A New Kind of Learning: Contextualized Theological Education Models

Resources for the urban pastor and community leader published by Emmanuel Gospel Center, Boston    Emmanuel Research Review reprint Issue No. 59 —  September/October 2010

Resources for the urban pastor and community leader published by Emmanuel Gospel Center, Boston

Emmanuel Research Review reprint
Issue No. 59 —
September/October 2010

Introduced by Brian Corcoran, Managing Editor, Emmanuel Research Review

“There are many challenges facing theological schools in the 21st century and the challenge of dealing well with the different histories, worldviews, languages, dialects, and cultures is the most significant and most overwhelming,” says Dr. Al Padilla, Dean of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Boston campus, the Center for Urban Ministerial Education. Boston is a prime example of the ways the ethnic and cultural composition of North American society continues to become more diverse. Recognizing this cultural shift, Dr. Padilla asks what bearing and challenges does this present to our current understanding and approach to urban theological education systems and models? And what does all this mean for the broader Evangelical Church? Padilla observes that “God is performing a transformation in the Church… reshaping the very core of what the church is,” and says that God is working through “women and men from diverse backgrounds and perspectives teaching us.” This is not a comfortable thought to some. However, guiding all of this is “the clearest theological image of contextualization,” the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ—“pitching his tent with us,” as Dr. Padilla says.

Our lead article, “A New Kind of Learning: Contextualized Theological Education Models,” by Dr. Alvin Padilla, Ph.D., Dean of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Center for Urban Ministerial Education, is based on his plenary presentation at the 2010 Ethnic Ministry Summit in Boston in April this year. You can also download or listen to 32 selected seminars from the Summit at http://reimaginegrace.org/summit-audio.

Also in this issue is a sample list of urban ministry training systems in Metro Boston prepared by EGC.

A New Kind of Learning: Contextualized Theological Education Models

by Alvin Padilla, Ph.D., (former) Dean of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary – Boston, the Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME). [ed. Dr Padilla is at Western Theological Seminary as of 2017.]

It is undeniable that the ethnic/cultural composition of our North American society has changed in the last 50 years and, as a result, the face of American Christianity is rapidly changing as well. All of us here today are aware that the numeral epicenter of Christianity has shifted to the Global South. A century ago, Europe and North America comprised 82% of the world’s Christian population. Today, Europe and North America comprise less than 40% of the world’s Christian population. It is estimated that by 2050, 71% of the world’s Christians will be from Africa, Asia, and South America. Closer to home, it is estimated that by 2050, ethnic minorities will comprise over 50% of the population in the U.S. By 2025, minorities will comprise 50% of all children. Those are staggering statistics and in some way or another they challenge all of us—for diversity seems to be overwhelming us.

Scripture, Cultures, and Unity

Even to the casual reader, there is little doubt that the Christian Bible is a broad collection of documents spanning millennia in composition, multiplicity of literary genres, and diverse in its content. Yet there is, at the same time, little doubt that unifying theological themes can be readily discerned throughout its voluminous pages. For centuries, Christians read and talked about this wondrous collection and discerned that “embedded in all these differences and diversities there was a single voice and that this voice was personal, the voice of God.” (Peterson, Eugene H. Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2006, p. 26.)

Genesis 1:26 is often cited as the cultural mandate wherein humanity is assigned the task of creating human culture.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” —Gen. 1:26

By the time of the prophet Isaiah, humanity has evolved into many cultures resulting, sadly, in a state of enmity among the nations and cultures. The poet-prophet expresses his longing for a day when all the different cultures of the world would gather together on the mountain of the Lord:

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord. —Isaiah 2:2-5

The prophet envisions a time when peace and justice will prevail for the Lord sits enthroned, ruling humanity with equity.

