The Journey Must Be…Communal, Holistic, and Formational

April 17, 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


Six weeks ago, we started a conversation about what it means to be a Spirit-led community devoted to theological education. Along the way, we have noticed how radical the implications of this are, and thus why and how Kairos is so intentionally different as a result. We began this conversation by noting that this is a matter of acting differently, not just thinking of new ideas. The “how” requires letting go of control of both process and product in order to become an organization in motion. As a result, Kairos is now an organic community of communities that we described in our last two posts as distributed, empowered, connected, and incarnated (Part 1, Part 2).

The members of this community describe ourselves in a lot of different ways. When we’re together, we call ourselves students, professors, mentors, staff, board members, therapists, and so on. In the world, we serve as doctors, lawyers, bankers, pastors, church planters, missionaries, entrepreneurs, farmers, firefighters, chaplains, counselors, and so on. In our homes, we are spouses, moms, dads, sons, daughters, grandparents, grandkids, and so on. But what is most core to our identity, in any context, is that we are people who call Jesus Lord.

And so, we aim to be his faithful disciples. Spirit-led theological education is thus, first and last, a journey of discipleship. This is a provocative statement. Formal degree-seeking, accredited higher education learning has rarely been understood like this. But what has drawn us together in Kairos is a commitment to something more than the mere acquisition of credits and degrees, grades and diplomas, or even paychecks and praise. We are here for Jesus! We are Spirit-led, yes, and it is his Spirit that leads us. We are called to his way, his truth, and his life. We are joined with him in his death and… hallelujah!… also in his resurrection. We are his.

What, then, does Jesus-journey look like? Let’s distill it down to three adjectives that are critical for how we disciple and are discipled in Kairos: it is communal, holistic, and formational.

Discipleship is not something we can do alone. As New Testament scholar Doug Campbell writes, “People are their relationships.” So, as relational beings, we are accompanied on this journey by the divine community of love that is the Trinity and the human community of love that is the Church. And let us not assume that only those we call students are being discipled! In Kairos, we are all disciples. We are all disciplers too, if we dare accept that invitation of Christ.

If we dare even a bit further—if we take seriously the characteristics of the community we described earlier—each of us will sooner or later be invited into intentional relationship with someone different from us, someone from whom we can learn to see differently, someone to teach us new possibilities. And this is a good thing, a biblical thing. The Jerusalem church needed to wrestle through the fact that Gentiles were included in the Body of Christ. Philemon, the slave-owning recipient of a Pauline epistle had to do a hard reckoning with the fact that his slave, Onesimus, was also his brother. It is through these stretching interactions that we begin to develop deeper understandings of who we are and what God is doing in our world.

Discipleship is also a holistic journey toward holiness. It’s loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. In theological education, it’s often been easy to over-emphasize the mind. But we cannot merely think our way to following Jesus. Nor can we work our way there or even feel our way. None of these is sufficient in itself, lest we end up with a slanted faith. Instead, the Spirit invites our entire being into an intimate, loving relationship with God and others.

In Kairos, this means that while we can utilize digital technologies to connect at times, discipleship remains embodied. We need the physical presence of others if we are to become mature disciples. Sometimes those others are classmates, faculty, and staff, or perhaps family, friends, and co-workers, and certainly brothers and sisters in a local community of faith. But may we also gather with people with whom we greatly disagree, as the reconciling Spirit leads us.

Finally, discipleship is a process of being re-formed into the image of him who made us in his own likeness. As the Apostle Paul states in Romans 12, we are transformed by metanoia—by our turning from old patterns and perspectives to embrace the (re)newness that God is offering us. Our invitation to a journey of discipleship, therefore, is an invitation to a process of ongoing formation and transformation. We begin to look like Christ.

What does that mean, though? Who gets to define what Christlikeness is for us? Does Kairos define that for everyone who is in the community? Do faculty define it? The board? How do we let go of control but keep a singular destination of the journey? These questions point us back to where we started from and yet also forward to fresh understandings. We suggest that Spirit-led theological education practiced by a directional set approach to community invites us to approach formation differently than we may have in the past. Let’s do that!

We will begin by talking about doctors. Join us next week as we jump into that conversation!

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