions.

The costs associated with education keep many interested learners at arms length. A building costs money; faculty need to be paid and they expect certain privileges associated with their position. Beyond that, the physical space of education limits the number of students who can participate (those who can get to the location, those who can fit into the facilities). After a while the school’s priorities shift toward the necessities of taking care of the building and faculty, and these begin to displace the original educational goals.

This starts to impact the wider church in a couple of ways as it also influences students. As I heard one seminary faculty member say it, whether the student or his family is footing the expensive cost of seminary education, it makes students less inclined or less able to enter the mission field or enter into a ministry context that does not pay a certain amount of money or safety.

The long term consequences of that happening to more church leaders is easy to see. Only wealthy churches have access to quality theological thinkers and the church may have to withdraw from areas that can not afford a certain level of compensation.

There has been others who have seen this happening and are working to create an alternative future. City Seminary of New York is a collaborative project of churches across New York City who brings in theologians and speakers to help church leaders in their local contexts. Fees are as low as $10 (to cover meals). The Alternative Seminary in Philadelphia is developing training materials and offering classes for those that can not afford it. Closer to home, in Kingston there is the Invisible College which tackles big issues from a Christian worldview. Topics like globalization and how technology impacts our lives have been past topics. Resonate has hosted several local discussions with theologians and thinkers over the last three years in Toronto and Hamilton all for free.

While seminaries and many local churches have been slower to adopt this model in favor of selling content, more and more universities are giving away their lectures, course work, and even tests for free over the Internet. M.I.T.’s OpenCourseWare allows you to tap into M.I.T.’s vast teaching resources as a teacher or self-learner for free. It doesn’t grant you a degree or credits but it does share the wisdom. TED, a world leading conference of big thinkers has recently used Google Video to make their entire conference available for free online. While I questioned the Archbishop of Canterbury’s use of YouTube when the idea was floated, almost 8000 people have watched his latest video in three weeks, far more than what would have heard him speaking in a church and that number will keep climbing.

While the Free Methodist Church in Canada’s Foundational Courses and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s efforts come from a denomination, many of the other alternative forms of theological education are coming from the grassroots of the church. Motivated local church leaders striving to make a difference in their communities. Whether that will be online or offline in churches and third spaces, in partnership with existing educational institutions or creating new ones, how it shapes up and we decide to view new forms of education will go a long way in shaping how we see church.

Discipleship

This is related to the discussion on theological education but we can’t ignore the issue of discipleship or lack of it in local churches.

In his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, Ron Sider points out that evangelicals do a rather poor job of living out what we preach. In fact in some areas that evangelicals profess to care about, we tend to live worse then those we profess to want to “save”. Robert Webber writes on this topic in his book, Ancient Future Evangelism where he suggests that discipleship is a forgotten practice in many churches, a theme which is echoed in Dallas Willard’s book which is aptly named, The Great Omission. Duke University’s, Stanley Hauerwas suggests that we have confused North American values with Christianity and reduced being a Christian to being a good neighbor and good American [or Canadian]. Eugene Peterson simply asks that how can we know so much and live so badly. Both Eugene Peterson and Dallas Willard talk about the church services.

Eugene Peterson says this,

The operating biblical metaphor regarding worship is sacrifice. We bring ourselves to the altar and let God do to us what God will. We bring ourselves to the eucharistic table, entering into that grand fourfold shape of the liturgy that shapes us: taking, blessing, breaking, giving—the life of Jesus taken and blessed, broken and distributed; and that eucharistic life now shapes our lives as we give ourselves, Christ in us, to be taken, blessed, broken and distributed in lives of witness and service, justice and healing.

But this is not the American way. The major American innovation in the congregation is to turn it into a consumer enterprise. Americans have developed a culture of acquisition, an economy that is dependent on wanting and requiring more. We have a huge advertising industry designed to stir up appetites we didn’t even know we had. We are insatiable. It didn’t take long for some of our colleagues to develop consumer congregations. If we have a nation of consumers, obviously the quickest and most effective way to get them into our churches is to identify what they want and offer it to them. Satisfy their fantasies, promise them the moon, recast the gospel into consumer terms—entertainment, satisfaction, excitement and adventure, problem-solving, whatever. We are the world’s champion consumers, so why shouldn’t we have state-of-the-art consumer churches?