Eight hundred years later we see the fulfillment of this desire on the day of Pentecost—all the nations present in Jerusalem—Mt Zion, the Mountain of the Lord—and they hear the wonderful news of God’s gracious offer of salvation in their own tongue. This fulfillment is only in part for the time being, and we see in 1 Peter 1:1 and 2:11 that those who claim to live on the slopes of Mt Zion must live as aliens in a foreign land—living in the here and now but knowing that we do not belong here; for we know that we have not yet reached the ultimate summit of the mountain. Christians must live as aliens (pilgrims) ascending the path toward the summit of the mountain. In reality, we know that those who rule on earth see us as undocumented aliens who have no right to be here. Finally, we see in Revelation a vision of how it will all turn out; a vision of our arrival at the final summit and the gathering of God’s people from all nations, and cultures, and languages.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands. —Rev. 7:9

Though we “see” the idyllic vision of Revelation 7:9, and “hear” in it the melodious harmony of many languages and cultures weaved together into a intricate symphony of unequal beauty, the reality is that most in our North American society see only disunity and hear cacophony. On the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon those gathered on Mt Zion, it was only those who were from foreign lands who recognized the miracle for what it was—“Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?” (Acts 2:7-8) Those who were “native born,” the dominant culture in Jerusalem, could only mock and say “They are full of wine” (Acts 2:13). They too heard the apostles speaking in their own language (Aramaic most likely), but to them that was no miracle, for that was the dominant language group in the region. Trusting in the familiarity of their own cultural preferences (in this case, language) they were unable to grasp the significance of the miracle happening literally before their very eyes and ears. Their only reaction is mocking—for they do not understand what God is doing. If you would grant me some homiletical license, these persons would be the ones caucusing for an Aramaic-only stature in Palestinian law.

I am afraid that a significant segment of the Evangelical Church in North America finds itself in the same dilemma—the works of God are manifested for all to see—yet we mock them for they appear to be nothing but a rabble of uneducated men and women speaking nonsense. In the Presbyterian circles that are familiar to me, there are many who cannot fathom how God could use the apparent “indecency and disorder” of these churches—particularly those that label themselves Presbyterian.

The Evangelical Church in a Pluralistic World

Early in this 21st century, the Christian Church—the Evangelical Church—finds herself in a challenging position as we confront the multicultural, postmodern and pluralistic world in which we have been called to bear witness to Christ. At best, we are perplexed and bewildered, not knowing what in the world God is doing through us. At worst, some of us claim the death of the Church and even Christianity itself—ignoring the tremendous growth of Christianity in cities like Boston. Still others see the next wave of Christianity emerging over the southern horizon and long for the arrival of its powerful undertow on our very shores, so that it may take hold of the North American Church and sweep it under its power. I do pray that you count yourself among the latter group.

Indeed, the whole world has come to our doorstep. Learning to live well in the diverse culture of North America is no longer an option, but a necessity. The U.S. Census estimates that in 2050 the proportion of whites in the population will be only 53%. Our children will live and serve in a society in which their classmates, neighbors, and fellow disciples of Christ will be equally divided between whites and people of color. As new people move into our cities and local communities, the communities undoubtedly will change. The changes could be haphazard and filled with misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and even violence, or the changes could permit all to reinvent and reinvigorate themselves for the better.

Although the West (North America, Europe) has indeed lost the numerical superiority, it still retains an iron grip on the reins of power in the Church. We in the West assume that we speak ex cathedra for all of Christendom. It is our theology that is normative; our way of being the Church is the standard for all to follow. In the area of theological education, we continue to assume that Western educational methods work best for everyone. We have not dared to envision new ways of learning to serve the increasing ethnic and cultural diversity overwhelming our society. We are unwilling to reinvent ourselves.

It should be noted, for example, that current practices in American seminaries reveal that theological schools remain enamored with pedagogical systems that are dated and increasingly irrelevant to our communities and are disconnected from both global and local realities. They fail to incorporate Hispanics, Blacks, and others in leadership roles at all levels of the school’s structure and neglect paying attention to issues of particular relevance to ethnic Americans, such as immigration reform, healthcare, education, etc. There are many challenges facing theological schools in the 21st century, and the challenge of dealing well with the different histories, worldviews, languages, dialects and cultures is the most significant and most overwhelming.

