Safely navigating the new shifts
Over the past month, I’ve been writing about how we in biblical higher education must adapt to massive shifts that are occurring in our world without succumbing to mission drift. Thus far, I have illustrated how the shift from a Christendom to a missional cultural milieu will require us to re-construe what we mean by ministry vocation. Here’s another major shift that requires our awareness and adaptation: a shift in the typical pattern of ministry emergence.
Ministry emergence: a different pathway
How is it that a person develops a sense of ministry calling? How and where is that calling affirmed? What is the nature and pathway of ministry preparation? Where does that preparation take place? How do people acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to exercise their calling with long term excellence? What role does formal education play in the equation? The graphic below outlines what I believe is a significant generational shift in the predominant pathway to ministry. When I was a teenager, nurtured in church youth group and Youth for Christ, a sense of “life investment” calling emerged. So, I did what young people did when they “surrendered” to a ministry call: I enrolled in Bible college. After graduating, I was then regarded to be ready to launch my formal ministry and, accordingly, sought ministry credentialing by my denomination. Others of my generation, following a similar pattern, received a “ministry call” through their involvement in secular college campus ministries or parachurch ministries and, consequently,enrolled in seminary on the way to ministry credentialing and deployment.
The pattern of my 1970’s experience, however, is now the exception rather than the rule. More typically these days, a thirty-something or even fifty-something person gets actively and more and more deeply involved in church ministry leadership. Through such involvement, their ministry leadership gifts and calling become evident to themselves and those with whom they work. Their church hires them and offers hands-on, in-ministry training opportunities and resources. Their ministerial calling and competence are regarded to be the necessary qualifications for ministry leadership, not their formal education and credentials. These in-ministry adults –and those who lead them–strongly prefer self-directed, yet collaborative “just-in-time” learning that leaves their current life, employment, and ministry engagement intact, rather than the confinement and constraints of a rigid “just in case” theological school curriculum.
Threat or opportunity
The typical educational institution may see this shift as a regrettable, unhealthy, naive devaluation of the received wisdom their institution has to offer. They decry the diminishing traditional student enrollment pipeline as a barometer of the church’s waning spiritual vitality. They slowly and grudgingly make pragmatic and superficial accommodations to their traditional curricula and delivery modalities. A few, however, see in this shifting pattern the wind of the Spirit. They engage their key stakeholders in re-thinking the “seven Cs” of higher education (i.e., classroom, course, credit, curriculum, credential, cost, community) in order to optimize their response to this major ministry emergence pattern shift. You might be in a leadership position, but you are not leading if you allow yourself and your colleagues to scoff at or otherwise skirt the reality of a new ministry emergence pattern.
Fresh gleanings to fuel your leadership awareness, reflection, and conversations …
ABHE Senior Fellow and Barna Group President David Kinnaman has some good news: A pretty high percentage of Millennials say they believe in the Bible. You will no doubt want to read and pass along details of a recent study sponsored by American Bible Society and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
If you don’t need enrollment help, congratulations. Otherwise, I’m sure you will find Bart Caylor’s 10 Ways to Improve Your Marketing to Prospective Students blog post highly valuable.