A Church for the Mission: Department of Theology Offers New Missional Leadership Class

By Becky St. Clair on July 25, 2018

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Like every department on campus, Pacific Union College's department of theology is always seeking ways to improve and increase what it offers for students. As demographics, society, and culture shifts, education must adjust to ensure the most current and relevant training for today's young leaders and tomorrow's experienced ones. Ministry is no exception.

"Our world is rapidly changing," says Jim Wibberding, associate professor of applied theology and biblical studies, "more rapidly than our church does in its approach to mission. We want to train leaders to interact with that reality productively and think from theory to practice and learn in the field, organic to the mission."

The department has recently been given the green light by academic administration to offer a new course, starting Fall 2018: Missional Leadership. While "missions" and "missional" are trendy buzzwords in many circles today, Wibberding says the idea behind this 400-level course is to help students understand the idea that instead of the church having a mission, the mission might happen to have a church.

"Really, it's an attempt to go back to the apostles' experience in Acts," he says. "Jesus gave them a shockingly short to-do list. He gave them no strategy, no church organization explanation, but rather the church organized around the mission."

Wibberding points out this concept is especially important here on the west coast, as we train students with the expectation of them serving in the Pacific Union. The west coast is changing at a higher rate than any other part of the country right now, and Wibberding emphasizes he and his fellow faculty want to keep pastors on the edge of that, aware of what's changing and how to change with it.

"Pastors should be able to translate faith into the field they're trying to reach," he says, "to keep the content the same but speak in terms that make sense in that time and place. We want our students to learn the skill of reading the culture they're in and adapting to it, while still maintaining the goal of spiritual leadership."

Wibberding completed his doctorate of ministry degree in leadership at Andrews University, and his specialty is in applied theology, so he has a personal passion to impart that skill and passion to tomorrow's church leaders. He quotes John Maxwell: "Everything rises and falls on leadership."

"We teach our students how to study the Bible well, and we teach them how to do the administrative tasks of church life," he points out. "But if we don't teach them how to lead, nothing will ever change. There will be no growth, and the mission will grow stale."

Again using the apostles' work as inspiration, Wibberding points out that they served in a multicultural setting, and that he wants students to appreciate diversity and work well in a cross-cultural environment. He mentions the biblical Pentecost, which crossed language and culture boundaries and drew people together in Christ.

"We want our young pastors to learn to embrace diversity as a gift to the mission," he says; "a way to understand God more fully."

One of the requirements of the missional leadership class is to visit various cultural contexts. Drawing from his experience in his Doctor of Ministry program at Andrews University, Wibberding will create cross-cultural experiences and opportunities for the students, in addition to what they come up with on their own. They will then choose a ministry context and analyze it to determine a missional approach that will most likely succeed in said context.

Though this course is open only to junior and senior theology majors, the Theology Department also offers an intro to ministry course for freshmen, designed to help them understand the landscape of pastoral ministry and identify where they fit into that landscape.

"We all need to find our calling," Wibberding says. "It starts with the organic—the convergence of a person's abilities and passions with opportunities to minister with those abilities and passions. I want to help them reshape the church with an entrepreneurial spirit, so they can translate the message to take hold in the culture in which they are leading. This is the only way mission moves."

For more information about the department of theology and the programs available, visit puc.edu/admissions or call (800) 862-7080, option 2 to talk with an enrollment counselor.