While Christianity in North America continues its progress toward the creation of a multiethnic Church, seminaries are mired in monoculturalism. Yes there are mission statements indicating the school’s commitment to ethnic diversity and its desire to attract non-White students. However, these statements are rarely accompanied by a significant multi-ethnic presence among the faculty and senior administrators. Recently I spoke with a colleague from another seminary in the midst of searching for its chief executive. A comment he made surprised me. He commented that the majority culture finds it difficult to follow someone who is non-White or has a notable foreign accent. With opinions and comments like that, no wonder seminaries lack ethnics among their senior leadership. What my colleague demonstrated with that comment is the school’s lack of intentionality in its pursuit of ethnic diversity—though its mission statement clearly indicated their welcoming stance of the stranger. Lacking intentionality, schools find reasons to rationalize the continuation of past hiring practices. The challenge to diversify staff and faculty is endemic to Christianity because of our commitment (in principle) to the equality of all—Christian institutions must diversify or risk making a mockery of our belief that all men and women are made in the image of God.

The fact is that as ethnic Christians in North America, we find ourselves confronted with the reality of being marginalized in the context of our own faith tradition. We identify with American evangelicalism on a broad scale; indeed many of us are immersed in evangelicalism. My own personal journey of faith is not uncommon: conversion from Catholic to Pentecostalism, educated at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (GCTS), ordained, serving mainline churches, Bible teacher at an evangelical Christian College and now GCTS. On the surface I am part of the evangelical mainstream. Yet I am oftentimes still seen and treated as an outsider. As my colleague Dr. Soong-Chan Rah has stated, “I grow weary of seeing Western, white expressions of the Christian faith being lifted up while failing to see nonwhite expressions of faith represented in meaningful ways in American evangelicalism.” (Rah, Soong-Chan. The Next Evangelicalism: Releasing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2009, p. 16.)

In the Pain of Transformation

Indeed, God is performing a transformation in the Church, a transformation that is reshaping the very core of what the Church is—how we are structured, when we meet to worship, how we worship, in what language, with what instrumentation, women and men from diverse backgrounds and perspectives teaching us. It is transforming how we envision and deliver theological education. Transformation is a wonderful thing; it is the process of changing from one state to another. However, if you do not like change, transformation can be a very troubling thing. If you do not like uncertainty nor unpredictability, then transformation is indeed a daunting thing. Whatever your take, transformation is a very painful process—but the end results are well worth it.

The Pentecost nature of Christianity enables us to create new paradigms for witness and evangelization. Instead of rejoicing, many find themselves threatened and on the defensive, wondering whether all this heterogeneity is not merely the babblings of a world falling apart, rather than the blessing of a world that God is giving birth. In too many cases, Christian institutions, particularly evangelical theological seminaries, see themselves as the last line of defense in a siege by a pluralistic and skeptical age, maintaining the status quo down to the last member.

Christ’s transforming presence provides us with the willingness and the power to adapt ourselves for missionary ministry in this postmodern world, to contextualize the Gospel message to the culture that surrounds us.

Look at the opportunities some of this ethnic diversity provides for the Church we are called to serve at this time. Let us look, for example, at Hispanics in our communities. By the year 2020, Hispanics will make up nearly one quarter of all U.S. residents. Researchers predict that by the end of this decade, Hispanics will make up more than 50% of all Catholics in the U.S. “Organized nationally and possessing forceful leadership, Hispanics will make a major impact on the future of Catholicism in the U.S. much the same way the Irish did in the 19th century.” And it is not just the Catholic Church that Hispanics are changing. An estimated one out of every seven Hispanic left the Catholic Church for a Protestant church in the last twenty-five years. If this trend continues at the same rate, then half of all Hispanics will belong to Protestant churches by the year 2025. The question we need to answer is: “How many of them will join the church you will be leading?” For theological seminaries, this implies that they must seek ways to make theological education accessible and practical for Hispanic Americans.

Becoming the People of God

If we were to take seriously the vision of Revelation 7:9, then we will understand that becoming a multicultural church or seminary is not a condescension of the white dominant culture to facilitate evangelistic efforts among ethnic minorities around us. Rather, it is the elevation of every one of us, including the white dominant culture, into something far greater, far more marvelous and wonderful—the people of God.

