Educating the 21st-Century PastorAuthor: Jonathan G. Smith
What does theological education look like in the 21st century?
Perhaps you haven’t thought about that question before, but many people in the field of theological education are beginning to take this question very seriously.
My entrance into theological education came from my time spent in the corporate world. As a corporate trainer, I was tasked to deliver training to employees located in different geographical areas. Through the latest in media technology, I was very often able to simultaneously train people scattered hundreds of miles apart from one another. The result was an increase in efficiency and education of our employees. The obvious question for me then, is why couldn’t we do the same thing in the church?
After years in corporate training, I sensed God’s direction to obtain theological education. I embarked on a journey of what would end up being time spent in three separate seminaries and receiving two master’s degrees in theology. As a student in seminary I was troubled by the inefficiency of the system. The seminary culture seemed so far behind in the delivery of proper training. If the goal was to train ministers for the gospel, then it seemed that the model needed to be overhauled in order to meet the demands of the modern-day seminary student.
How do we train people who can’t relocate to a traditional seminary yet desire theological education? Only a few years ago, arriving at an answer would have been costly and difficult. Now, because of advances in digital media, web-based communication technology enables people to be virtually connected from all over the world. Theological education is no longer geographically restricted.
What does this mean for the church? In short, it means that we can now train people where they live (truly a return to the first century model) rather than having them leave the context God has placed them in to go to seminary for five or six years. We call this “contextualized training.” Men and women who sense the calling of God on their lives can now have Knox as an educational partner to receive the very best in theological training right where they live, in their context. This means that potential Knox students can start to make a difference in their local communities.
If really you stop and think about it, this has been the model of the church since its inception. The Great Commission included two important actions, baptism and discipleship. The command was to go and make disciples. For generations, seminaries have operated in an inverted system, “come and we will disciple you.” Now we can fulfill this commandment on a grander scale far beyond our wildest dreams. Through the Knox Virtual classroom, students can log into the website, participate in class forums, interact with the professor, participate in video-based lectures, and even take their exams. And the best part about it all, they never have to leave their ministry context. As a result, the student can become salt and light right where God has called them.
by Jonathan G. Smith Dean of Distance Education at Knox Theological Seminary