As Johnson University continues its quest to educate students in ministries and vocations framed by the Great Commission, the ability and willingness to come alongside and partner with like-minded entities is crucial in the extension of the kingdom of God. One such partnership is with Forge America ( forgeamerica.com).
Forge, founded in 1996 by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost, seeks to help birth and nurture the Missional Church—faith communities willing and ready to be Christ’s people in their own situation and place. The Church in the Western context is in crisis. The statistics are alarming; in the last 50 years the church has experienced decline all across the Western world. It is estimated that the prevailing models of evangelistic churches, at their best, can only reach 40 percent of the American population and yet, 90 percent of evangelical churches spend the majority of their time and resources improving these models of church and vying for the same 40 percent. There is a great need to develop a new way of mission and church “for the 60 percent.” This is precisely what Forge exists to do. Forge focuses its energy on developing leadership that can understand the missional challenge and develop strategies, approaches, and teams that can take the church onto new and uncharted ground.1
Developing leaders to engage this “uncharted ground” is a parallel to the mission of Johnson University. Forge, through partnerships with churches, parachurch agencies, and universities across the United States, seeks to achieve its mission by:
- Developing and operating residency-style training alongside churches and ministries.
- Operating a relational network of innovative and pioneering leaders and practitioners.
- Offering ongoing support, research, and development on issues relating to cultural trends, issues of church and its context, pioneering leadership, and evangelism.
Forge and those who partner with them seek to foster a paradigm shift when it comes to theology, discipleship, and the church. They want to fashion innovative and creative environments where new generations of leaders are trained for new types of ministry and leadership—not solely vocational ministry, but that all followers of Jesus are called to live and reproduce the mission of God in a more intentional way.
The ethos of Forge is one that seeks to understand God’s mission in a way that unlocks the grand story of the Bible—an understanding of God’s story and purpose that doesn’t separate theology from mission. When “theology” and “mission” are divided, we begin to think “God is this, did this, etc.” (theology) and “now we do this” (mission). The more accurate approach is one that links theology and mission and says, “God is doing this…and I desire to join, follow, participate in what he is doing.” It is an understanding, as David J. Bosch writes, that “mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God.” 2
In his book Mission as a Matrix for Hermeneutics and Biblical Theology, Christopher Wright states,
The Bible renders to us the story of God’s mission through God’s people in their engagement with God’s world for the sake of the whole of God’s creation. The Bible is the drama of this God of purpose engaged in the mission of achieving that purpose universally, embracing past, present and future, Israel and the nations, “life, the universe, and everything,” and with its center, focus, climax, and completion in Jesus Christ. Mission is not just one of a list of things that the Bible happens to talk about, only a bit more urgently than some. Mission is, in that much-abused phrase, “what it’s all about.”3
As people of God and followers of Jesus, we, the church, are invited to join in this mission of God. It’s that partnership that Forge is built upon. And, as Forge continues to establish missional networks, the residency-style training becomes educational opportunities to join God in the restoration of all things that drives this mission. In 15 cities around the country, various churches such as Crossings where I serve in downtown Knoxville are beginning to implement Forge Training Hubs in their communities.
For example, at Crossings in Knoxville we offer two different nine-month residencies for people to engage this mission of God—one for those interested in vocational ministry and one for those with the desire to learn how their current context can be a setting for the kingdom of God to be tangibly lived out. Both residencies involve weekly coaching, teaching, and dialogue with practitioners, as well as three weekend intensives with teachers and leaders from Forge America.
Johnson University has formed a partnership with Forge America in order to offer a missional leadership track within the online Ph.D. in Leadership Studies in collaboration with the Center for Global Studies. Through coursework, students explore missional topics such as encounter with culture, ecclesiology, and hermeneutics followed by field research done in conjunction with Forge staff and/or hubs.
Johnson’s partnership with Forge America gives further evidence to her sharpened focus as a Great Commission institution—an institution which understands the necessity of preparing students to recognize God’s activity within their communities and join him there.
1 Hirsch, Alan and Ferguson, Dave, On The Verge: a Journey into the Apostolic Future of the Church (Zondervan, 2011), 27-29.
2 David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission, Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1991, 389–390.
3 Christopher Wright, “Mission as a Matrix for Hermeneutics and Biblical Theology” in Out of Egypt: Biblical Theology and Biblical Interpretation, C. Bartholomew, M. Healy, K. Moller, R. Parry, eds. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 134