A number of years ago I heard an illustration concerning the post-war life of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The speaker used it to highlight the dignity and humility of a great man who lowered himself so that others might be lifted up:

It’s a warm spring Sunday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond. As the minister is about to present Holy Communion, a tall, well-dressed black man sitting in the section reserved for African Americans unexpectedly advances to the communion rail; unexpectedly because this has never happened here before. The congregation freezes. Those that had been ready to go forward and kneel at the communion rail remain fixed in their pews. The minister stands in his place stunned and motionless. The black man slowly lowers his body, kneeling at the communion rail. After what seems like an interminable amount of time, an older white man rises. His hair snowy white, head up, and eyes proud, he walks quietly up the aisle to the chancel rail. So with silent dignity and self-possession, the white man kneels down to take communion along the same rail with the black man.

Now this illustration was meant to illustrate how Robert E. Lee lowered himself so that this black man could take communion in the church. In my opinion, this application of this story misses the mark altogether. What I see is how this unidentified black man elevated the congregants of St. Paul’s into the very presence of God. He raised their status into the very presence of the divine rather than lower them; it is our arrogance that sees a great white man lowering himself for the sake of the marginalized. In reality, the opposite happens—and it happens on a daily basis for those with eyes to see.

Allow me to return to the idea of cultural norm referred to above. Seeing our cultural perspective as the norm, we view others as divergent and devalue their contribution to our lives, to our churches, and to our educational institutions. We value them as definitely less than we are and we do a great thing to humble ourselves for their sake. It is like that in far too many of our congregations and educational institutions. In dire need of new members and students, they would be welcomed into our hallowed halls and sanctuaries—as long as they conform to our norms, as long as they become just like us in every shape and form.

As we take note of the diversity among us, we marvel at what God is doing, and in the process disclose our ignorance of early Christianity.

Take a quick glance at the original New Testament story of the early Christian movement: how the slaves, the disenfranchised, the low merchants, the widows, the unemployed, the immigrants, and the socially downcast found a new and exciting alternative to social life that that world had not imagined possible. In this new community, everyone was accepted with reverence and respect. For the early Christians understood that the Lord himself had emptied himself of all social status for their sake; then shouldn’t they do the same for each other?

Consider the originality of the Christian movement: everyone had a new family name, Christian, a third race. A new common bloodstream, the blood of Christ! This new reality was created not by transforming the basic nationality of each person, but by transforming the limitations of national identities inherent in each person. The early Christians were considered atheists by others because they refused to recognize the national gods of any particular nation while accepting the One God of all humanity.

Having taken a brief look at this original Christianity, doesn’t it seem strange that we in North America see multiculturalism as something new?

The Qualitative Dimension of Multiculturalism in the Church

Taken as a whole, definitions of multicultural communities provide both quantitative and qualitative dimensions. The quantitative dimensions deal primarily with the numerical makeup of the ethnic groups that meet together. We all agree that there must be sufficient representation of particular ethnic groups in order to claim that a church is multiethnic. One or two families do not a multicultural community make!

The numerical makeup of a multicultural community is a determining factor, but it is only one factor that defines the multicultural community. Multicultural communities also hold significant commitments to the qualitative dimension, which is the aspect of the church that refers to the life and organization of the local ministry. Here the church or educational institution has biblically contextualized its ministry to the multiethnic context in which it finds itself demographically. This includes reforming the structure and administration of the body to represent the church biblically in the same way it did when it was a homogeneous institution.

How are each of the ethnic groups represented and involved in the life of the church (or seminary)? Does the organization/structure of the church involve or allow for the actual membership of the church to lead and to direct the ministry God has given to the congregation? It may be that structural change will have to represent the cultural mix of that congregation, but this cannot be done without a clear understanding that the Bible provides the necessary tension for that formulation.

The qualitative aspect also has to do with matters of reconciliation and justice. It is important that the educational institution understand the goal of the multicultural community. Maintaining ethnic diversity in a local church is part of the multicultural community, but it is not an end in itself. Gaede states in his book, When Tolerance Is No Virtue:

Multiculturalism also carries much baggage that ought to worry Christians. This baggage has less to do with the details of multiculturalism than with its general orientation. And perhaps the best way to get at this is to notice that more and more, those who favor multiculturalism argue not on the basis of a desire for justice, but on the basis of multiculturalism’s practical necessity or its validity as a general worldview. (Gaede, S D. When Tolerance Is No Virtue: Political Correctness, Multiculturalism & the Future of Truth & Justice. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1993, p. 36.)

