Is theological education merely an attempt to develop a series of “new tricks” or is it more about changing our attitude to foster change in the church? Getting to that answer from the standpoint of faith, work, and economics became the task of Reverend Kevin Mannoia, who served as keynote speaker this evening for the Oikonomia Network retreat.
Bishop Mannoia (in the Free Methodist Church) serves as university chaplain and professor of ministry at Asuza-Pacific University. Founder and chair of the Wesleyan Holiness Consortium, and past president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Kevin has also served as faculty at multiple schools and Dean at APU. His presence at the Oikonomia Network retreat signaled an invitation for participants to explore theological education as changing the disposition of the mind, inspiring the attitude of the heart, and engaging the walk of seminarians & pastors as they shape the church.
Mannoia alerted this group of scholars and educators, many tasked with thinking creatively of engaging the role of work and economics in theological education, that his primary hope entailed their capturing an “image” from his presentation to help them in their risk-taking work work together. Mannoia seemed particularly concerned that the church in the United States was facing a deep cultural challenge yet seemed ill prepared, much less interested, in making the necessary adaptations to engage this new culture.
Mannoia noted that the culture seemed to represent a number of key “shifts” among younger participants:
- From “a-priori” propositional thinking to narrative meaning-making
- From prescriptive warrants to more image-based (loosely descriptive) dispositions
- From institutional affiliation to relational affinity networks
In addition Mannoia noted three other images to imaginatively capture the shifts within church culture, including how Christians relate to each other:
- From “tribes” (focused on self-preservation and boundaries) to “streams” with a more porous, dynamic, change as tributaries to a larger “flow” reminiscent of Ezekiel 47 imagery of the river of God.
- From “dams” (that seek to protect/preserve water via institutional barriers) to “channels” that direct the flow of water without impeding its dynamic quality
- From “block walls” that protect yet obscure Christians to “picket fences” that still provide some sense of boundary (such as values, narratives, and traditions that family place in a “homestead”) yet allow for expression across the fence and also humility to acknowledge the same common earth on both sides of the fence
Mannoia seemed to be pushing us to re-conceptualize culture both outside and within congregations, at least congregations that included Christians shaped by the current shifts in culture. Kevin asked participants: “how do we form effective pastors who will connect with this changing context?” Mannoia proceeded to offer three suggestions:
First, Bishop Mannoia argued we needed to be more centered than bounded in our approach. Kevin was drawing up the notion of centered sets and bounded sets, where the focus shifts to margins (who is in and who is out) to the depth of the center. Mannoia argued Christians need to be so centered in Jesus, in the centrality of the gospel, that they possess a deep level of this relationship from which to engage the world in creative passion.
Second, Mannoia drew from his personal interest in automobiles to create a novel metaphor that theological education needs to embrace a “clutch” rather than hard drive shaft. For those of us automotively challenged, Mannoia elaborated that seminaries often serve as the “engine” training leaders to “run well” (clean and smooth) in providing passion and “drive.” Yet the congregation often reflects the wheels of the auto, particularly as it connects the church to the community traversing the “terrain” of ministry. With a drive shaft the engine has only one “gear” that often tears the vehicle apart. However, leaders (and churches) with a clutch allow “slippage” so that congregations (and leaders) can “shift” alongside the contours of the community. This approach allows for flexibility and creativity, particular in an entrepreneurial engagement that allows for adaptation by the congregation.
Finally Mannoia offered that ministry should reflect partnerships more than contracts. For Kevin, contracts represent a mindset where we “hire” people’s services to fulfill our goals. Instead Partnerships often invite people into relationships based on mutuality. Mannoia admitted that partnerships require greater vulnerability and humility, particularly to saw we need help since we are more faithful working together.
As noted, Mannoia sought to provide a number of images. He invited participants, as we begin this retreat, to allow the Holy Spirit to rekindle the passion of our hearts. While the Oikonomia focuses on issues of work and economics, the presentations this first evening (both by Forster and later by Mannoia) reminded participants that the goal remains to better prepare ministers so that congregations, all Christians, can be shaped by love of God and neighbor. Thinking carefully how we educate, form, guide seminarians in our changing culture, reminds us all of the challenges, and opportunities, this project represents.