Principles of CBTE: Contextualized Discipleship

January 25, 2021

by Greg Henson, President

Today, we continue our deeper dive into the six principles of CBTE by looking at contextualized discipleship. Feel free to review the previous posts about collaborative mission and mentored teamwork. As foundational principles within Kairos, collaborative mission and mentored teamwork are invitations for the institution to give away power, to humbly submit to God and to each other, and to walk with one another as we discover what it means to flourish in one’s vocation for the sake of the world.

As we look at contextualized discipleship, our topic for today, we must continue to think of ourselves as stewards who are invited to explore and discover how God is inviting us to participate in the Great Commission!

Contextualized Discipleship
If we are about the work of the Great Commission, which is a mission that invites us to do things like Jesus rather than for Jesus, then we need to remember that Jesus revealed the importance of community. Likewise, in an educational paradigm that begins with a commitment to collaborative mission, no one should progress through such a process alone. Each participant should be part of a community that is shaping, evaluating, and co-learning along the way. Indeed, discipleship happens in community. The question we need to ask is “Which community?”

As schools, we have tended to define community as something created around a classroom or particular institutional experiences (e.g. chapel, community meals, classroom sessions, etc.). While each of these are wonderful experiences and do help to build community, they also run the risk of creating an alternate reality for those who participate in them. Yes, we must enrich the journey of discipleship for each participant but must do so without creating a community that is disconnected from their day-to-day lives or vocational contexts.

Over the years, I have talked with a wide range of people who have engaged in some sort of theological education process with a seminary – students, professors, pastors, business leaders, administrators, denominational officials, and more. One of the recurring themes I hear is that student-to-faculty and student-to-student interaction is extremely valuable. People will talk about how they so appreciated the opportunity to study and interact with others on the same journey. Another, less inspiring, theme I hear is how students, in particular, have struggled to find community and interaction once they are finished with their programs. Many have talked about how while in school they felt wrapped in a community and then after graduation it felt like they were dropped off in the middle of nowhere – suddenly, their community was gone and the community in which they found themselves was foreign. In Kairos, the principle of contextualized discipleship is meant to integrate the best of the first theme while mitigating the worst of the second.

We strive to steward followers of Jesus by creating opportunities to be in community with others on the same journey. At the same time, however, we build on the fact that the participant’s primary community is their life context. The answer to “Which community?” needs to be “The one that extends beyond the walls of a school and the timeline of a degree program.” In some cases, it could be the local church or business that student is leading. In other cases, it could be one’s family, friends, or colleagues. The key is to remember that contextualized discipleship is a call to keep the participant’s context front and center. The mentor team, Kairos gatherings, classroom experiences, etc. are designed to help participants develop, reinforce, and steward community in their life context.

Some might read this and think, “Yes, but what if a participant is in a toxic context?” (I know I have often thought that!) Others may think, “Yes, participants need to develop community in their context, but they first need to experience real, authentic community in the context of the school in order to replicate it or to bring that experience back into their context.” I am sure others may raise additional valid and important concerns.

It is right to help participants see and experience Christ-centered community, especially if that has been elusive for particular people. However, if the only place a participant is prepared to witness or experience Christian community is within the “walls” of a school or program, schools are not adequately contextualizing discipleship.

We must resist creating an alternate reality disconnected and foreign to their life and vocational contexts. In many cases, schools are setting that person up for failure when they are finished with their program by unintentionally giving them an expectation of community that cannot be sustained outside of the academy. By not helping the participant develop, reinforce, and steward community in their context, schools create a situation of dependency wherein in one’s understanding of “real” community is mediated through a reality that can only be produced in the artificial confines of traditional, formal theological education.

In Kairos, we invite all participants to think about what it means for their context to be their classroom and for the Kairos community to be a support for rather than replacement of their local community. In doing so, participants may learn how to find a new context rather than suffering through toxic relationships. They may also learn how community and discipleship in their context is quite different than community and discipleship in another context. By investing in contextualized discipleship, Kairos is helping students gain a deep appreciation for the Body of Christ around the world while also learning how to follow Jesus with others in their own community.

This is a difficult task, no doubt, but it is worthy of our time, commitment, and energy. By contextualizing the journey of discipleship, we are stewarding the opportunity for people to grow where God has planted them. In Kairos, we are committed to helping participants see and experience the broad and beautiful Body of Christ, to engage in rich community with others on the same journey, and more importantly to help all participants learn and grow in the crucible of real, daily living. In doing so, participants are daily walking with their local community of faith as fellow participants in the Great Commission.

Join us next week as we look at customized proficiency. You will find that the question of “which community” will be of importance there, as well.

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