Dallas Willard says something similar but in just three sentences,

We must flatly say that one of the greatest contemporary barriers to meaningful spiritual formation in Christlikeness is overconfidence in the spiritual efficacy of ‘regular church services,’ of whatever kind they may be. Though they are vital, they are not enough. It is that simple.

Even if we get every other aspect of church right and people do engage with us again. What do they get when they get here. An entire “discipleship industry” has formed within the church trying to sell me an answer to that question and there are a lot of different opinions.

As technology and culture change, it changes the world in which we learn in. What would have been considered deviant behaviour a generation ago isn’t questioned today as being abnormal. I remember reading a book on how young Christians needed to act and it concentrated on issues like how long should your hair be and if sideburns are okay. It was as funny to read then as it is today but it does go a long ways in determining what we saw were important things back then. Today, things have changed. A friend showed me his high school son’s instant messenger buddy list. Every single one of them was a sexual reference. While we were talking about that, a song came over by an underage artist talking about sex acts with her boyfriend. What does the church look like in a culture that is changing, materialistic, confused, and intolerant of how it sees the church being intolerant? While the much of the discussion centers on the forms we use for discipling, statements from many theologians suggest that we may have to rethink what a Christian is in today’s world.

If there is good news in all of this, it is that many Free Methodists are having these kinds of discussions all over the place, both formally (like at last years Ecclesiology Study Commission) and informally. Many of those voices will go into papers and ideas to presented at the next General Conference and of course are being discussed in local churches. As I told a colleague not that long ago, some of us are too young to have experienced the “good old days” of the church but this is the time that God wanted us to be here for and there is something exciting about that.

This and that

  • The Freehouse lives again tonight but you probably already knew that.
  • Was with a group of church leaders this week and the phrase “less desirable people” was used a couple of times in relation to the poor. I could write a book on the implications of that phrase for the church. It was disheartening to hear.
  • During coffee at the same meeting, some of us decided to start an alternative seminary, drawing inspiration from the Invisible College and the Disseminary. I can’t imagine what we would have done if we had longer to chat.
  • Spring has finally hit Saskatoon. My backyard finally lost the last of the snow and I am not wearing a jacket to work today.
  • Nothing on the car front. I had my eye on a couple of cars at a dealer auction that a friend was going to bid on. Lee used to work there before getting transfered to the auto glass shop. With it being spring and nice out, the prices were higher. According to Lee and others, the prices fall as the summer goes on. Wendy is still lobbying for a Geo Tracker. When I pointed out how small it was, she replied with that she has an iPod Shuffle so she doesn’t need that much storage. Nice reply but no.

Church of the Exiles

It was a day off today and I spent it working on some stuff for the Church of the Exiles that needed to be done.
 
The challenge of finding space for the Exiles has been harder than one would think.  We had hoped to use a chapel on the University of Saskatchewan campus but that plan was derailed when the seminary had to sell out to the University to keep going for a couple years longer and the chapel was deconsecrated.  With the University now renting it out, the last thing they wanted in a former chapel is anything religious and that option closed on us.
 
Our other options either wanted us to agree to odd conditions or if it was a pub, had liquor lisences that wouldn’t allow anyone under the age of 19 or was just too expensive.  Some of the spaces we had used in the past for the worship.freehouse have been rented out or purchased because of the economic boom that Saskatoon is having which makes it hard to find spaces that have a neighborhood around them.
 
Inside the auditorium area of Albert Community CentreWendy did some groundwork on Albert Community Centre (follow the link for some photos) in Saskatoon which was affordable and provided us with some decent space to use for the Freehouse.  The cool thing is that despite being in a 95 year old school and on the second floor, it is wheelchair accessible and has space for kids.
 
Oh right, speaking of the Freehouse, we thought long and hard about it but we decided to keep the Freehouse name for our monthly alternative worship gatherings.  The site has more information.
 
More information will be posted soon about our first service as an community in the next week or so.
 

Contextless Links

The Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

Join church and ministry leaders, theologians and laity for the inaugural conference on The Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future—a challenge issued for evangelicals to rediscover their common mission and be energized by the Holy Spirit for ministry!

 
The Speakers include, Brian McLaren, Frederica Mathews-Green, Aaron Flores, Martin Marty, The Call and the Future of Evangelicalism, Lauren Winner.
 
December 7-9, at Northern Seminary.  Now you know.