Archives For seminary

In the Fall of 2004, I finished undergrad and enrolled in a nearby seminary. I had my sights set on the granddaddy of ministry degrees: the Masters of Divinity. My goals for were to learn:

  1. How to be a leader
  2. How to reach the people I knew who were far from Christ
  3. How to help churches engage in the Mission of God.

Unfortunately, I quickly learned that this was not always the purpose of the traditional seminary, nor of the M.Div. 

My passion is to see the church incarnated within the secular urban population of the U.S.  I was looking for the training I would need to reach these people. This seminary was embedded in denominational politics and the lifestyle of the rural Bible belt. The M.Div. is focused on teaching exegesis, languages, and how to manage traditional church structures. These are important tasks, but they weren’t what I was looking for.

Hungry for hands-on ministry experience, I moved to Austin and transferred to my second graduate school. My hope was to serve in a young church, work a secular job, and occasionally drive to class a few hours away. This never really worked out the way I planned, and it soon became clear that I would have to move on campus if I wanted to complete my degree.

It looked like I was going to have to choose between the M.Div. and my desire for hands-on missional experience, until I encountered Fuller Seminary’s Master’s of Arts in Global Leadership.

The MAGL “comes alongside in-service Christian leaders from around the globe with transformational graduate level education.”  In other words, it’s an opportunity to learn, not just from books and teachers, but from leaders and missionaries scattered across the world, without leaving my context.

The core curriculum took place over two years, in on-line courses and two on campus intensives. Courses covered topics like spiritual leadership, missional theology, organizational dynamics and adult learning. Simply put, it is an opportunity to study how to help people and organizations change.

Seminaries and specifically the M.Div. serve an important responsibility in forming leaders capable of taking the helm of established Christian institutions. But the world is changing. Reality is slowly sinking in: the West is becoming mission field.

To be honest, I’m jealous of how much my M.Div. friends know about languages and philosophy.  But I don’t know how it would help me with the task ahead.

The church’s leaders of the future will need the ability to navigate culture, and build new forms of church that present the gospel to their context. What better way to learn this than while embedded in a missionary context and reflecting with other leaders?

Using adult learning models and on-line tools is one way to accomplish this, as we did in the MAGL.  Becoming a missional movement, one capable of embodying the gospel in new and changing forms, will require this and other experimental forms of training.  I am excited to see what will develop.

How would you like to see leadership training change in the church?  What should a 21st century seminary look like?


Update 3.26

I got some good pushback on this from my friend Bryan on Facebook.  The said “I don’t think there is a sharp line though between MDIV = institutional, traditional & MAGL (or similar programs) = missional. We need people with solid language and philosophy training through an MDIV in the missional stream…” Here’s my response:

Hey Bryan, you are totally right (and I hope that my original post wasn’t offensive to those who have taken the other route). It’s simply a record of my own personal journey of trying to get the hands on experience as well as the education that seemed important. To me, context is the biggest part. A lot of schools can become so insular that the students leave not knowing how to communicate with the outside world.

I believe that in our increasingly post-Christendom context, we need theologically educated people who also know how to live with, work with and be friends with those outside the church. The real challenge in the years to come will be to create leadership systems that produce well-rounded, culturally-savvy, scholar-practitioners, no matter what letters you put after their name.



Here’s a video put together by my friends over at 3DM.  I’ve been a non-traditional seminary student for 7 years, with at least another year to go.  What do you think of their argument?


Re-Imagining Theological Education | 3DM from 3DM on Vimeo.

7 Things I’m Thankful For: MAGL

Chris —  November 23, 2011

As I approached the end of my undergraduate experience, I was faced with two realities: my degree hadn’t set me up for a job, and my heart was really in “ministry.”  So I moved to my school’s seminary, where I was promptly miserable.  I learned a lot from my year with that school (primarily, a music degree does not prepare you to write academic papers), however I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being prepared to lead churches that only existed in the Bible Belt of the 1950s.

Then I had the opportunity to take an internship with a church in Atlanta, Georgia, and continue to take classes by making occassional pilgrimages to campus.  This allowed me to do two things that I could not in when you live and breath academia: being deeply involved in the life of a local church, and deeply committed to relationships with non-Christians. Now this is sad, because I love the classroom, it’s a place where I come alive.  But I couldn’t shake the feeling that none of what I was learning had any meaning if I left it relegated to an ivory tower.

So I’ve tried to integrate the seminary into my life.  This has been difficult.  It’s taken me years to get to the point I am at, and I am a ways from finishing.  It’s also been a lonely task.  That’s why I’m grateful I found the MAGL.

Fuller Seminary’s Master’s of Arts of Global Leadership has provided a practical way to continue my education in the manner that I feel is best.  The program is based on doing everything in a cohort, made up of like minded practioners from around the world.  Our course work covers issues like Adult Education, Globalism, Missiology and Self Understanding.  All of these are viewed through the lense of helping us develop as leaders, and apply them to our local churches.

The cohort program also offers something that I was unable to find in my previous experiences, a sense of academic and missional cameraderie that my other experiences had lacked.  Through the MAGL, I have been reunited with a childhood friend, met a local youth pastor, made friends with missionaries to China, heard first hand accounts of the civil unrest in Liberia and stories of life in undeveloped corners Senegal.  As diverse as are cohort is, we find things to laugh and pray about everyday.

But most important, the MAGL has forced us to rethink what God’s really up to in this world.  Knowing people scattered across the globe, and wrestling together with them through these issues has a way of making God bigger, and my struggles and pet issues much, much smaller.

That is very difficult.  But I’m thankful for it.