Missio Dei and Development of Students

September 1, 2014

As the 157th academic year at Sioux Falls Seminary begins, we reflect on Ephesians 4:1:   “…walk in a manner worthy of the calling that you have been called…”  This verse speaks of what seminaries are really all about, or should be about.  One of the primary purposes of a seminary, I believe, is to help develop students to better “walk in a manner worthy of their callings” in whatever ministry situation to which they have been called.  But just how can seminaries develop people?  What are the important elements that make up a seminary’s task?

The primary element in relationship to a seminary’s task relates to what a seminary actually teaches.  When we who are the professors of a seminary help develop students for their unique callings we do so not just from our expertise in a particular subject matter.  Rather, we do so from a deeper foundation, one that far predates our own individual disciplines.  For me, that foundation is the missio Dei, the Mission of God.

There are many definitions and understandings of this phrase, missio Dei.  My understanding, following the South African missiologist David Bosch, views the missio Dei in a Trinitarian sense in relationship to the church:  “The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit sending the church into the world.”  I couple Bosch’s understanding of the missio Dei with an understanding of the Kingdom of God here on earth.  The Trinity is sending the church into the world to help further that now-but-not-yet Kingdom of God, that Kingdom to be ultimately established one day in its fullness in a new heaven and a new earth.

It is in Jesus where we best see the missio Dei and Kingdom of God come together.  In his life, the Son carries out the work of Father, and it is fulfilled—the Kingdom of God is at hand.  Jesus actively carries out God’s mission in both word and deed.  Jesus gives two great commands to his followers: first, to love God and love neighbor and, second, to make disciples of all the ethne of the world.

So how does this background of my understanding of the missio Dei relate to seminary education, especially seminary education done at Sioux Falls Seminary?  I contend that as we develop our students for their unique callings we do so in light of our individual disciplines rooted in the overall deeper, foundational level of the missio Dei.  For me, therefore, the heart of seminary education is the developing of our students to better love God, better love neighbors, and better make disciples; in a nutshell, better at helping carry out the missio Dei to their family, friends, neighbors, communities, and peoples of this world.

And how do we do this?  Here, I believe that all of the various disciplines of a seminary must submit unequivocally to the missio Dei.  So every Greek or Hebrew verb that is parsed must be done in relationship to the missio Dei.  Likewise, every theological concept studied, every church history event or creed that is examined, every counseling technique that is learned—all must resonate around this core idea: How will knowing this help further the missio Dei?  In other words, how will knowing this help develop our students to be fully encouraged to love God, fully ready to better love neighbors, and fully prepared to better make disciples?  If this direct linkage to the missio Dei is not happening, perhaps we as professors are not doing our full duty.

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