Is it possible for seminaries to change from train-and-deploy to the deploy-and-debrief approach that Reggie McNeal calls for in Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church? Here’s McNeal’s thinking:
Reggie McNeal calls seminaries to a deploy-and-debrief approach
The typical practice for preparing church leaders for their ministry roles proves woefully inadequate for developing kingdom movement leaders. Standard approaches to leadership training for clergy not only ignore biblical patterns but also violate even the most basic understanding of how people (and leaders) develop. The current preparation methodology follows a classroom and pretested certification model. How absurd! There is no correlation between earning high marks on academic tests and being able to lead people. Again, don’t hear what I’m not saying. I have studied some myself and think we need more, not less, theological emphasis. But it’s all a matter of how and when it’s delivered. And to whom. Of course, some seminary grads turn out to be leaders. But by and large, they were leaders when they entered. Seminary training enhanced their skills but didn’t provide them. We can no longer rely on the low percentage of leaders who make it through and the pathetic results we are reaping. We must abandon the train-and-deploy method.
How did Jesus train leaders for the movement? He used the deploy-and-debrief method. This approach allowed him to take some pretty unpromising and in some cases mercurial candidates and turn them into movement leaders. He invited them to observe what he did, promising them on occasion that they would and could do what they saw him doing. After long hours of ministry, he routinely debriefed the day’s events and teachings. He sent his disciples out on assignments before they were ready, knowing they would make mistakes. He would then debrief their experiences to help them learn from those experiences. …
Questions created teaching moments. Occasionally, he pulled his leaders aside for more extensive briefing. “Come away with me” was not an invitation to a deeper devotional life but a leadership summons to discuss the successes and failures of an early mission trip.
Movement leaders can and must still be prepared this way. Let’s start with the seminary clergy-training level. Eventually, the strangulating hold of accreditation will further relax to allow training regimens to be offered alongside deployment, employing deliver systems that permit people to stay put in their communities of relationship and leadership influence. Those wanting theological education to prepare for church leadership roles will no longer have to disrupt their families, move and live as transients for three to five years to secure their academic prize, and then have to try to reestablish life and relationships in some new place. Online technology is already creating nonresidential alternatives to the typical approach of residential studies. Seminaries will still offer a residential track for those who prefer it, but the main delivery will shift to nonresidential students who access online teaching at their own pace while integrating what they learn into their everyday life and ministry. This will greatly increase the scope of theological education. … Credentialing will certify a proven leader, not just a wannabe.
Is it possible for seminaries to change to a deploy-and-debrief approach? Yes, I believe it is! How to make this change was one of the major design questions that had to be answered when planning the launch of the 100% online Rockbridge Seminary in 2003. Here are 5 design features we incorporated to move us closer to the deploy-and-debrief approach championed by Reggie McNeal:
- Asking applicants to confirm they have a ministry role and church leaders to affirm their support for the applicant, both a requirement for admission
- Designing learning exercises that utilize and build on a student’s sphere of ministry influence
- Offering frequent, interactive forums that build a learning community of peers globally, wrestling with difficult ministry issues
- Involving local ministry coaches who debrief and support students
- Requiring students to build a ministry portfolio that demonstrates competency development
Is Rockbridge Seminary there yet? No. We are a work in progress.
Re-engineering seminary education is a journey that will need to be traveled over a generation.