By Dr. Jeffery L. Tribble, Sr., Associate Professor of Ministry
The mission of Columbia Theological Seminary is educating and nurturing faithful, imaginative, and effective leaders for the sake of the Church and the world. As a part of this mission, members of our faculty are engaged in the extraordinary challenge of helping to inculcate knowledge, habits, practices, and disciplines for persons who discern a call to plant churches. We envision those who are effective at this as “spiritual pioneers who can plant new faith communities with entrepreneurial skill.” The holy work of new church development, which requires human agents partnering with the Holy Spirit, is complex, exciting, and challenging. In our feeble efforts to describe this mysterious work, we have selected a constellation of complementary images and metaphors: pioneers, planters, and entrepreneurs. Each of these images is rich and meaningful; but, the most compelling of these for me is that of the “spiritual pioneer.” A pioneer is “a person that goes before, preparing the way for others, as an early settler or scientist doing exploratory work.”
One of my favorite Scripture passages is the text which I selected for my initial sermon. In Hebrews 12:1-3, Jesus Christ is identified as the “pioneer,” who goes before and points out the way to followers who must be perfected, or brought to maturity, through preparation, concentration, and determination. A host of ancestors and fellow saints are named who provide inspiration for those who “grow weary or fainthearted.” A living “cloud of witnesses” is needed to provide inspiration, guidance, and support for the spiritual pioneer to persevere. These may be a church planting team, a mother congregation, a sending denomination or a church planting agency. Though there has been successful church planting done by persons without theological education, we believe that seminary professors who mentor students and provide them with sources of theological wisdom—biblical, historical/doctrinal, and practical theology—may also be among the “cloud of witnesses” which help to educate and form spiritual pioneers for church planting.
Columbia Seminary is developing its capacities to help equip spiritual pioneers to plant new churches. Bryan Stone highlights seven leadership traits of new church planters:
This blend of spiritual formation, theological grounding, and skill development cannot be located in one class or in one area of the curriculum. However, as we live into our new curriculum, new advising responsibilities, and engage fully the range of courses taught by our faculty in degree programs in our classrooms and in a variety of contexts that we are connected with, it will be possible for our students to cultivate each of these seven areas of leadership development.
In the new Master of Divinity curriculum just approved by the faculty, students must take a limited number of required courses which may contribute to educating and nurturing emerging “spiritual pioneers.” These required courses are in the categories of
In addition, they must take at least one course in Christian Vocation in the following areas: Christian ethics, Christian Leadership, Preaching, Worship, Pastoral Care, Christian Education, and Advanced Supervised Ministry.
Professor Ralph B. Watkins and I teach the majority of courses designated in the category of “Christian Leadership.” Spiritual pioneers need courses in leadership that help them to engage God’s changing world and develop missional churches. On the CTS website, you will find a rich offering of “P” courses that we teach such as Introduction to Christian Leadership, Theology of Evangelism, Urban Evangelism, Exploring the Missional Church, Evangelism via Storytelling and Multimedia Approaches, Theological Grounding and Development of the Virtual Church, Church Administration, and Reaching Young Adults in the Media/Digital Age.
Seminary education is a “seedbed” out of which persons can over time and with practice grow in imagination, resilience, and skill for ministry. It is one moment in the lifelong learning of Christian discipleship. Through our degree programs and lifelong learning, Columbia Seminary is developing its capacities to educate emerging spiritual pioneers who are able to plant new churches with entrepreneurial skill.
This article originally appeared in the spring 2014 Vantage magazine. Click here to read other articles from Vantage.