Missional Mobilization – Where Will the Leaders Come From? Seminaries?

kinnon —  November 13, 2009 — 8 Comments

I don't think so. (At least not most of them.)

The trigger for this post comes from blog and Twitter friend, JR Rozko, who has begun a series of posts on A Missional Vision of Theological Education; (UPDATE: His second post in the series is here.)

After having given several posts to the consideration of bi-vocational ministry, its relationship to missional ecclesiology, defending it as a spiritually formative leadership model, and then commenting on its relationship to theological education, I have been thinking more and more about how we are equipping leaders to lead truly missional communities. Though it’s in no way a brand new topic of interest to me, I want to unpack, in a more focused manner, some of the shortcomings of our current system of theological education and begin sketching what I find to be a more faithful way forward. [Note this quote is full of great links @ JR's blog.]

I'm married to a recent seminary grad and have great affection for seminaries. But. I believe their model has to change if they have any hope of surviving the next 20 years – let alone having the kind of impact they should be capable of as we engage in this missional adventure.

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.

Cam Roxburgh, Al Hirsch and Don Goertz talk about seminary missional-leadership engagement in the later part of this video (embedded in small size on the right) – with Al strongly suggesting that seminaries need to break out of the habit of training almost exclusively for one aspect of the five fold ministry we find in Ephesians 4 – shepherd/pastor. (Al provides more insight into APEST or five-fold ministry here.)

However, seminary output cannot begin to provide the necessary leadership to see the church missionally engage with society in hopes of having any kind of kingdom impact. And the present church reality is that most seminary grads are going to need to be bi-vocational, unless they can find a megachurch gig that feeds their debt monster whilst stealing their soul. See Dave Fitch here on Bi-Vocational – or – Go on Staff at a Big Church. (Also make a point of reading Dave's latest, Can Missional Be Multi-site?)


Insight from an English Missional Practitioner
I've talked about Pete and Kath Atkins a number of times on this blog. I've had the pleasure of being with them twice in the past three years. The second time was with Imbi where she and I shot hours of footage for her upcoming documentary release.

Pete and Kath are team members for Fresh Expressions in the UK and have been planting mission-shaped expressions of church in Lincolnshire for more than a decade. (UPDATE: Read George Lings on Threshold – the church planting movement that Pete & Kath work with in Lincolnshire.) They are the primary designers of  FXUK's Mission-shaped Leadership Course – a course "designed for laity, clergy and for all trained church leaders."

In the unedited clip below from Imbi Medri-Kinnon's documentary (to be released in early 2010), Mind the Gap – Church Leadership in the 21st Century, Pete talks about how we are going to need to mobilize the laity as the primary mission-shaped church leaders. We must do this if we expect to have any kind of kingdom impact on a region…or a nation. Seminary-trained church leadership will need to play a supporting and equipping role – more apostolic, rather than pastor or teacher, I would strongly suggest (in agreement with Pete, I think.)

Pete Atkins – Mission-shaped Mobilization from Bill Kinnon on Vimeo.



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

8 responses to Missional Mobilization – Where Will the Leaders Come From? Seminaries?

  1. Well said Bill.

    As a seminary student I’m personally caught between the very real intellectual stimulation my education provides on the one hand and the total uselessness of it in the workforce on the other.

    As far as I can see, if conditions continue as they are, the only real practical usefulness of a seminary degree will be to prepare the next crop of professional academics…only that well of jobs is very, very shallow already, and it’s only a matter of time before the current post-Christendom dilemma afflicting the Church trickles up to the seminary level. Then what?

    I tend to think that if any institutions – especially academic ones – are going to survive in the decades to come they’ll have to be able to demonstrate a reliable ability to produce radially practical applications for their work. In fact, I think much of the dilemma we find ourselves in currently is a result of the unhappy fact that Christianity in the West has failed to demonstrate much usefulness at all in the lives of everyday people, especially compared to secular alternatives – other than creating strongholds of fundamentalism or temples of entertainment. Unfortunately, the former is falling fast out of favor and the latter is, well…we already have Hollywood.

    So I say the future of Church leadership training involves a horse race to see who can reliably produce people whose knowledge (here I’m referring to actual knowledge, not just untestable abstract propositions) actually causes a positive and pragmatic difference in the lives of others.

    There will be plenty of money for that. There always is.

  2. Excellent! Beating me to the punch on some of this stuff. In a future post, I hope to offer some thoughts on Allelon, Forge and those sorts of groups. No doubt, we will need to pay careful attention to our Christian brothers and sisters from the UK, Australia, and Canada who are maybe 50 or so years ahead of the curve in terms of the collapse of Christendom.

