April 2, 2018
When I think about theological education, I like to think of it as a system of interdependent and interconnected parts. A system that includes schools, churches, faith-based nonprofits, accrediting bodies, and more. Often, people picture this as a group of puzzle pieces that come together to make a unified whole. While that may be helpful, I think it lessens the importance of collaboration. You see, a puzzle without a piece is still a puzzle. It may look different and may not be complete, but it is still a puzzle.
I prefer to think about the system of theological education as a molecule. In a molecule, the various components are not only connected but also interdependent. Removing any one atom from the molecule completely changes the function and properties of the molecular system. Think about it, hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is very different from water (H2O), yet the only “real” difference is that one oxygen atom has been removed. Simply removing that one atom turned something that can be toxic into something that sustains life.
When we apply that thinking to the system of theological education, I believe the value of collaboration should be front and center. We must work together with others within the system in order for the system to work as it could and should. When collaboration, not competition, is our focus, the system of theological education is at its finest. With that mindset, we are able to learn from each other, support each other, and, most importantly, be about the work of the Kingdom instead of getting sidetracked by building our own little kingdoms.
At Sioux Falls Seminary, we take collaboration very seriously. Several of our academic programs are built on partnerships with other schools and ministries. Other partnerships touch every aspect of the institution. Our collaboration with Taylor Seminary, for example, is changing the way we do almost everything. It has changed how we do student registration, how we invite students into the Kairos Project, what learning opportunities are available to students, how we think about staffing, and more. Our partnership with Northwest Baptist Seminary in Vancouver, BC, is changing how we think about the software that supports our educational model and how we create opportunities to help other schools think about competency-based theological education.
I believe it is important to think deeply about how we work closely with others in order to advance the work of theological education. At its core, theological education is a journey of discipleship. One that invites followers of Christ into a process through which they can experience the present and transforming reality of the Kingdom of God. If that is the foundation, then we must work with others because, “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other” (Romans 12:4-5 NLT).