Theological Education as Discipleship, Part Three

In the midst of a recent planning meeting the conversation shifted to ways we tend to think about changes within organizations. Very often when we are confronted with change we assume that in order for something to be different we will have to remove and replace what was previously done (think about this as “substitutional change”). For example, if the idea of theological education as discipleship is different from your current way of thinking and approaching either theological education or discipleship it is likely that you are pondering what you will have to remove in order to replace it with what I’ve been proposing throughout this series.

However, there is a different and more constructive way to think about changes in the life of an organization. In this alternative option, you can change by enhancing or embracing new ways of being and doing without removing what was previously in place (think about this as “additive change”). When we think about theological education as discipleship, you may find that your context would benefit from considering this as an additive change as opposed to substitutional change.

Due to the restrictions of this past year I’ve not been able to travel as much as I have in the past. Much of this “extra” time has been spent with students teaching in virtual classrooms, so I’ve had some first-hand opportunities to experiment with what it means to approach theological education as discipleship. It’s taken several courses to finally find a rhythm that connects with students and preserves what makes a classroom a classroom. In the spirit of additive change, I am offering two words from the writings of Mike Breen from 3DM that can assist our thinking about theological education as discipleship.

Invitation – At the beginning of each class I ask the students to reflect upon what we discussed the previous week as well as what they worked through on the weekly discussion board.  Specifically, I ask them to consider what they have found as an encouragement in their own spiritual journey. I assume that there are affirmative answers to this question each week.  In fact, I evaluate how well my teaching is committed to discipleship by listening for affirmation. If the students are silent or if nothing comes to mind there is likely a disconnect between my approach to the topic and the commitment to theological education as discipleship. This is not a question of whether they like the course or found my teaching engaging.  It’s a question for personal reflection that invites them to consider their own spiritual growth in terms of what we’re learning.

Challenge – A second question I ask each week is what obstacles they encountered as they worked through the content. Again, this is not a question of whether the material was “hard,” but a challenge for each student to view their cognitive learning as part of their own spiritual development. The summer course is Interpreting God’s Word so common answers are related to how a previously accepted understanding of a biblical passage has been expanded or corrected based upon deeper exegesis and discovery. Another area that students are challenged in is to not rush into applying a text to their own life and context but first asking about what the passage teaches us about God and his Story (thank you, Scot McKnight, for that insight).

Regardless of the specific answers to these questions, I see my role as instructor to create the space for students to learn the content of the course within a framework that privileges their own spiritual development. Starting each class with both invitation and challenge provides a framework for students to connect their educational journey with their spiritual journey.

As I listen to instructors at Winebrenner Seminary as well as at other schools, I hear most of them talking about conversations with students that reflect a commitment to invitation and challenge. However, and this is where “additive change” fits, few pull these conversations out as a separate portion of class and name them as part of the individual student’s discipleship journey. What I’m finding as I dig deeper into this conversation is that many faculty and courses don’t require adding or replacing elements (substitutional change) but simply a reconfiguration so students can see the connection between theological education and discipleship more clearly (additive change).

Our commitment to theological education as discipleship will only increase as we continue to grow in our understanding of what it means to equip leaders for service in God’s kingdom.

– Dr. Brent C. Sleasman, President
– Image by lil_foot_ on Pixabay, accessed via Adobe Spark

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For Further Discussion

If you would like to talk further about any ideas shared through this InDepth blog, please email Winebrenner President, Dr. Brent C. Sleasman at brent.sleasman@winebrenner.edu.