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Theological education and the emerging church

Brian Mclaren

Brian Mclaren recently gave a lecture at Princeton Thological College on “Mainline Theological Education and the Emerging Church/Conversation”.  It is available as an mp3 file for download HERE and following is a summary by Darren Wright from his planet telex blog site.

There are a number of points that Mclaren makes in the lecture which I found his questions to be of valuable importance to the church, and in particular to the conversations that my denomination seems to be having in every single state of the blooming country…

Question: In mainline theological education what are you preparing leaders for, what Christianity are you preparing leaders for?

a) the deposed civil religion of mainline Protestantism

b) the reigning civil religion of conservative evangelicalism

c)to serve private or isolated sub cultural individualism personal religion enclaves who don’t want to be involved in any of it at all.

Brian goes on to say that if there’s going to be a fruitful discussion between the emerging conversation and mainline theological education it would involve envisioning a role for the church that has not yet existed, that is not a civil religion… a post liberal post conservative post colonial emergent progressive expression of the Christian faith that explores a new relationship between gospel, church and culture.

Brian suggests that if we were able to prepare leaders for a Christianity that doesn’t yet exist that would be such an exciting possibility.

Question: What kind of leaders are you trying to prepare?

There are so many different types of leaders… institutional, entrepreneurial, priestly, academic, therapeutic, there’s a place for all these types but Brian suggests that there is a type of leader that words like apostolic and missional could be used to describe but its a kind of leader that we haven’t seen yet.

Brian used St Patrick as an example of this kind of leader, St Patrick he said ran an incredibly vibrant ministry, an apostolic ministry across Ireland and Scotland and when he came back he was chastised for being a bad bishop…

Brian suggested that what we need is a little space to be bad bishops… Brian pointed out that type of thing is already happening, how many ministers have secret lives? How many people find some way to have a ministry that is beyond their ministry in their churches, it’s happening, we can’t stop it from happening, but what if we can help it happening?

Question: Which constituency are you seeking to conserve?

People’s constituency could be expressed as denominational, Australian religions, Community, the poor and oppressed… But Brian asked another question, “what if we said that we would actually like to serve the constituency of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?”

Brian then went on to discuss the current situation that the church has found itself in as an emergency, too often he says the church has viewed it’s current challenges and issues as a minor problem and has tried to deal with it as such, Brian asks “what if we said that we are not living in a problem, but we are living in an emergency…” He then continues to ask… What if we were actually serious? What if some people could sneak through the system who had enough courage to ask how we could leverage our resources for an emergency before it is too late… His challenge was for the church to say “let’s have our emergency now.”

Brian’s final question to the group was: What’s your desired outcome in mainline theological education?

a) What if you did something that actually worked?

b) What would it look like if it actually worked?

Either we say that we will preserve and invigorate the existing structures or if we have to create new structures. I don’t think that the emergent conversation will be very helpful to mainline education if it only wants to preserve existing structures. Perhaps we need to say “whoever wants to save their life will lose it, and whoever wants to lose their life for Christ’s sake will gain it.” I believe that the best way to reinvigorate the existing church is by planting new churches… because when you pour disproportional, absurd, extravagant amounts of money into the planting of experimental churches that are not a good bet of success, but that are as far out on the edges as we can.

Brian went on to say that existing churches imitate and new churches innovate, and that many new churches don’t get to innovate because they are too busy setting up another franchise of another church, another plant, another community, so instead many churches seem to imitate, borrowing models from other people. Instead, if we were to innovate we would attract a completely different type of person, a different type of leader, a different type of community member… Brian points out that right now the people that are being attracted to ministry are people who would like a job in your church as it is, they like the way that it already is.

So, if we were to go ahead and plant a number of weird on the edge type churches that attracted pierced, tattooed, surfing, long haired, vegetarian, alternative lifers then the types of people that would come out of those communities would be remarkably different, similarly if we had congregations of people worshiping while using heavy metal liturgies, or living in community housing we’d be attracting different people to ministry…

I’ll leave the last part of this post to Brian, I must say that I haven’t typed all of this word for word, I’m not speed typist and so I missed words, I had to link some, but the general idea is there…

If mainline theological education was to say that “we are looking for people who will not have to obey the rules, we are looking for people who we can resource and encourage who will try to create new and innovative things,” a lot of things will fail, the church will waste a lot of money on this. But you will either waste a lot of money on these people or there are already a number of ways that you are already wasting money. If we get enough of these churches up and running, all different, urban, rural, cafe… if enough of them happen then they will provide to our existing churches models of possibility, models of hope.

If you were to have the courage and subtlety and subversiveness to sneak some money in that direction there could be some very, very exciting things happening. If you will choose some of these unexpected options you will find that you will have a lot of allies who are dreaming similar dreams…

What if there are thousands of young Calvins out there? What if many are women, what if God decided to make most of them non-white, what if God decided to make a lot of them gay? What if they are right now alive in many parts of the world? What if theology… what if they are already writing their theology without your permission, what if they are writing it in books, in poetry, in song, and art, in forms of community, in films, in coffee shops… What if mainline theological institutions could shock the world by unleashing their product, by changing their patterns by welcoming in young leaders, not to make them docile, but to enrich their lives with a truly liberal (liberal= “free”) education… people want education, they don’t necessarily want certainty, and they might actually forgo ordination if ordination only means job security and a pension…

I’ve got to say that this lecture was one of the more inspiring things that I’ve heard in a number of months, it’s a call to the church to act on the emergency that it finds itself in, it puts a spin on the idea of “stewardship” from the economic concept of looking after our money and resources towards the concept of putting it all on the line for the overall mission of the church, for Brian says we need to be prepared to fail, to waste a lot of money if we’re going to tackle the emergency head on…

Mark me inspired…

Photo : Brian Mclaren