Pastoral Training in the 21st Century

Today, I have four tasty morsels (with a little commentary) for you…

Alex McManus Founder, M Futures Network
Alex McManus
Founder, M Futures Network

(1) What were we saying about 21st century ministry and mission in the late 80s and early 90s?

(2) What are “Ten Areas Where Pastors Need to be Trained for the 21st Century”?

(3) What was I teaching about mission to western culture 5 years ago?

(4) Where can faith leaders learn to think about the future and about engaging culture today?


As I was organizing my files, I stumbled upon a workshop I led in the early 90’s called, The Church in the 21st Century. It was interesting to revisit what I was thinking about 21st century mission and ministry more than 20 years ago. Here’s the “listening sheet”.

click to enlarge

The Church in the 21st Century circa 1992Click to enlarge

Honestly, even when I presented this in the early 90s I thought it was more about the (then) present than the future. But I think I could have written this list today and it would still sound future-oriented to many.


Because I regularly scan for items with “future” or “21st century” in the text, I caught a recent post by Thom Rainer, the current CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources, called “Ten Areas Where Pastors Need to be Trained for the 21st Century“.

Rainer’s first point that 21st century Pastors need to learn the language of social media is spot on. (I will post an article on “Thinking In Story” and on “Thinking Social” later this month.) What’s most interesting is that this list of “ten things” could have been presented 20 years ago. (With the exception of the first point about social media).

What does this tell us about pastoral training? Perhaps it tells us that Pastoral training is going to be more or less the same throughout the ages. Or, perhaps it tells us that our pastoral training systems still lag behind.

Either way, I think it’s important to help bring pastoral training into the 21st century and I think this article points in the same direction. Personally, I am a lover of history. I also affirm that context and tradition are important for understanding how the ancient Christ-following faith evolved into our modern 21st century expressions. Still, we need to see more of these kinds of articles that require us to think about the future.


Four years ago I taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Bethel Seminary titled, Footnotes for the Human Journey: Mission in the post-Christian and trans-human Century.  To Bethel’s credit, while many others were still offering courses on “mission in a postmodern context” or on “mission and the emerging church”, Bethel was an environment that allowed taking things further. Even though this course is fairly recent (five years ago), I have updated many, many things about it today.

Here’s the course description and objectives as it was then (2010)…

Course Description
This course is designed to help you explore the new wild, wild west of western culture. In a similar way that the terms “postmodern” and “postchristian” became code words for the cutting edge of mission in the 1990s, “post human” and “trans-human” will become the
code words for forward thinking mission in the second decade of the 21st century.

It’s time to move beyond “mere Christianity” –what does it mean to be a Christian?– and spark a discussion about “mere humanity” — what does it mean to be human?

This is a course designed to stretch your imagination, orient you towards the future, and increase your sense of wonder and humor.

Course Objectives
The participant in this course will be able to…
1. Discuss the meaning of the gospel to an increasingly “post-Christian” and “post-human” culture
2. Assert the gospel confidently in a pluralistic context
3. Discuss the future meaningfully
4. Explain the “GPS” and trajectories of the Christ following movement
5. Construct a personal definition and theology of what a more human future looks like
6. Help others reconnect to God through their own humanity

(4) The International Mentoring Network

I hope that seeing these three perspectives on “pastoral training” in the 21st century has your brain spinning and your imagination going about “what’s next?”.

And, because there are so few places and opportunities for faith leaders to think about the future (in ways that don’t include “Left Behind” kinds of faith fictions), I’ll take this opportunity to make a shameless plug for the M Futures network (aka, the International Mentoring Network). The M network is a community of futurists, creatives, and entrepreneurs. We offer unique experiences to help faith leaders think about the future. To get a feel for the culture of M, check out the main site.

Welcome to the future. You belong here.

Will Zoos Disappear?

S for Society
Topic: Costa Rica Closes Zoos

TESA: Technology/Entrepreneurship/Society/Arts

Finding: Costa Rica plans to close its two zoos and end the caging of animals by May of 2014

Implications: Is this a “weak signal” foreshadowing the disappearance of zoos world wide? The costa rican feeling about this is that they want a new way of interacting with nature. Are we entering a new era in which returning the whole of the world to as pristine a state as possible becomes a value and a goal? It may be that returning animals to the wild may be a reflection of the human desire to return to a more natural, holistic way of being connected to the natural world.


Did you want to share this find? Click Here to Tweet. Thanks!

What do you think?
What possible implications do you see or connections do you make?

An ocelot at Zoo Ave in Costa Rica. (CC/Hans Hillewaert)


What is Church Planting? (part 2)

As I’ve written before, I call church planters entrepreneurs of the spirit. In the first installment of, What is Church Planting?, I suggested that church planting is a disciple-making process. Today I want to touch on another aspect.

Church planting is a strategy to create the future.

“Create the future!” I’ve been hearing some form of this idea since the 80’s. “The best way to predict the future,” it is said, “is to create it.”

I’ve been thinking about the future since I was 5 when my grandfather told me he would live to see the year 2000.

“Why will you live until the year 2000?” I asked him.

“Because there will be dancing in the streets,” he said.

That positive and hopeful image changed me. Years later, when I heard and believed the gospel, it reinforced the words my grandfather spoke. When I think about the future through the lens of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I see dancing.

Much of my life-long reading has been about the future. So, I’m not sure when I first heard the phrase about the best way of “predicting the future is to create it,” but whatever the case, I have seen the paradigm of “creating the future” type thinking move from the background to the forefront among Christ following people.

In general, the church around the world as an institution is dedicated to preserving the past. Every Sunday we rehearse the things God did…in Israel, in the early church, in Jesus…in the past.

In church, we remember.

The book the church reads is an ancient one. True, many churches seek to apply ancient wisdom to the present moment, but the emphasis is always on bringing forward the past.

Because the Christ following faith is based on it’s history, we would never want to lose this emphasis on our ancient stories. We must remember.

And, because the Christ following faith announces a risen Christ who is with us on the great adventure to disciple the nations, we also want to keep the emphasis on our present experience of being with Christ. We must experience the reality of the Kingdom now.

But what of the future?

One place where the church actually faces outward and forward is through the disciple-making process we call church planting. (Part 1 of these thoughts on “What is Church Planting?” touches on church planting as a disciple-making process ) Church planting is disciple-making process that anticipates and creates new communities of faith. In other words, church planters work to create future communities of faith with future new disciples of Jesus.

Because the audience for a new church is that population of people who do not yet follow Christ, we have the incredible opportunity to create future communities of faith that reflect God’s vision of the future. Too often our churches are more expressions of our immediate past than of His future.

To launch a new community of faith means that we can take what we’ve learned from the past and unlearn the bad stuff. We can create future communities of faith that more clearly reflect the world-changing stories we rehearse. Because old churches become rigid as they rehearse the old in their particular way, it is often far more difficult for them to enter into the future. Too often they are concerned with saving the past. But with new churches, this is not a concern. With new churches, we can create the future.

But according to what standard do we form our ideas of the future? There are trajectories for the human story embedded in scripture (see, Makers of Fire) but that goes beyond the scope of this short post. Primarily, our standard, our narrative, is the story of Christ. He serves as the future image towards which we shape the human story.

Jesus is from the future. He is what and where the human story is going. He leads us from the future and towards God’s future.

So, they say that the best way to predict the future is to create it. The best way to create a human future is to care about the things Jesus cared about, to love the ways he loved, to lead the way he led.

Remember the ancient stories.
Experience the reality of the spirit now.
Create the future.

What do you think?

IMN Resources
Makers of Fire: The Spirituality of Leading from the Future

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