By Mark Dalbey, reprinted from the Oikonomia Network
Covenant Seminary in St. Louis has increased its commitment over the past decade to viewing and delivering theological education that emphasizes and values all vocations as vital to God’s mission of redeeming and restoring all things in Jesus Christ as reflected in Colossians 1:15-20. Joining the Oikonomia Network at the end of 2017 both reflected and strengthened this commitment.
Part of our journey at Covenant Seminary has been to understand and teach that in God’s kingdom there is not a hierarchy of callings. The evangelical church has suffered from an impoverished understanding of vocation, or calling, that has often held to an unbiblical notion of a sacred/secular dichotomy around work that elevates what is called “vocational ministry” above all others. Even seminaries who properly deny this dichotomy can appear to reinforce it because the focus is on training students for “vocational ministry.” We have discovered the answer to this challenge is to place an emphasis on theological training and practice that equips our students to value the high kingdom calling of the people they will serve with a passion to teach and minister God’s Word with that focus.
Nearly twenty years ago, a course on Calling, Vocation and Work was developed at Covenant Seminary by Mike Williams and Donald Guthrie. This became a required course in our Masters of Arts in Theological Studies degree, and an elective for other degrees. Master of Divinity students who took the course as an elective strongly urged the seminary to make it a requirement for all students. In a curricular redesign that took place shortly after we joined the Oikonomia Network a year ago, we integrated this course into another course on formation. The course is now called Christian Formation and Vocation that is now required for all students at the seminary except counseling students. This is the fruit of growing faculty discussion, conviction and emphasis on a comprehensive understanding of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ across our curriculum as reflected in key passages of scripture such as Mark 1:14-15, Luke 8:1 and Colossians 1:15-20.
A recent change in our curriculum nomenclature also is an important reflection of our story. We reorganized our curriculum under three divisions: Biblical Studies, Missional Theology, and Applied Theology. We believe our deep study of the scripture and theology is for the sake of the church and its mission in God’s world. All that we do at Covenant Seminary is reflected in our 2011 revised purpose statement: “The purpose of Covenant Seminary is to glorify the Triune God by training his servants to walk in God’s grace, minister God’s word, equip God’s people – ALL for God’s mission.”
Another development in this journey is our recent partnership with the Missional Training Center (MTC) in Phoenix under the leadership of Michael Goheen. MTC has become a degree granting site of Covenant Seminary with the Master of Arts in Missional Theology. We are benefiting from the strong emphasis of MTC on whole-life discipleship in their curriculum and training. Their application of classroom learning into the trenches of ministry is a goal we have for our students in St. Louis with a plan for a field education requirement involving a student vocational discipleship component that involves mentoring from laypeople in churches who serve across various vocations to better learn how to pastor people in their congregations.
Some student reflections in course evaluations show the impact of the mutual goals shared by Covenant Seminary and the Oikonomia Network:
- “This course brought every vocation up to the level of the pastor and missionary. It is very important to teach this in the church. I began to see that all vocations are ministry!”
- “This course hits on mostly things that we have been taught in seminary already. However, the depth of this class and its helpfulness in its themes is unparalleled. One of my favorite classes I’ve taken!”
- “This class gave me a robust theology of work to share in discipling others.”
A personal illustration of how we are seeking to integrate this vision across the curriculum comes from a class I teach on Christian Worship. My conviction, reflected in the way I teach the course, is that corporate worship is to glorify God, transform the people of God into greater Christlikeness and equip the people of God for kingdom-missional impact in all of life between Sundays. The answer to the question “What does Sunday have to do with Monday?” is “Everything!” Followers of Jesus are to “proclaim and bring the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:1) everywhere, all the time, with everybody! Corporate worship is to cast that vision for life and equip toward that end.
My final project in the course is for students to write a worship service with footnoted rationale for every aspect of the service. I tell students that if as I read and grade their worship service project I do not have any sense of how Sunday relates to Monday, I will grade them down.
We are thankful for the way God has brought Covenant Seminary into a deeper, richer, more comprehensive and integrated understanding of these things over the years at Covenant Seminary. We appreciate our new relationship with the Oikonomia Network and look forward to a fruitful partnership for years to come.