Each month we ask a different person from the NEXT Church community to assemble a series of posts around a particular theme. This month, Lee Hinson-Hasty is curating a conversation around theological education. Have ideas or reflections to share? Offer your thoughts in comments, on our Facebook page, or contact us here.
By Wendy Fletcher
Writing at the end of the 1960’s, Canadian author Pierre Burton observed that theological education, rather than serving as a vanguard which helped the rapidly changing church blaze a path to the future, functioned instead as a rearguard action that lagged behind the church sweeping up the pieces. Too often, in the immediately preceding decades, this has been all too true.
Of course I do believe that our seminaries and theological schools intended otherwise. However, the weight of the dual expectations of church and academy, so freighted with the commitment to a twentieth century professional model of clerical preparation, and a residual anticipation of the way church in the old world was, imagining itself at the centre of things, theological schools have lumbered.
Theological education for the future will need to be much lighter on its feet. If ever there was a day when its resources are needed in front of the change rather than behind it, that day is today. Our context is one in which traditional models of Christian practice are in decline and one in which the Spirit of God appears to blowing manifold news forms of Christian practice everywhere on the ground of our culture. Only theological education which embraces this, not as crisis but as kairos – as the opportunity which God is giving us for faithful following in this generation – will thrive.
In this time of change, models of education are required that understand:
- we are educating communities at the grassroots of church and society for spiritual leadership and faith based discipleship rather than stand alone individual professionals;
- learning which deepens spiritual practice – that practice which will keep us alive and able to scatter ourselves as seeds in hope of God’s new day – is at least as important as the teaching of the classical academic disciplines;
- we are preparing leaders to live a radically new missiology – one that understands that to live love rather than speak love in relating to this society where our words of faith are increasingly not intelligible to our culture is key;
- education that empowers us for faithful discipleship must be accessible to a broad swath of our people, which means it needs to be local, affordable and relevant in the context into which it presumes to speak.
Two things I know: this future will require risk; there is nowhere for us to fall in our risk-taking in faith, but into the wide-open arms of the mercy of God.
May we risk boldly in sure and certain hope of the resurrected life promised in God.
Wendy Fletcher is the professor of the History of Christianity at Vancouver School of Theology (VST), a multi-denominational graduate school located on the campus of the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada, where she has served for over 10 years. She previously held the position of principal and dean of VST. Prior to her appointment at UBC, the Rev. Dr. Fletcher served for 12 years as professor of history at the University of Western Ontario, Huron College.
For the past two decades Fletcher has worked in a variety of roles with the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) of North America. She served for several years as a commissioner on the ATS Accreditation Commission, as an accreditation visitor and as a seminar leader on the subjects of leadership, conflict resolution and women in leadership. In addition to serving as a director and board member of various professional and academic societies, she is the author of numerous published works on women and Christianity, spirituality and religion and ethnicity, and First Nations Education.
Fletcher holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Western Ontario, a Master of Divinity degree from Huron College, and a Ph.D. from the University of St. Michael’s College.