In the fall of 1984 I entered Alliance Theological Seminary in Nyack, New York, as a missionary candidate for the C&MA. I took anthropology, contextual theology and countless mission-oriented courses needed for a master of divinity degree to prepare for church planting in Guinea, West Africa. Professors like Dr. Lin Barney and Dr. Tite Tienou ignited my passion for presenting Jesus in fresh, understandable ways in every culture.
In 1987, just a few courses short of graduation, God clearly called my wife and me to stay in the United States. That’s a hard way to learn the truth of Proverbs 19:21: “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” Little did I know that the missionary training I received in seminary would prepare me perfectly for pastoral ministry in my own country! We were “missional” before the word existed! Our culture and our world were changing so rapidly that I would have been lost in church ministry without cross-cultural and missional training.
Many leaders in the C&MA cringe when someone says, “We are all missionaries.” Although that phrase has been used as an excuse for staying home when the Lord has called us to the nations, it has never been more true than it is today. The model of a local pastor quietly leading community churches in “gospel-friendly” villages is nearly nonexistent. The Western world can no longer honestly be described as “Christian.” Some recent surveys suggest that less than half of church attendees are truly “born again.” The time for missional pastors—leading, equipping and empowering believers through “mission outposts” (formerly known as churches)—has arrived . If seminaries do not raise up these kinds of leaders, we are missing the point and will cease to be relevant.
At the same time, there has never been a greater need to train these twenty-first century missionaries in pastoral nurturing and spiritual formation. Missional pastors who are not also pastoral missionaries will be superficial at best and at worst burn out and crash , taking many others with them. Today’s leaders must be able to first lead themselves and their families in real spiritual formation. They dare not try to take others where they have not gone themselves. The “Deeper Life” must be more than an ancient creed. Intimacy with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit will bring the kind of personal transformation that is desperately needed in our pastors, missionaries and spiritual leaders. The seminary that neglects the nurture of the soul will produce workers who have no heart or compassion for themselves or anyone else.
I have now been asked to lead that same seminary that God used to prepare me for ministry. And though He has not given me a spirit of fear, I know what it is to tremble at the awesome responsibility of preparing missional pastors and pastoral missionaries. This is not the time to shrink back and go with what is safe and traditional. Faith is spelled R-I-S-K! With God’s grace and the Spirit’s empowerment, Alliance Theological Seminary will launch hundreds of leaders over the next few years to advance His Kingdom and bring back Christ our Coming King.
—Dr. Ron Walborn, Dean of Alliance Theological Seminary, Nyack, New York