The R&D (research-and-development) department is the incubator for innovation for any profitable corporation. Whence cometh innovations for the church?
Simple answer: the Doctor of Ministry programs in our seminaries. So say two biased professors. I share their bias.
Jeff Japinga of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago and Virstan Choy of San Francisco Theological Seminary presented a Theology and Worship workshop at the August Big Tent gathering that invited participants to re-conceptualize D.Min. programs as more than mere skills enrichment for pastors, but as ground-breaking R&D labs for the church.
Choy said that D.Min. programs are doing that already. He tells his students “to come, not just for yourself, but for the wider church and for colleagues in ministry.” He asks the students to identify persons or groups who can gain from their learnings and to keep them in mind throughout their studies.
D.Min. students are already engaged practitioners in ministry, driven back to the classroom by both the unanswered questions and rising visions emerging from their ministries. Put them together in the diverse ecumenical, multi-racial, cross-cultural and inter-generational learning environment of these programs, and the collaborative interactions of these practitioners generate new learning.
Choy and Japinga listed some topics covered in recent D.Min. projects in their two seminaries:
For congregational ministry:
» an approach to multi-cultural evangelism
» leadership development and training for ruling elders of struggling churches
For pastoral care ministry:
» attending to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder
» pastoral care for Latina women suffering sudden pregnancy loss
In spiritual disciplines and practices:
» feminist liturgies for life journeys
» means of hospitality in the Korean church
In community ministry:
» models for restorative justice and peacemaking
» strategies for urban congregations as communities of resilience
In interfaith relations:
» Scriptural resources for encouraging and enabling evangelical Christian-Muslim dialogue
» co-creating rituals for multi-faith gatherings
In the preaching event:
» preaching specifically to teens; to the hip-hop generation; to increase a congregation’s global awareness; in intentionally multi-cultural settings; in the aftermath of clergy betrayal
The workshop was sponsored by the Theological Education Fund’s Seminary Support Network and grew out of a D.Min. directors’ of PC(USA) seminaries collaboration organized by the Committee on Theological Education. Each speaker offered his email address to anyone interested in topics covered at their schools — or to suggest ones for the future: [email protected] and [email protected].
When pressed for the lessons to be learned for ministry, Choy said that students often report that they cannot find already researched material or already developed approaches to a particular problem. “That’s when we suggest that they will be the ones to do that research,” said Choy. “They will be the ones to do that development.”
Rather than settling for someone else’s “Best Practices” list, D.Min. students are encouraged to go beyond the “one size fits all” assumption which such lists may imply. Instead, they engage in both academic study and “action research” which lead to resources for ministry that are contextually-attentive and culturally-appropriate.
An incubator for innovation indeed.