  3. Sometimes I wonder if Jesus intended people to be “on payroll” in his name. Occasional missional support is vastly different than lifelong religious employment.

  4. Jason,
    Preach it, bro. Seminaries still train people for a Christendom world that no longer exists – as Gibbs stated in that video I can no longer link to. (I may need to find it on my drives and put it up on Vimeo myself.) Yes, there are exceptions – and yes, vestiges of Christendom still exist in Canada’s pants (the U.S.of A.)

    It’s too bad that Allelon is virtually gone (parts of it morphing into the oddly named Roxburgh Missional Network) as there was some great material and good ideas there. It’s truly unfortunate we never got to unpack the missional community Allelon founder, Mark Priddy & all round great guy, Rickard Bjerkander co-lead in Eagle, ID – which provided much of the impetus for Allelon.

    I wish someone would pay me full time to shoot mission-shaped stories and right blog posts. 🙂 No such fortune. I think bi-vocational ministry should be the greatest expectation – rather than a stepping stone to “full-time” ministry – which really means “paid ministry.” And I say this with many of my favourite people on the planet working as full-time church employees. I’d point to Fitch’s post on Bi-Vocational ministry again, on this.

  5. Bill,

    Great post. I think the next wave of missional leadership is going to come from missional networks/tribes focussed at their local contexts. Churches banding together across denominational/ecclesial lines, combining with other ministries to create networks of gospel and kingdom advance in their ‘cities.’


  6. Thanks Bill for this post. Having graduated from Biblical Theological Seminary in 2005, I witnessed the beginning of some interesting changes there in a more missional direction under the leadership of Dave Dunbar, but there are still a lot of kinks to work out.

    The two skills I wish I had learned at seminary would be how to teach others and how to organize a ministry. We’re still moving out of a seminary model that prepares us to know a lot, but doesn’t prepare us to empower others. That’s something I know that Biblical is trying to address and I’m excited to see what they end up doing in the coming years.

  7. Ed,

    Ditto on my seminary experience.


  8. Ditto on hopeful enthusiasm for Biblical Seminary integrating its entire curriculum around being missional. That’s a pretty spectacular and visionary thing to attempt!)

    And tritto on frustrations over what seminaries typically don’t train future leaders to do. I’d suggest link to mobilyzr.com as a resource to fill that gap. (Disclosure: I worked for nearly two years as a freelance writer to help develop this material.) These resources came out of practitioner experiences, not theory. Here’s the story:

    Jay McSwain at PLACE Ministries and Mobilyzr.com developed the PLACE spiritual gift assessment system in the late 1990s, to connect people in a best-fit ministry according to how God designed them. Over the next 10 years, in working with hundreds of churches, Jay discovered that their volunteer mobilization systems most often fell apart from the church staff end of things.

    A typical pattern: Staff members didn’t know how to set up or lead ministry teams. So, many of their volunteers ended up burned out and/or disappointed, and left. Their departure meant even more work for staff members, who often ended up burned out. A lose-lose situation.

    And how much of that goes right back to our training institutions? How many seminaries or leadership training programs prepare future leaders in the relational and organizational skills needed for sustainability? Sure, students get informational skills and polity theology, but the curriculum needs to include such specific practical skills as: how to start a new ministry from scratch (whether inside the church or outside in the community), how to catalyze a team, how to supervise staff members or volunteers, how to mentor disciples, and how to multiply disciples and ministries.

    That’s why Jay created Mobilyzr. It was a way to put some of the missing infrastructures in place. In 2007-2008, I wrote material for Mobilyzr on missional and organizational development, and helped detail Jay’s integrated mobilization process. That holistic process includes: identifying people’s gifts, connecting them with a best-fit ministry instead of just slotting them into wherever a warm body was needed to “minister,” empowering and equipping them to serve, encouraging and supervising them, and multiplying ministries inside and outside the church.

    Oh yikes! Didn’t mean this to sound like an advert for my friend’s products, but I worked at a seminary for nearly 12 years and had lots of student friends who ended up disappointed because of a deficiency in learning how to create ministries and mentor people. I’m just not aware of anything else out there like Mobilyzr, or I’d be recommending that as well. Anyway, whether training centers and churches use Mobilyzr or not, and whether they’re institutional or missional in their paradigm isn’t really the issue. Participants in Kingdom endeavors still need something that helps bridge that gap so we can learn how to mobilize and mentor volunteers, so volunteers won’t get discouraged because of bad or absent supervision.


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