ICETE at Cape Town 2010

Every Paul Needs an Apollos:
Theological Education as Mission Beyond Evangelism

from a series of three dialogue presentations on theological education,
given during the Lausanne 2010 Cape Town Congress

2 Missional Theological Education as Viable

David Baer
President and CEO
Overseas Council International (OCI)


Is the theological education of Christian servants beyond evangelism a viable task? 

Not infrequently our thoughts drift to simpler, less institutional ways of shaping the lives of those disciples who will influence the influencers, mentor the mentors, teach the teachers, and disciple the disciplers. After all, Jesus required little infrastructure to mould his twelve disciples into the apostles, a band of brothers that takes its place unapologetically in the biblical witness alongside the prophets. Is this then the proper model with no further need for discussion?

The dynamism of the early church suggests a capacity for discovering or inventing viable ways to train the leaders it required. We might define viability as the combination of effectiveness and sustainability. Mission beyond evangelism required means. The Bible appears not so much to sacralise any particular means but rather to foster creative appropriation and experimentation with them.

It is possible to categorize attempts to provide an ongoing service of shaping Christian leaders into three categories: nonformal training models, formal training models, and non-traditional training models.

Each of the three presents specific opportunities and challenges with regard to that combination of effectiveness and sustainability that I suggest produces viability.


Nonformal training models

Nonformal training models present a high capacity for agility and responsiveness to changing or distressed circumstances. Comparatively modest institutional infrastructure provides them with a relatively high capacity for sustainability. In addition, barriers to entry are low. For these reasons, nonformal training can train large numbers of Christian servant-leaders.

Jesus' own practice of sharing life with his disciples is an obvious example of nonformal training and is therefore sometimes considered to be the icon of proper discipleship training.

I suggest that such a reading of the New Testament record has the beneficial outcome of reminding us that intensive, life-on-life relationship is a key element and normally a sine qua non of effective Christian leadership training. However, a 'primitivistic' reading of the New Testament that assumes the 'canonical' nature of the forms there—or, better, of one of the forms that appear in the record—falls short of producing a useful paradigm for present-day Christian leadership training.


Formal training models

Formal training models bring relatively high capacity for thoughtful, rigorous engagement with

  • the biblical witness and its theological legacy.
  • best ministry practices that may not be prevalent in the learner's locale.
  • the wider conversation in which the gospel is declared.

Formal training models excel at bringing the servant-leader into dialogue with men and women who live

  • in another place than the learner herself.
  • at another time than the learner himself.

Formal training models typically require expensive investment in order to maintain

  • teachers
  • centres
  • learning resources.

A large missional question lies before the diverse practices and institutions that we group together and abbreviate as formal training models: Biblical examples of formal training are infrequent. Does this imply that the Lord and his Church do not endorse them for our day?


Non-traditional training models

Non-traditional training models take advantage of existing, non-confessional opportunities to learn and then combine these with self-directed or complementary study in theology and ministry. In fact, such training models may have deep traditions of their own, but these are not the kind that conventionally undergird seminaries and theological colleges in the traditional mould.

I am thinking here, for example, of the leader who studies philosophy or literature in the local university and absorbs Chris Wright's Old Testament Ethics for the People of God and The Mission of God together with a small group of fellow learners in his local church. This model is highly sustainable and can be effective. One thinks here of Paul's own training outside circles of Christian faith and the formidable influence this had upon his proclamation of the gospel.


Additional thoughts

If theological education is to nourish and serve Jesus' church, it must prove itself to be viable over significant periods of time. It must be effective in producing the kinds of leaders the Church requires. It must be sustainable so that it can produce those leaders consistently and with local direction.

It is doubtful that any single model has validity for all time. Further, the preparation of the quantities and quality of leaders that the Church requires will find advantage in multiple models and on-going adaptation.

It could be argued that viability will always be a moving target. Most models will prove viable under certain conditions and circumstances but not in the context of others. It should not be hastily concluded that a given model has outlived its viability. At the same time, each must bear critical scrutiny in the course of its institutional life span.

The goal of Christians committed to theological education is at its most fundamental level neither the preservation of institutions nor the facile dismissal of their value. Rather our common task is discipling those who with biblically and theologically shaped discernment will lead the Church in the faithful execution of its God-given mission.