If education is in crisis in the world at large, as many observers believe, it only makes sense that education is at a crossroads within Foursquare. Under the leadership of President Glenn Burris Jr., the movement is looking hard at its current training models, and how they need to be reshaped and expanded for the future. It’s not an issue of concern only for educators. It cuts to the very heart of Foursquare.
“The way to plant churches is to develop leaders,” says Joe Volpi, education director for the national church. “And the way to develop leaders is to educate them. Equip them, and let them fail safely as they worship God with their life’s calling.”
Indeed, the foundational importance of effective leadership development is central to Foursquare’s global Five Targets plan, unveiled in 2011. How the movement can better align its programs and practices in support of the initiative was to be one of the topics of conversation at the 2013 Foursquare Institute Symposium for educational leaders, at Life Pacific College (LPC, also known as LIFE Bible College) in March.
Those deliberations took place against a complex backdrop of factors that are creating what David Moore, associate professor of theology at LPC, calls a global “revolution” in education—one that also has huge implications for the church.
Among the issues forcing a rethink of accepted ways of preparing people for their future are the following: (1) the rising cost of traditional college education; (2) an American Idol culture that prefers instant success to rigorous preparation; and (3) technological advances that are changing the way people choose to learn.
The Foursquare Church faces additional complexities: (1) a growing number of people feeling led to “marketplace,” rather than church-centered, ministry; and (2) a move toward local, church-based leadership development.
If all that sounds rather theoretical, it has a very practical, day-to-day reality in terms of Foursquare’s Five Targets—spreading the gospel.
The cost of preparing people for ministry through traditional channels continues to vex Sterling Brackett, the former head of Life Bible College East in Christiansburg, Va. Sterling states that student debt can mean “the enslavement of the very soldiers you are trying to train and put on the frontlines,” forcing them to choose jobs that enable them to repay loans over following God’s leading.
Acknowledging the challenge of that and other factors, LPC is going through “a major metamorphosis,” according to former president Robert Flores. As part of a 10-year plan, the historical Foursquare school is developing online and church-based courses, though Robert is adamant that the kind of community-centered study that a campus can offer is still an essential part of real learning.
“That means more than an online chat-room,” Robert asserts. “The disciples got three years of the most intense education a person could get, 24/7 immersion. They spent time with Jesus, they witnessed miracles, they heard His public teaching; Scripture alludes to the many times He opened them to teaching He did not present to the masses.”
Training Emerging Leaders
Among the new forms that education is taking in Foursquare is the Emerging Leader Network (ELN). Currently operating in 40 churches across the U.S., the program is particularly appealing to young adults who want to serve God, but not necessarily in a traditional ministry setting.
Most of those who would once have been called “lay members” of their churches don’t take time to prepare themselves for the ministry side of their secular areas of service, observes ELN consultant Tim Mossholder.
“They go to church, they may take a class here or there, but they haven’t submitted themselves to a process of intentional development,” Tim explains. “They may spend four or five decades of their life in a setting where their workplace is their mission field, but they have never really prepared themselves for when they get there. So their mission field can degenerate into just being a job.”
While Foursquare faces big questions in the area of education and learning, leaders are encouraged by the fact that its importance is not a new realization for the movement—it’s part of the heritage. They point to Aimee Semple McPherson’s emphasis from the beginning of Foursquare on training new leaders.
“When she talked about the strategy for the kingdom, it was to preach the gospel, plant a church and start an institute,” explains Dan Hedges, formerly Foursquare’s national director of education and now a consultant to the movement’s various education programs.
Many reference how this kind of focused commitment to training—for the goal of reaching others for Christ—has been emphatically embodied in modern times by former Foursquare President Jack Hayford. A passionate champion of the importance of experiencing present-day Pentecost, he has also promoted disciplined study through his books, teaching and founding of The King’s University.
Foursquare leadership is discussing ways it can promote and foster a firmer embrace of lifelong learning by pastors and ministry leaders. At the same time, the movement still maintains that academic qualifications are not a prerequisite for ministerial licensing—a position that underscores that a sharp mind without a sensitive spirit isn’t enough.
The wider Pentecostal/charismatic movement has ebbed and flowed in its relationship to balancing know-how and know-Him. Through the years, observes Dan Hedges, “They have really emphasized the ‘caught’ part more than the ‘taught’ part.” As a result, while they may not say it in so many words, a lot of Christians quietly think that Jesus got it wrong when He answered the question about what is the greatest commandment.
They accept loving God with all their heart, soul and strength. That sounds suitably passionate. But that bit He added to the exhortation from Deuteronomy, about all their mind, as well? That sounds altogether too cerebral—too much about our human efforts, not God’s supernatural empowering—for some of those touched by Pentecost. After all, the Bible says not to lean on your own understanding, right?
“There’s that saying, ‘When the Holy Spirit blew in, your brains blew out,’ ” notes Robert Flores. “But that’s so far from the truth. The Holy Spirit enhances whatever He has given. He makes it clearer, sharper, more. The mind is one of the gifts in our stewardship.”
Balancing Heart and Head
Balancing heart and head involves “a righteous tension,” suggests Sterling Brackett. Leaders vary in their opinion on how well Foursquare manages that as a movement. For his part, while an enthusiastic advocate of disciplined learning, Sterling fears the pendulum may have swung too far.
“There’s something about the expression of emotion I don’t want to lose,” he says. “We have gotten so controlled that it’s difficult for us to allow the Spirit to move in our gatherings. The pastor often feels like he has to control everything. God did call us to decency and order, but I haven’t read anywhere in the Scriptures where the Lord called us to suppress or deny emotion.”
Gateway District Supervisor Sam Rockwell comments, “Our capacity to feel is sometimes limited by our unwillingness to think.” He is concerned, too, that “we can hide behind a veil of spirituality,” using reliance on the Holy Spirit as an excuse for not doing the heavy lifting of intellectual homework.
Wherever they stand on the head-heart spectrum, Foursquare leaders welcome the attention being given to the future of education and learning within the movement and in the wider Spirit-filled church. Several of those interviewed cited Calvin College associate professor James K.A. Smith’s 2010 book, Thinking in Tongues, as an important contribution to the debate.
Leaders agree that though Foursquare education will look different in the days to come, with multiple expressions, it all has to take place within the context of Christian community.
“The best education in the world, in a laboratory setting, does not necessarily translate to successful leadership,” says Joe Volpi.
“Knowledge without God is a problem,” adds Mike Larkin, founder and president of Ignite, another Foursquare training alternative for young leaders. “If the knowledge we gain is void of a personal relationship with Him, then we have potential for behavior similar to the fall and the curse. Knowledge without relationship leads to rebellion.”
Sam Rockwell points to the apostle Paul as the best role model for balancing the mind and the Spirit. Paul was a brilliant thinker who also enthusiastically prayed with words he did not understand.
“There he was,” says Sam, “engaging in the conversation at Mars Hill, while at the same time speaking in tongues on the way home.”
This is Part 1 of 2
Check back soon for Part 2: Learning That Impacts Lives.