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October 29, 2014

Shift Three: Preparing All of God’s People for Post-Christian Culture


This fall our Thursday blogs are focused on the five shifts we’ve identified as significant for living out the mission and vision of ECO.

Every third Thursday, Dana Allin writes specifically about one of these shifts, and then the following two Thursdays we hear from people within the ECO community who are living out that particular shift in their local contexts. Read Shift One and Shift Two.

Shift #3 – From “Homogeneous Leadership Prepared For Christendom” to “Preparing All of God’s People For A Post-Christian Culture”

This third shift, relating to leadership development, has two distinct yet interconnected facets. The first has to do with whom it is we are preparing for leadership. The traditional way denominations prepare people for ordained pastoral leadership requires a three year, full-time Master of Divinity degree. The cost and the time commitment alone is enough to discourage or derail those who would make phenomenal pastors but can’t feasibly accomplish this requirement.

The second challenge is to address the environment for which leaders are being prepared. I am going to assume I don’t need to convince anyone reading this blog that culture has changed, and this is having (or needs to have) a huge impact on the way we do ministry in the future. I talk to pastors all the time who recognize the church they were trained for 40, 30, 20, or even, 10 years ago is not the same church culture we see today.

So how do we train and deploy a greater diversity of people for ministry in a different and changing world?

We recognize these particular questions are certainly not unique to ECO—denominations and networks around the country are asking this same question. A recent blog by Ed Stetzer illustrates how widely this conversation is taking place.

What this means for us

When I was a part of the ECO polity team, my particular writing task was chapter two on “Ordained and Commissioned Ministry.” One of the things I loved about working with the group on this particular chapter was the openness and flexibility to allow the training to be tailored to the particular ministry call.

As people are trained for ministry, our goal is to ensure that they have not only the theological competency, but also the spiritual maturity and the skills necessary for the ministry to which they are called. We therefore want to ensure that every pathway to ordination and commission includes significant action reflection with a qualified supervisor, so the fullness of the individual is developed.

Here are some examples of pathways to ordination and commissioning:

  • Some want to become full-time pastors and are looking for a career in ministry. Even though ECO doesn’t require an M.Div, I encourage these candidates to obtain an M.Div. to ensure they aren’t limiting their options. For example, some congregations are looking for senior pastors who have a D.Min or Ph.D. It isn’t a requirement for ordination, but someone can be limited on calls if they don’t have one of those degrees. The same will likely be true in the future. Established congregations will likely look for senior/preaching pastors who have the original language and knowledge. Candidates might limit themselves if they don’t have this knowledge.
  • Perhaps someone is a second or third career and has been very actively involved as a layperson in the church. This person and the church may feeling that he/she should seek ordination and be ordained as an associate pastor for the church. In this situation, perhaps an online Masters of Arts in Theology may be the best route to obtain theological competency, but it will be best for the person’s development to continue in their ministry context so they can apply what they’re learning in a practical environment.
  • We know a woman affiliated with Intervarsity, who is a phenomenal evangelist, especially in a multi-cultural setting. Though she has yet to begin seminary, she may plant a church, become ordained as a deacon in another church, become commissioned for this ministry, and attend Fuller’s church planting certificate program while she is planting. She would be able to use that certificate as a building block for another degree.
  • We know an African American man, in a predominantly white congregation, who wants to start a missional community by reaching out to people who wouldn’t ordinarily be reached by his congregation. In this case, he is being commissioned by the church, as a micro-expression of his congregation, and will obtain coaching from an outside person with a specialty in multi-ethnic missional communities, while at the same time receiving on-going theological instruction from his pastor. This person could go on to seminary later, but wouldn’t need to do so in order to be commissioned for this ministry.
  • We also know a pastor from a non-denominational background, who wants to plant in an inner city. Because this will be a slower start, he’s going to intentionally begin his ministry bi-vocationally. In this case, we can give him permission to begin this process and work towards the qualifications needed for ECO ordination while he is planting in this context.

There are a few things we are developing in ECO to try to facilitate this shift:

  1. A process for congregations to use to train and commission people to celebrate the sacraments within micro-expressions of church according to 2.0502 of our polity. We’re finding that congregations like the concept of deploying people in this way, but are hesitant, or too busy to adequately train people to do so. It won’t be mandatory for congregations to use this process, but it will be available for those who want to do so. Because these individuals won’t be pastoring a church, there are certain skills that they won’t need, compared to a traditional Commissioned Lay Pastor (CLP) who serves as pastor of a church.
  2. A process for CLP according to 2.0503 of our polity. Again, the commissioning and oversight of the CLP is the responsibility of the Presbytery, but having this resource and process will allow people to not have to reinvent the wheel. There are some processes already out there, so we’ll need to evaluate if this can be used in part, or in whole.
  3. We have a group working on creating an environment conducive and supportive of a multi-ethnic culture. We are bringing in several people from outside our tribe who have made these particular shifts in their networks or denominations who can guide us in this process.

This shift will take time. If we are intentionally, individually, and collectively pursuant, we will truly be able to be part of an exciting movement in the United States.

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Dana Allin

Rev. Dr. Dana Allin is the Synod Executive for ECO. He previously served as ECO President before accepting the call to be Synod Executive. Dana's passion to encourage and inspire leaders have led him to develop both the Missional Leader Training program and the Coach Certification Process.

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Dana Allin

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