This is often called, the “pragmatic” approach to building a multicultural community. “The problem with the pragmatic approach to multi ethnic sensitivity,” Gaede continues, “is that it rules out Jesus’ approach. It says that the end is cooperation, good relations, harmony and agreement. And it thereby undermines and displaces the true ends of human existence.” (Gaede, p. 37.) Both quantitative and qualitative dimensions are necessary for a multicultural community to be effective in reaching out to a community that is ethnically diverse and growing in this diversity. Presence of the multiethnic community in the local church is a given if mission is applied, but presence without incorporation limits the process of true biblical discipleship. The qualitative dimension occurs as participants are discipled and become responsible members of the local ministry. It is a state of incompleteness when the church neglects to train and incorporate believers into the fullness of the ministry.

In a true multicultural community, as women and men from other cultures and ethnic groups are incorporated into leadership roles, the structure of the institution, of the community of faith itself, is reshaped (reformed, if you will) in order to allow for a smoother transition, and in response to the inner workings of the Spirit in the community. Conversely, if you do have some participation of ethnic persons in your community of faith, but it has not structurally changed the institution, then what you have is assimilation and not a true multicultural community. Referring to the tragedy of assimilation, Hispanic educator Arturo Madrid states, “Diversity is desirable only in principle, not in practice. Long live diversity—as long as it conforms to my standards, to my mind set, to my view of life, to my sense of order.” Not only is there structural change, there is also change in purpose, in mission and, of course, in the overarching vision of the ministry. As we are transformed into a godly multicultural community, we incorporate the issues and concerns affecting the lives of everyone in the community and we allow the Other to lead us in this transformational journey.

Take a cursory look at Acts 6. The Church continues to grow, and we encounter the first cultural conflict: the Hellenistic Jews (most likely Jews born and raised in the diaspora) complained that their widows were being neglected by the Hebraic Jews (most likely Jews born and raised in Palestine). The solution is to choose seven Hellenists to be part of the leadership of the community. Can you imagine the change in our national history if our founding fathers had asked the men and women who were enslaved if they could give an opinion as to their future?

Qualitatively Multicultural Theological Education

The challenge before us as we seek to become truly multicultural Christian institutions is: how do we become really multicultural without the trappings of a merely quantitative approach—interested only in numbers and balanced budgets? How can we reach a level of interaction and personal engagement wherein everyone feels welcomed and affirmed? Christian ministry (service, really) at its core is interacting with all kinds of people in ways that give them glimpses of Jesus in us. In Christianity, we affirm the value of each person. Indeed we claim that before God we are all the same, we are equal regardless of ethnicity, culture, or language.

In empowering others for Christian service, the problem for educational institutions and the Church is multilayered. How do we prepare our students and would-be disciples to live in a multicultural, multiethnic world that is largely freed from racism? The word “prepare” in the above sentence suggests an educational process. One of the key objectives of educational institutions is the reshaping of life in relation to human purpose. For theological schools, this implies that we must seek to reshape our students to enable them to live well in a multicultural world. The work of the Church is expressed through koinonia (community and communion), diakonia (service and outreach), kerygma (proclaiming the Word of God), and didache (teaching and learning). To foster an environment of multiculturalism within its institutional ethos, theological schools must create a climate that embraces this work of the Church.

How can we foster this process in our educational institutions so laden with traditional structures that resist change to the core in order to enable them to become multicultural communities?

  • The process of developing a curriculum that fosters multiculturalism begins when members of the institution come together to discuss issues relevant to multicultural communities. This is koinonia.

  • The school’s leadership drafts and develops an intentionally anti-racist, pro-multiethnic statement to be adhered to by all. This is kerygma.

  • This intentionality must be accompanied by practices that promote multiculturalism (diakonia).

  • Lastly they discuss strategies, policies, legislation needed to further promote multiculturalism (didache).

