April 3, 2023
by Greg Henson, CEO, Kairos University; President, Sioux Falls Seminary and Anthony Blair, President of Evangelical Seminary and Professor of Leadership and Historical Studies
Most communities give at least some lip service to the concept of diversity; in Kairos, however, we experience it to an almost unprecedented degree. We are diverse in nearly every way we could be: theologically, geographically, generationally, racially, ethnically, politically, and culturally. How, then, can we possibly do community together? How can anything be held “in common” by a “commun-ity” that is so varied it’s difficult to even describe?
It can. But to do so means breaking free from our old ways of seeing and thinking about organizations, especially educational institutions. In the old paradigm, when one spoke of a community of “learning” or “formation” they would envision it rooted in a specific place. They assumed that the institution and its offices, or the campus and its classrooms, comprised the home base of the organization and everything was centered on and controlled from there. That’s the way most educational institutions have worked, for literally hundreds of years.
Kairos, however, is built upon a different paradigm. We are actually a community of communities, quite like the throng gathered in worship before the throne of God in the book of Revelation. We are intentionally moving forward in the direction the Spirit is leading our communities, but we do not assume that those at the center are in charge, that they decide everything. We said in recent posts that following the Spirit in theological education begins by letting go of our desire for control and embracing our identity as an organization in motion. This means, in practical terms, that the board, faculty, and staff of Kairos are not the sole arbiters of truth nor the only discerners of the Spirit in our community.
Instead, our focus is on developing innovative processes and technologies that empower these communities, so that they get to sing melody to our harmony, instead of just mimicking our tune. Our priority is to encourage and enable each one to be responsive to what the Spirit is inviting in their own context. To foster this extraordinary model of organizational life, we suggest that a Spirit-led community of theological education needs to be distributed, empowered, connected, and incarnated. Let’s explore the first two of those this week.
It’s no surprise that a highly diverse “community of communities” would be distributed – geographically, theologically, missionally, and otherwise. And it is not merely a byproduct of the organization we have become; it is a necessity for the organization we choose to be. Being distributed is prescriptive, not merely descriptive. Why? Because the Body of Christ is! Were we to settle for anything less, we would become a mere echo chamber, agreeing with our own agreements about what we find agreeable!
Scripture teaches us otherwise. For instance, the apostle Paul’s letters to the diverse New Testament churches address not only concerns within the local community of faith to which each was written but also to the larger mission and calling of the wider community that the Spirit was creating on the earth. In other words, each church was a community within a community! To be distributed, then, is to recognize and invite the inherent diversity of the kingdom of God and to therefore be attentive to the multitude of ways in which the Spirit is speaking and working, both within and outside of each community that hearkens to the Spirit’s voice.
Distribution is of little value if one community holds power over the others. To release power to others is a rare, but wonderful and necessary thing. But this level of empowerment can be difficult to imagine in the context in which Kairos works; that is, higher education. There are communities of accreditors, regulators, and others to whom we are also responsible. How do we reconcile our desire to empower the learning communities among us with the reality of the strictures placed upon us by our other commitments?
By becoming a platform, not just a provider. Our chief role going forward is not merely to educate; it is to provide mechanisms for local communities of faith to develop, deploy, and improve their own contextualized ways of learning. We don’t tell them how to do it; we give them a common platform on which they can do it well, in their own way. In doing so, we are actually creating a movement, a collective of communities that is moving in the same direction. And yet each local community is empowered to be responsive to the various ways the Spirit is inviting them to work in their own context.
And what do these contexts look like in this kind of community of communities? They need to be both connected and incarnated. Let’s take up those two characteristics next week!