April 20, 2015
At Sioux Falls Seminary, we join our students on a journey of discipleship. As we continue our discussion on participation in God’s mission, we reflect on why it is so important to help students grow where God has planted them.
According to people like Hardaway, Marler, and Olson, less than 20% of the population of the United States darkens the door of a church on Sunday. A recent study from Pew Research revealed that the fastest growing religious affiliation is “none.” That’s correct, nearly 1 in 5 people in the United States say they have no religious affiliation. It is nearly 1 in 3 people under the age of 30. Finally, Barna reports that over 40% of the United States population is what they call “unchurched.”
Debates rage over statistics such as these. Some believe the numbers are too high while others believe the numbers are too low. Regardless of the debates, most agree that it seems accurate to say that the perceived status of “church” in the United States is declining. One way to say this might be to say that 50 or 60 years ago the church stood at the middle of society and the majority of people knew the story of the Gospel. Today, it seems that may not be the case; and I have had personal experience with this.
Each year, I have conversations with an increasing number of people who live in North America that have never heard the Gospel or been to a church. I would like to say this is happening because I am seeking out such people, but this is happening through normal interaction with everyday people.
Today, possibly more than ever in the life of the church in North America, we need to understand that the church is a missionary community. Embracing this reality impacts everything, from the way we relate to those around us to the way we gather as a community of believers and to the way we develop disciples.
For us, at Sioux Falls Seminary, it starts with the question, “What might it mean for theological education to reflect the missional nature of God, not only in its content, but also in its very design and delivery?” In essence, do our programs and services, models of education, and perspectives reflect the fact that God sends each of us, as missionaries, to follow Christ into mission. Theological education must be rooted in the fact that God is a missionary God.
So what does that mean for a seminary? Well, I could spend days writing answers to that question. Instead, let me simply say that in light of the mission of God and the missionary nature of God’s disciples, at its core theological education should allow students to grow where God has planted them. As we develop servants to participate in the Gospel, we need to find ways for them to remain actively engaged in the ministry contexts in which God has already placed them. This could be a church, a school, a nonprofit organization, a law firm, an operating room, or any other space where someone might serve.
The key is that we need to walk alongside students to help them discern where God is working, discover ways in which they can participate, and develop the knowledge, character, and competency to serve well. This cannot be done apart from active engagement in God’s mission.