Elizabeth Conde-Frazier recommends, among other things, that we follow a trajectory of intentionality, hospitality/friendship, and that we learn to encounter the Other by risking friendship. (See: Conde-Frazier, Elizabeth, S S. Kang, and Gary A. Parrett. A Many Colored Kingdom: Multicultural Dynamics for Spiritual Formation. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004.) When authentic relationships are built that embrace diversity, tremendous growth in Christ likeness can occur. In following intercultural friendships, safety is critical. We must learn to become safe persons. A safe person has:

a. listening ears,
b. limiting loaded words, and
c. loving arms.

In this risk-taking, we learn to tell and listen to stories—stories of the struggles, and particularly for the dominant culture, they must learn to listen attentively and respectfully to the story of invisibility that we as ethnic minorities feel, even in a Christian institution.

Develop Cultural Intelligence, Not Polite Thoughts

Allow me to add another option for us to consider. As Christians in a multicultural world, we need to approach cross-cultural interaction that stems from inward transformation rather than from information or, worse yet, from artificial political correctness.

Our goal should not be that we may learn more about different cultures, nor should our goal be to simply be better able to navigate cultural differences. Our goal should be to develop what David Livermore calls cultural intelligence, CQ. (The term is not original with him.) (See: http://davidlivermore.com/ for Livermore’s information and resources on Cultural Intelligence.)

CQ is a meta model which provides a coherent framework for dealing with the array of issues involved in crossing various cultures at the same time. CQ deals with people and circumstances in unfamiliar contexts on a daily, continuing basis. CQ also measures our ability to move seamlessly in and out of a variety of cultural contexts that we will encounter by merely being present in any North American city.

Basically, as outlined by Livermore, cultural intelligence (CQ) consists of four different factors:

  • “Knowledge CQ” refers to our understanding cross-cultural issues; it measures our ongoing growth in understanding in cross-cultural issues. It refers to our level of understanding about culture and culture’s role in shaping behavior and social interactions.

  • “Interpretive CQ” measures our ability to be mindful and aware as we interact with people from different cultural contexts. It helps us intuitively to understand what occurs in an actual cross-cultural encounter; it is the ability to accurately make meaning from what we observe. Interpretative CQ calls for a reflective, contemplative mindset, which mitigates against the zealous, activist approach permeating much of American evangelicalism, where thinking and reflection are often disparaged at the expense of getting things done.

  • “Perseverance CQ,” or motivational CQ, indicates our level of interest, drive, and motivation to adapt cross culturally; in other words, Perseverance CQ is our intentionality. And finally,

  • “Behavioral CQ” refers to the ability to observe, recognize, regulate, adapt, and act appropriately in intercultural settings; how we behave in such settings.

It might be easier to adapt our message, our curriculum, and our programs, but adapting ourselves is the far greater challenge. CQ provides us with a mechanism by which we gauge our commitment and level of cultural interaction and contextualization. What does it look like to contextualize ourselves to the various cultures where we find ourselves in a given time and place? What do we do when we encounter the Other and how do we react to her or him? That is the challenge we face, the challenge you will face as you venture out to minister in the name of Jesus in the multiethnic, multicultural society he has called you to.

Ministry in Context

At GCTS, CUME has grappled with these realities for decades, determining to provide contextualized theological education in its holistic dimensions—evangelism and social justice, theology and praxis. In doing so, CUME has structured itself to be in the city, of the city, and for the city.

Contextualization may connote different images to many people, but the clearest theological image of contextualization may be found in the Incarnation. In the life of Jesus Christ, coming to dwell on earth in physical, bodily form, we see God dwelling among us—pitching his tent with us. Contextualizing an educational endeavor in the midst of a city means expressing an “urban kenosis”—emptying oneself for the service of others. The theology, curriculum, teaching methods, and academic policies are informed by the context of ministry—by the city and its constituencies.

