“Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him…” Ephesians 4:15
In my new role at Fuller Seminary, I have been trying to follow the example of our faculty. Academic Dean and Leadership Professor, Scott Cormode teaches his students, “Leadership begins in listening.” And Scott and the faculty, led by Dr. Love Sechrest, walked their talk with an in-depth study of alumni and graduates that led to a complete revision of the curriculum that will be rolled out in the fall of 2014.
So, in the brief time I have been at Fuller, I have been trying to follow suit—but this time with students. For the first three months, I didn’t have an office, so I mostly met at the school coffee shop. My admin assistant was “Siri,” so I just let anyone who wanted to meet with me schedule an appointment on my calendar. And I was only at the school two-days a week, so when on-campus I tried to see as many people as I could. And as soon as the word got out, students began to fill my calendar, eager to talk about “vocation and formation.”
There has been a palpable excitement in the air around campus. President Labberton’s deeply pastoral, prayerful and visionary leadership has brought a fresh wind of excitement. The students LOVE Fuller. But laced in that love has been disappointment and fear that the school they love has not given them what they need for a changing world.
This isn’t unique to Fuller. Frankly, it’s much worse in a number of other places. But when asked what we could change to make seminary education better to form them for their vocations, what we hear is a list that sounds like a troubling report card….
Students told me that more often than not the result of a seminary education is…
- Deconstructed theology
- Disconnected from community
- Discouraged in faith
- Depressingly in debt
Now, these are good students. They quickly added that they understand that all of these are understandable, and the first one, at least, is to some degree a requirement for good academic work. But, if the purpose of a seminary education is to equip students for Christian leadership in every segment of society, than we need to offer students far more than deconstruction and disconnection (let alone discouragement and debt!).
Faith must lead to formation.
To trust in Jesus is to set out on the path to become like Jesus. So, at Fuller, it’s not enough for our students to think clearly and trust deeply, we must become people who are formed entirely. The new vision of vocation and formation is based on countering the four Ds with a commitment to whole life formation.
Personal Formation. Spiritual Formation. Academic Formation. Global Formation.
These four “strands” come right out of Fuller’s “DNA”. They have long been part of our history. We are building on the foundation of strong academic formation that has been the hallmark of Fuller since its inception and weaving together the best work of our three schools to refashion the seminary of a whole cloth.
From the School of Psychology we will incorporate all we know about personal formation, that is, what makes for whole, healthy, thriving, relationally-able human beings who have been made in God’s image.
From the School of Intercultural Studies we will prepare students for an increasingly “glocal” world where global formation is necessary right out our front doors. Every student will be trained to think and act like a “missionary, bringing the wisdom and developing the agility share the love of Christ in a world that is rapidly becoming even more diverse and interconnected.
From the School of Theology, we will continue to explore, deepen and build upon the intersection of spiritual formation and academic formation by insisting that every student who comes to Fuller, regardless of degree program, concentration or school; regardless of whether they are at one or our eight campuses or online will be instructed in the formational foundation of biblical interpretation, history, theology and ministry skills.
Over the next week I’ll write follow up posts that explain this new vision in depth, specifically how we are confronting the Four Ds, with a focus on four Cs:
Calling, Community, Capacity-Building, and Commitment.
Without question the most powerful part of listening to our student was to realize, even amidst their disappointment, how deeply appreciative they are of their seminary experience. One student after another spoke of a beloved, respected professor; a kindly mentor; a fellow student who offered a personal touch, an encouraging word, or a warm invitation into a group of friends that became critical to surviving and thriving. What was needed they said, isn’t so much to add something, as much as to enhance something—to make what is informal intentional.
But, perhaps the most important lesson I learned from listening to our students is “speaking the truth in love”—and listening— is really how both a Christian and—a seminary—is formed.