Originally published in the Midwestern Magazine, Issue 39
We are noticing an ongoing trend in our conversations with pastors and we love it.
In fact, if we didn’t notice, it would only prove we aren’t paying attention. The movement occurring is what we refer to as “church-based theological education.” To summarize, regular church members are seeking out educational opportunities—such as classes typically taken in seminaries—within their own churches.
It seems every other day I’m learning about another church that is interested in starting a training academy for developing their leaders or offering a slate of classes for their members. Many churches, or associations of churches, already have them. But in many instances, we are seeing regular members of churches that are ready to go deeper with their study in the Word. These are often not those who are considering seminary or becoming vocational pastors. We’re talking about “the rest of us,” the main substance of the church body.
So what should a seminary—Midwestern, for instance—think about this? Is this a threat to our existence or our business model? Should we be nervous? Far from it! This is music to our ears. We want to aid this movement in any way we can. For the past year and a half, our team at Midwestern has been listening, thinking, planning, and strategizing to implement a new layer of curriculum for churches to use in helping their regular members grow. As a result, the all-new For The Church Institute will be unveiled this fall in its first iteration as an online portal to be used on-site by local churches.
Would your church benefit from a 10-week New Testament Survey class? How about including video lectures from a world-renowned New Testament scholar like Andreas Köstenberger? We’ve aimed to provide a curriculum consisting of “shell” versions of our core classes that are accessible for anyone, from pre-teens to great-grandmothers. We want to remove the ivory tower image of the seminary in our interactions with churches. Midwestern is, of course, a premier academic institution, but our focus remains the local church.
We want our gifted, pastoral faculty sharing the depth of their research and knowledge not only with seminary students and future pastors, but also with everyone else. Yet we want to do so without taking the teaching function or responsibility away from the local pastor. As part of For The Church Institute classes, world-class professors will lecture by video for a portion of each week’s class with discussion guides being provided. Church pastors will remain in their proper position: teaching their churches from the authority of the Word of God. These video-based lectures are meant to complement and reinforce the teaching of the local pastor.
Beginning this fall, For The Church Institute will offer a set of classes for local churches to use in helping their members grow, including Church History I, Theology I, Survey of the Old Testament, and Survey of the New Testament. Pastors don’t need to devote sermon preparation or ministry time to developing any curriculum. Students won’t be expected to desire or pursue a degree in seminary, but we hope they’ll want to know God more deeply, study their Bibles well, and be more equipped for faithful ministry in their spheres of influence.
A Vision for the Future
It is safe to say that biblical literacy has been a desperate and humbling need within our churches. Many are taunted by the question “Did God actually say…?” because they do not actually know what God has said. An insufficient, small view of God allows for and perpetuates this tragedy within our churches. The message of God’s gospel of Jesus Christ, which fills the pages of the Bible, is lost amidst trifling questions and man-centered cultural doctrines. Social media spats discolor our view of, well, everything. Declared truth has become distasteful to many who have filled the seats of our church buildings. How much of this, we must ask, results from the perception of a disappointingly weak, small-minded god who is not to be trusted?
Thankfully, that god is not the God of the Bible. The story of Scripture is one of fulfilled promises, of a Creator God who has proven time and time again that He is faithful. And He punctuated that for all time at the cross and through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We need a church body filled with 15-year-olds who know that the Old and New Testaments are one story, revealing the Word made flesh. We need our oldest saints equipped and laser-focused for mission, that they might share the great story of Scripture with friends who fear the darkness on the nearing horizon.
We want to put instruments into the hands of pastors to help them shepherd the flock of God with His Word. The For The Church Institute has been created for this purpose. We hear from pastors who want to help church members listen to Sunday’s sermon, then open the Word in personal study, seeing the “God-ness” of God, in His all-sufficiency, His justice, His boundary-breaking love, and His direct assault on sin. We want to see these saints, with eyes trained for eternity, equipped for the work of the ministry—and not leaving all the ministry to those in pastoral ministry.
If the average believing church member is strengthened in his or her knowledge of Scripture and in his or her affection for Christ to any noticeable degree, the church will be stronger, both regionally and nationally. We trust in the power of Christ and the Spirit of God most of all to keep the church, and yet we are to work out our own salvation by cultivating our hearts toward trusting and abiding by His Word.
Our vision for the future is one in which each member of each Christian church is trained with sound doctrine to go and make disciples. The For The Church Institute is not a silver bullet or the ultimate answer to any church’s woes—again, that answer is Jesus Christ. Our mission is to help strengthen churches from the inside out so that each member sees the Bible as a single story about God sending Jesus, the Savior of the world, to reconcile sinners—us—to Him.
Jordan Wilbanks | Director of Church Partnerships; Director of The Timothy Track, Midwestern Seminary
FTC Institute FAQs
Is FTC Institute for me?
If diving deeper into understanding who God is or knowing the story of Scripture more sounds interesting, it’s safe to say you will find FTC Institute helpful. If you’re at the beginning of your faith journey, the Institute can help you make sense of what’s going on in the Bible. If you’re looking to lead in a church, or if you’ve never had any formal theological education for ministry leadership, this is a great place to start! In short, we believe this is a tool that will help everyday Christians be better equipped for ministry, and it will encourage them in their walk with God.
When will FTC Institute be available for my church?
Beginning April 14, 2020, free testing of our first two courses will be available for a limited time. Our public launch of FTC Institute will occur on May 18, 2020. More classes will be available in the fall. Each class is 10 weeks long, so start your planning now.
What classes will FTC Institute offer?
Our first two courses available now are Church History I and Theology I. Over the next year, we will begin to offer classes like Old Testament and New Testament surveys, Interpreting the Bible, Preaching, and many more.
Should I know a lot about theology to benefit from a class?
All you need is an interest! If you are curious at all about the Bible, you can benefit from these classes. Remember, this is in the context of a local church, where a pastor and other friends are there to help you if you need it. None of us have it all perfectly figured out, but we do have good reason to trust that the Bible is true. We can help each other understand what God has said in His Word and what He’s done in Christ for the Church.
It seems a seminary professor is replacing me as the pastor. Is that accurate?
Not at all! For each class session, the video with the professor is only intended to be a portion of your class, leaving time for the pastor to guide the discussion. We want to reinforce and complement the pastor’s teaching in his church under the authority of the Word, not replace it! This also benefits a pastor who doesn’t have the time to create a whole curriculum for classes like these.