ALVIN PADILLA, Ph.D. (former) Dean of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Boston campus, the Center for Urban Ministerial Education; Dean of Hispanic Ministries; Associate Professor of New Testament. Dr. Padilla has a B.S. from Villanova University; a Master of Divinity degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; and a Ph.D. from Drew University Graduate School. He came to Gordon-Conwell after five years teaching biblical studies at Nyack College in New York. Prior to that, he founded and taught at the Spanish Eastern School of Theology in Swan Lake, NY, for seven years. He has also served as pastor of the Fort Washington Heights Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in New York City, a Spanish-speaking congregation. In his work as Dean of the Center for Urban Ministerial Education, he oversees the educational programs of CUME, including Masters and Doctor of Ministry degrees. Dr. Padilla is an ordained minister in the PCUSA and holds professional memberships in the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Biblical Literature, and the Asociación para la Educación Teológica Hispana. [ed. Dr. Padilla is at Western Theological Seminary as of 2017.]

Resources and Links

Urban Ministry Training Systems in Metro Boston

The following is a sampling of urban ministry training systems currently operating in Metro Boston [in 2010]. The list is divided into four categories: Lay Training Centers, Pastoral Training Centers, Bible Schools and Christian Colleges, and Accredited Divinity Schools. (Because of its diverse offerings for students at different levels of academic and professional backgrounds, Gordon-Conwell’s CUME program is listed in three of the four sections.)

Lay Training Centers

1. Células, Congregación León De Judá (Cells at Lion of Judah Church), Pastor Gregory Bishop, www.leondejuda.org/es/taxonomy/term/69

Our cells are one of the most exciting ministries of our church. These are small groups of people gathering in homes, universities and work place for worship, Bible study, prayer and ministry to one another as needed, to evangelize and offer mutual support. They offer a great opportunity to introduce nonbelievers to the fundamental principles of the gospel.

2. Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME) Lay Ministry Training and Diploma Programs, Eldin Villafañe, www.gordonconwell.edu/boston/cume_lay_ministry_training_and_diploma_programs

CUME seeks to serve the larger community by offering a variety of non-degree certificate programs. Each certificate spans approximately one academic year with a multiplicity of educational experiences:

  • Urban Christian Streetworkers Certificate Programs: CUME offers a unique program of study for the training and equipping of men and women reaching out to the youth at risk in our cities. The program spans eight workshops/courses over two semesters.

  • Diploma in Foundational Christian Studies: CUME offers a ten-course, modular program of study leading to a Diploma in Christian Studies. The program provides the student with a basic overview of theological education for ministry and consists of nine (9) required courses and one (1) elective. The Diploma in Foundational Christian Studies may be applied toward coursework in one of the M.A. degrees or the M.Div. degree once a student is accepted to one of those degrees. Credit determination will be made by the admissions committee.

  • Diploma in Urban Ministry: CUME offers a ten-course program of study leading to a Diploma in Urban Ministry. The program focuses on the essentials and practical training of benefit to the urban practitioner. This program of study seeks to provide the urban practitioner with theological and biblical reflection on his/her call to ministry and the nature of that ministry. Five (5) courses comprise an urban theological core. Four (4) courses are taken in a particular concentration area with the remaining one (1) course taken as an elective. Particular emphasis is given to the equipping of these men and women for a holistic ministry in the city. The diploma is awarded upon the completion of ten (10) courses.

3. Institute for Christian Leadership, Mario Antonio da Silva, www.leadershiptrainingcenter.org

The certificate program in Lay Pastoral Ministry is designed for Christian men and women interested in evangelism and church development. It is a program for those who want to expand their knowledge, faith, spirituality, and leadership abilities. This program serves as a means of preparation for those seeking to serve as lay ministers according to their churches' affiliations. The LPM Program is a rich learning environment for personal development, spiritual growth and practical training in Christian ministry. It is sponsored by the Presbytery of Boston, PCUSA.

 4. Urban Academy (URBACAD), Paul Bothwell, www.urbacad.org  

URBACAD provides lay people with discipleship and leadership training that is practical, culturally relevant, flexible, accessible, and solid. It emphasizes the vital nature of ministry through the local church by centering its training in and around the local church. Materials are in many languages.

