Making Theology Practical
Redeemer’s new Urban and Intercultural Ministry program will prepare students for ministry in tough places and for work overseas with NGOs.

With an emphasis on practical ministry tools and a mission focus, Redeemer’s new Ministry program officially launches in 2018. Prof. Ken Herfst has been developing the new Urban and Intercultural Ministry program since December 2016. Not only will the program prepare students for seminary and ministry in tough places, it will also prepare them to work overseas for an NGO, with an understanding of theology to support them. With co-op options in its honours major, students will wrestle in the field with theological and practical questions and bring their observations back to the classroom.

Herfst’s work on the program has been shaped by many discussions with ministry staff from both Canadian and international organizations. From the feedback of church teams and NGO staff, the theme that emerged was the need for Christian leaders with the tools to minister. Herfst’s approach, then, centres on theology’s actual impact on ministry work. “How does our work in ministry answer to fundamental theological questions? If we don’t have answers to these questions,” Herfst cautions, “we end up with a lot of moralism, a lot of do-goodism and a lot of work that doesn’t participate intentionally in God’s restoration project.”

“Herfst’s approach centres on theology’s actual impact on ministry work.”

Herfst faced these questions himself during 20 years of ministry in Guatemala, where he planted churches, trained leaders and worked with NGOs, government and a large denomination that included both Indigenous and settler peoples. “I was in a part of the world,” Herfst reflects, “where there was an explosion of evangelical churches but also a marked increase in social problems. I thought then, ‘We as ministry leaders are not actually being shaped to address this.’” He began to teach fellow ministry leaders and would spend 10 years as professor of theology at the Presbyterian Seminary of Guatemala. In the aftermath of 2005’s Hurricane Stan, Herfst helped to form a Christian relief organization that continues to respond to disasters and contribute to community development in western Guatemala.

Herfst has discovered that Christian leaders make a strategic, profound impact on their ministry contexts when they are rooted in the kingdom of God — the heart of the drama of Scripture. That focus is not only a theological lens, it’s a practical one. “As we look at the nature of the kingdom of God,” Herfst says, “we ask ourselves, ‘What does the Kingdom of God look like on my street? What does it look like in my neighbourhood, in my community?’”

In the post-Christian undercurrent of modern Western culture, kingdom-focused theology can quickly fall by the wayside. “We have to grapple,” Herfst continues, “with the question, ‘What does evangelism look like in a world where there’s polarization, intolerance — and too much tolerance? What is the good news that we have been entrusted with?’” It’s no simple task to maintain momentum and focus as a faith community when challenges mount and needs change. The ministry leaders of tomorrow will meet paradoxical pressures. “We want to be orthodox, but we also want to relate,” Herfst says. “We want to have a community, but this isn’t a holy huddle. We want to be authentic and we are working towards presence in our neighbourhoods and cities, even countries.”

The Christian leaders who advance through Redeemer’s new program will be steeped in liturgical practices that centre and reinvigorate. Our worship grounds our theology, Herfst explains, as much our theology informs our worship. As Christians, our habits in the pews and in the day-to-day strengthen our spiritual formation and ultimately suffuse our discipleship. God’s Kingdom is also present among us, and so worship and discipleship must lead Christian communities to relevant social action. Urban and Intercultural Ministry students will learn to facilitate worship and foster discipleship that leads their communities to respond to the injustice and suffering that surrounds them.

The Urban and Intercultural Ministry program promises excitement and challenges for the students who enroll. For ministry organizations, the program is creating a generation of Christians leaders practically and theologically prepared for the ministry settings of today and the changing contexts of tomorrow.

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