Localized Global Engagement

May 31, 2021

By: Greg Henson, President, Sioux Falls Seminary

In a recent article published by In Trust, Karen Stiller wrote that Kairos, “Has touched down on six continents, lives out in four languages, and educates nearly 1,000 students through an outcome-based, highly individualized educational experience that is deeply and personally contextual for each Kairos student.” She went on to write that the Kairos network is “larger than 90 percent of the accredited seminaries in ATS, with students drawn from over 70 different denominations …shepherded by more than 1,000 mentors.”

To put it plainly, we are a global community. However, the entire educational process is rooted in the fact that standards of excellence are contextually defined. In practice, this means we embrace and foster a global understanding of the Body of Christ while allowing local communities to play the lead role. We call that “localized global engagement.”

But what does that practice look like on a day-to-day basis?

As we have been on this journey for the better part of a decade, it seems that localized global engagement requires a few intentional acts: 1) developing a movement-oriented network, 2) reading local contexts, and 3) learning from others. Let’s touch on each of these briefly.

Developing a Movement-Oriented Network

Last week, I mentioned that Kairos is a movement, not an institution. As it turns out, institutions tend to struggle with localized global engagement because in their efforts to sustain themselves they tend toward local communities or global endeavors. A movement-oriented network may have institutions within it who have a global focus or a local emphasis, but the movement itself has both. The added benefit of a network enables the local expressions of the movement to interact with and be leavened by the movement as a whole. In practice, this means we listen to discern what God is doing in our local communities while being attentive to the fact that God may be doing something else in another community that is part of Kairos – which brings us to the next aspect of this practice.

Reading Local Contexts

With its focus on contextually defined standards of excellence and a commitment to helping participants engage in and be shaped by local communities of faith (as opposed to trying to replace their community with that of the institution), Kairos creates space for students, mentors, faculty, and members of the network to learn, develop, and practice the skill of reading local contexts. If we are honest with ourselves as North American seminaries, we have not done a great job when it comes to helping people read local contexts. Yes, we have had great courses in contextual theology, cultural exegesis, and much more. Those courses, however, have often been rooted in a western understanding and practice. For example, in a recent conversation I had with several faculty who teach at a seminary located in a country where the culture is more collective than individual, the faculty said that even though their culture is very different from that of the United States, the educational assumptions within the seminary tend to be very similar – that is western. When talking with Kairos students, mentors, and partners around the world, this seems to be a common refrain. Many of the western ideals and assumptions about education have shaped and formed the educational practices within theological education around the globe. As a result, our methods for reading local contexts often stem from a Western perspective on reading a local context. In the practice of localized global engagement, the invitation is to create space for reading local contexts by first not imposing a definition for what that means. It means we must listen more than we teach.

Learning from Others

Listening more than we teach is hard – especially when we have been trained to teach or when we imagine that the primary role of a university is to teach. Yes, teaching is important and it is part of what we do as a school. It cannot, however, be the most important thing we do. We must first listen – to students, to mentors, to voices from around the world, to the leading of the spirit, to each other. It is by listening that we can learn from others. As the final aspect of localized global engagement, the act of learning from others is an invitation to refrain from being myopic or self-centered or even arrogant. Yes, Kairos creates space to develop hyper-contextualized journeys of discipleship and customized definitions of proficiency. However, if we pursue those ends without intentionally learning from others within the movement who do not look like us, think like us, or live by us, we run the risk of creating a journey of discipleship that excludes “the gentiles” or requires “circumcision.” In practice, this means we lean in to conversations with others through things like case studies, Kairos gatherings, creative learning experiences, educational opportunities from around the world, etc.

With a commitment to being a movement-oriented network that creates space for reading local contexts and invites participants to seek opportunities to learn from others, Kairos engages in the practice of localized global engagement. This practice invites us to leverage the unique learning that can happen when we pay attention to what God is doing in our local communities while drawing on the wisdom of the Body of Christ located around the world. Next week, we will look at how a local and global community brings new opportunities for thinking about diversity.

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