I love Pittsburgh, and not just because the Steelers won the Super Bowl again this year. I love Pittsburgh because it’s a place where the Holy Spirit is stirring up all kinds of new, creative ministries. Of these, I’m especially excited about the World Christian Discipleship Program which my good friend BJ Woodworth and my professor Scott Sunquist have put together. This is brilliant: The one-year program is open to a broad spectrum of people, including those who don’t necessarily see themselves as called to pastoral ministry. It practices bi-vocational ministry, instilling a missionary identity in the participants. It’s affordable. My favorite part is the fact that it’s designed to be a holistic time of formation, unlike the purely academic seminary experience that most pastors have had. The goal here seems to be as much to cultivate spiritually mature disciples with a heart for mission - something which an M. Div. degree cannot always deliver.
The curriculum has seven distinctive requirements: “(1) working in a local business, (2) volunteering in a local ministry, (3) working in a local church, (4) receiving spiritual direction in an urban Christian community, (5) a 2-4 week cross-cultural mission immersion, (6) reading the Scriptures, ancient spiritual theology, and missional literature, and (7) following a religious rule.”
It also has seven core values (again copied here from their website):
Biblical: to know the Bible deeply and broadly, and obey it.
Missional: to live and proclaim the mission of God in every area of life and culture.
Communal: to share, confess, learn, and worship together as a community of faith.
Religious rule: to submit our lives to Jesus Christ under the guidance of common rhythms and practices.
Embedded: to live, work, worship, and play in our local neighborhood.
Multi-cultural: to embrace all peoples as created in the image of God.
Global: to learn from Christians in the non-western world.
Historical: to learn from the ancient Church.
Poverty: to live among, love, serve, and learn from the poor.
Christian unity: to express in unity the one faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Stewardship: to care for the resources we have received from God.
It’s like a monastic training-ground for the missional church! In The Shaping of Things to Come, Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch question whether the traditional academic model of seminary is effective for training leaders in a post-Christendom world. They ask:
“Is it time to rethink and reimagine what leadership and theological formation would be like in a new paradigm? It’s worth asking about the ways Jesus developed disciples during his ministry and then considering to what degree the theological academy has mirrored this. Has the traditional model been effective? In other words, is the medium of the ‘academy’ the right medium for the message of disciple making and mission?” (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson 2003 p. 154).
I think that the World Christian Discipleship Program is living into these questions by providing an alternative model, one that instills a sense of missional engagement with the world and teaches as much through practice as through traditional education. Yes, traditional seminary will still be right for many people. But for those willing to think and work outside the box, this is a great opportunity to get their hands dirty following Jesus. The Kingdom of God needs more disciples like the ones this program will shape.