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”.

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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.

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