God’s “mission” is to lead the church to corporately spread the good news of the kingdom of Jesus through both deed and word. Seminaries that understand this goal will seek to adjust their curriculum and goals accordingly. Simply put both Northern and Biblical, two seminaries I have looked at the past few days, believe that they exist to gather and send leaders for the mission of Christ in North America. How do they actually attempt to do this?
I could look at a number of other seminaries as well. Some are stronger at one aspect, say the academic preparation of the mind, while others are better at spiritual formation. Some are strong in understanding mission yet very often their faculty might not be able to translate this understanding to students in personal ways that take time and friendship/mentorship. Seminaries from both the mainline Protestant, and the more evangelical Protestant, tradition are beginning to finally awaken to the right questions. Sometimes this happens because of a considerable decrease of students that forces change and sometimes it happens because they have proactively grasped the theology of missional church. Either way I welcome the changes that I see growing across the American seminary landscape.
Both Northern and Biblical offer the standard M.Div. degree, generally given to those who are preparing for pastoral ministry. They also offer M.A. degrees in subjects like ministry, leadership and missional church. In both schools they foster dialogue with first-rate practitioners, scholars and church leaders by hiring high quality faculty and by using outstanding guest teachers and special lectures. They also try to stay active in urban contexts where a community of cross-cultural learning takes place. And both schools encourage peer group relationships through something like the cohort model that I use at ACT3 to train leaders for missional-ecumenism. Biblical Seminary, for example, does an exceptional job with the cohort model. I have taught in this setting at Biblical and love how this approach has revitalized this seminary from the inside out.
If all of these goals are pursued then you have something important but unless the gospel is proclaimed and students are taught how to preach and teach well then the whole enterprise is a failure, at least to my way of thinking. Seminaries do not exist as schools for stronger social work. By design they should be about preparing religious leadership, principally for the church and church-related missions. In this case that empowered leadership must be distinctly Christian. Biblical and Northern have clearly retained this core in their mission and identity.