Pastoral Training Centers

1. Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Boston campus, the Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME), Eldin Villafañe, www.gordonconwell.edu/boston_admissions

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Boston campus, also known as the Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME), is particularly focused on equipping urban pastors and church leaders for more effective ministry and outreach in their own communities and throughout the world. CUME also serves in a support capacity by providing resources, ministerial fellowship, and stimulation for cross-denominational endeavors in evangelism and church growth.

The Doctor of Ministry (D. Min.) is the highest professional degree for men and women already successfully engaged in ministry. The M.Div. or its equivalent is a prerequisite degree for entrance into the program. The D. Min. enables leaders in Christian ministry to increase their effectiveness in the church, parachurch organization, or mission in which they minister. The degree is designed to help students improve their skills and understandings in urban ministry to such an extent that they can impact their congregation or community more powerfully for God. Over a three-year period, participants spend two weeks per year in residency on campus. Over the course of the year, they carry out practical, residency-related assignments in their own context and also do the extensive reading required for the next residency. The program concludes over the fourth year with participants designing and implementing a thesis/project which serves to culminate their learning experience.

2. Instituto para la Excelencia Pastoral (Institute for Pastoral Excellence), www.excelenciapastoral.net

Instituto para la Excelencia Pastoral strives to strengthen the Hispanic pastor of New England by providing them with the knowledge, skills and skills demanded by today’s pastoral practice, strengthening the capacity of lay leaders accompanying him on his work and contributing to the integration of the pastoral family.

Bible Schools and Christian Colleges           

1. Boston Baptist College, David Melton, www.boston.edu

At the heart of every academic program at Boston Baptist College is the study of Scripture. While collegiate general education is offered, as is an array of instruction in the practical skills of Christian ministry, all programs require a major in Biblical Studies. Within the Boston Baptist College family there is complete unity in the confession of the Bible as God’s inerrant Word and the challenge to understand truth in all disciplines through the context of the divine revelation.

2. Eastern Nazarene College, Corlis McGee www1.enc.edu/

Located on Boston’s historic south shore, within walking distance of Quincy Bay, Eastern Nazarene College (ENC) recently celebrated its 100th birthday. A fully accredited traditional liberal arts college, ENC has about 1,075 students distributed across a traditional residential undergraduate program, adult studies, and a graduate program. ENC is known for its success in getting students into top graduate and medical schools and has a 100 percent acceptance rate for its students into Law School. While many faculty are active in publishing and research, and some are leaders in their fields, the emphasis is on the teaching and mentoring of students in a nurturing, spiritually informed, and academically supportive environment. Students are encouraged to travel, engage in service learning projects, and participate in praxis experiences as a part of their education. ENC is one of 160 members of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU).

3. Gordon College: Clarendon Scholars, R, Judson Carlberg, www.gordon.edu/newcityscholars

The Gordon College Clarendon Scholars program offers full scholarships to 10 students each year from city settings to attend Gordon, and provides support systems to encourage their success. The Scholars are identified through relationships the College has built with city-based organizations throughout (but not limited to) the East Coast, such as Emmanuel Gospel Center's Boston Education Collaborative in Boston. Through mentoring relationships, training and peer support, the students are helped to make the transition to college and given leadership experience to help ensure their success.

4. Zion Bible College, Charles Crabtree, www.zbc.edu

Zion Bible College in Providence exists to teach and train students for Pentecostal ministry, in fulfillment of the Great Commission.

Accredited Divinity Schools

1. Boston Theological Institute (BTI), Rodney Petersen, www.bostontheological.org.

The Boston Theological Institute (BTI) is an association of nine university divinity schools, schools of theology, and seminaries in the Greater Boston area, including:

  • Andover Newton Theological School

  • Boston College School of Theology and Ministry

  • Boston College Theology Department

  • Boston University School of Theology

  • Episcopal Divinity School

  • Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

  • Harvard Divinity School

  • Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology

  • Saint John’s Seminary

BTI is registered as a tax-exempt 501c3 organization. It is one of the oldest and largest theological consortia in the world. It includes as constitutive members schools representing the full range of Christian churches and confessions. Additionally, persons representing other religious traditions are present in many of our schools. The BTI is not a degree granting institution, but coordinates various administrative, program and academic activities so as to enhance the work of the member schools.