THE WHY: Vision
Imagine if house-church pastors could get Gospel-centric theological education while still loving and providing for their family.
Imagine a place where people who are passionate about ministry leadership can stay in their context and still receive practical ministry training.
Imagine if lay church elders had a space to grow in heart character formation and still have time to reach their neighbors.
Our vision is to create a praxis-based, movement approach to forming an entire person (head, heart, hands) around the Gospel to lead in their spheres of influence. We want to see the sparks of a disciple-making movement starting from the ground up in our neighborhoods and cities with godly, equipped men and women.
This vision is what birthed Seminary Without Walls.
For hundreds of years, the answer to the leadership question was simple: go to a seminary. Education for pastors and leaders happened in the context of higher educational institutions, where dedicated men and women would quit their jobs, possibly relocate, and invest thousands of dollars and multiple years into a full-time seminary degree. This degree would be earned in the classroom, isolated from practical ministry implications and an immediate missional context, yet presumably produced qualifications towards ministry leadership that would be unable to be attained in a local church context. Most often the degrees earned have minimal translation to the secular workforce or cross-denominationally.
But now we live in a new cultural landscape. The world around us is changing, growing increasingly secular and more intellectually honest about secularism in a Post-Christian culture. And this isn't a bad thing.
Bivocational ministry, house-church pastors, and an increasing need for lay leaders are becoming the norm, and people are rising up to take the leadership reins in this new era. Leaving a professional vocation and devoting years of time and money towards a degree isn't feasible for most leaders who are passionate for ministry and mission in their local context.
This is why we are breaking the walls surrounding Gospel theology, practical ministry skills, and formed heart character and bringing the training to the people of God, on the front lines of ministry and mission.
This is seminary...without walls.
THE HOW: Philosophy of Training
We believe that learning happens on the mission fields of the every day. Every follower of Jesus is a missionary, and every environment they walk in is a mission field. In order for whole-life Gospel training to happen, we want to equip leaders who are staying in their local context and already leading in their spheres of influence.
We train through an intentional pedagogy and a philosophy formed around what works best for a normal person with a full-time job, a family, and an already established ministry. We have rhythms and practices to help us modify to meet these unique needs:
The Introduction Session
Every three months we offer an Intro Session, which helps us develop a shared language around key elements such as: Biblical authority, the Gospel, Jesus' work on the cross, what is truth, the redemptive historical narrative, etc. It is required to receive this foundational orientation prior to participating in the theological sessions.
We recognize it is hard to schedule around the many things completing with our time, so our face-to-face training schedule only requires one four-hour meeting, once a month, for three months. We then take a break, and on these off months we teach the Intro Session again for incoming participants. We try to schedule breaks during key months (like December). Seminary Without Walls can be completed in one calendar year.
As part of the training process, we assign prep work prior to each session. Participants are expected to read, watch videos, and exegete Scripture related to the topic prior to coming to the group session meeting. This gives us a shared context for greater dialog and discussion during the meeting, rather than being 'talked at' for four years. Each session has a time of teaching, space to ask questions, encouraged dialog, and break-outs for on-the-spot group interaction with content together. The prep work has been carefully vetted to ensure that only essential, Gospel-centric information is consumed prior to the meetings.
Adaptation for Multi-Sensory Learning Styles
The prep work is intentionally multi-sensory. Almost every session has things to read, but also things to watch and worksheets to complete. We provide options for those who are not used to reading extensively, so most of the readings are from short, <10 page articles and have a listening option. The prep work is designed to require a 2-3 hour commitment weekly.
Jesus taught and discipled in community, and we believe we should to. Most sessions include participants from other churches and ministries, and we build in times for connection, dialog, and community within each session.
THE WHAT: The Content of the Training
We teach around on three things: Gospel theology, practical ministry skills, and Formed Character. This is what we mean by each of these:
Gospel Centered Theology
We train on 28 core theological doctrines over 10 sessions. Participants read theological works, exegete Scripture, outline key NT books, engage in a learning cohort, and demonstrate sound theological coherence with Gospel-centricity. The goal is to equip leaders with a coherent and Scripture-driven theological framework in which to practice ministry.
Practical Ministry Skills
We facilitate environments to learn teaching skills, specifically focusing on translating the Gospel into practical, real-life scenarios. Participants learn how to make disciples, lead a Gospel community, how to grace-based recruit, and much more. The goal is to equip leaders with reproducible tools to do the everyday work of ministry with excellence and simplicity.
We assess areas of heart character growth and provide practical resources including a personal development plan. Throughout the cohort, mentoring relationships are facilitated and the required assignments test faithfulness, integrity, and accountability. The goal is to equip leaders to continue forming their heart character to become more like Jesus in the everyday of life