Tearing Down the Walls

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 Ellie Roscher

wall copyA former student of mine works for an e-commerce start up company whose office is in an old church in Minneapolis. He shares the church office space with his co-workers – a priest who got into real estate to make ends meet and a man who started a grain-based veggie burger business. The church started renting its space out during the week to small businesses for the financial benefit of everyone. This worship space/business office collaboration makes sense. Being some of the biggest community spaces in the neighborhood, churches can engage in a ministry of shared space. Sharing becomes not only a creative, mutually symbiotic idea, but in some cases a financial necessity. Boundaries that used to separate church and life are blurring.

Seminaries are following suit by thinking of ways to get creative with space.

  • Can seminaries require our students to move their families to our campus for three years?
  • Can they afford to own all of these buildings?
  • How do seminaries get students out into the world?
  • Seminaries are exploring online classes and regional campuses.
  • They are experimenting with seminary intensives followed up with life-long continuing education.
  • They are considering inter-campus and inter-denominational collaboration, wider definitions of call and on-going internships during coursework.

This shift honors the financial need and a generational shift in thoughts about faith. Theological education is moving to the context of the entire world, not just within seminary buildings.

When walls come down, some people get scared. We get attached to the boundaries we build. Redefining space with fewer walls can, however, build community, enhance academic rigor and promote God’s love in the world.

A few decades ago, many people went to work from 9-5 Monday through Friday. Family time happened at night while church happened on Sunday mornings. The walls that used to separate worship time from the rest of our lives are dissolving. More people are working from home, telecommuting, or working multiple jobs and taking odd hours. Millennials, loosely people born between 1980 and 1996, are driving the change. They don’t want church boxed into Sundays, limited to a building, quarantined from our daily lives. They don’t want to see God’s call for our lives as only what we get paid to do, but our entire life’s work. They want to make a difference in their communities, and they see that as church. They want their church to be relevant in the world first.

In her Human Resource Magazine article “Mixing It Up,” Adrienne Fox reminds us that Millennials are optimistic. They love collaboration and consensus building. Some believe Millennials view power as organic – it grows when shared. Churches and seminaries are finding it challenging to connect with Millennials with their existing models. Millennials grew up watching religious extremism lead to 9-11. They watched sexual scandals covered up in multiple faiths and denominations, the co-opting of the religious right by republican politicians and infighting in mainline protestant denominations. Young people are skeptical of a church that stays locked up away from the world. Diana Butler Bass in Christianity After Religion tells us that young people want the old church order of believing, behaving, belonging to shift to the ancient approach of belonging, behaving, believing. They want churches to be counter-cultural prophetic voices relevant to the world. They want societal transformation. The networks are interconnected and dependent on each other. The walls are coming down.

I see this shift as more than just a choice to see opportunity instead of crisis. I see the shift as a reclaiming of the Gospel. Jesus’ ministry happened wherever and whenever it needed to happen. He did not only teach in the synagogue. He did not heal people just on Sabbath. Walls could not contain his ministry, his love. The early church that started worshipping Jesus met in homes, in small groups, and we are seeing a swing back to that model in our context. What’s coming in our seminaries is training our leaders to celebrate the dissolving of walls – training leaders to think collaboratively, share power to grow it, and get out into the communities and be part of the revolution.

Roscher Ellie pic2 copyEllie Roscher is the author of How Coffee Saved My Life, and Other Stories of Stumbling to Grace and has appeared multiple times in The Thoughtful Christian, Spirit Magazine, Alive Magazine and DAPS Zine. She also edited Keeping the Faith in Seminary and Keeping the Faith in Education for Avenida Books. Ellie holds a master’s degree in Theology from Luther Seminary and an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Find her writing at ellieroscher.com and  Keeping the Faith Today. Follow her @ellieroscher.  

Image: shutterstock.com/monbibi

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