Practice, Practice, Praxis (Dr. Wayne Schmidt)

Practice, practice, practice – it’s repetition makes a point.  Whether it’s an athlete, a musician or a medical doctor (with their “medical practice”) we acknowledge the value of practice.  Some capture that value with the phrase “practice makes perfect” – although there are obvious exceptions, such a my seven years of piano lessons with hours of weekly practice, and the result was not perfect, but pathetic, much to my mother’s disappointment!

One of the ways we describe ourselves as a Seminary is that we are “practice-oriented.”  It’s a phrase that highlights our value in making sure the education we offer is not only academically rigorous but equips ministers, as practitioners of ministry, to be effective in their Kingdom service.

Perhaps it would be more exact to describe ourselves as a “praxis-oriented” Seminary – although that may leave more than a few people scratching their head.  Praxis is a concept related to “practice” but one more commonly found in educational settings.  I’m convinced that a thorough grasp of praxis will enrich one’s practice of ministry.

Most people who know me are aware of my passion for multi-ethnic ministry.  I share Soong-Chan Rah’s conviction, expressed in The Next Evangelicalism, that the failure of the U.S. church to become multi-ethnic will leave it marginalized.  I continue to be an avid reader to expand and enrich my thinking about multi-ethnic ministry, with the latest book being Churches, Cultures & Leadership – A Practical Theology of Congregations & Ethnicities by Mark Lau Branson & Juan F. Martínez.  Their definition and explanation of praxis?

“…a continual movement from experience to reflection and study, and then on to new actions and experiences, is what we call praxis.  This term is often misunderstood as “practice,” referring to how a concept or theory is first understood mentally then applied in a real-life situation.  But praxis is actually the whole cycle of reflection and study on one hand and engagement and action on the other.” (p. 40)

As a Seminary we seek to provide the whole cycle of reflection and action in every class we offer.  As I’ve heard our Dean, Ken Schenck, express it – “With some courses and professors it may be theory reaching into practice.  With others, it may be practice reaching into theory.”  Where the cycle begins may differ, but we value its wholeness.  We value praxis in every learning context.

For instance, the study of biblical languages may be perceived as purely theoretical.  I’ve heard more than one pastor (OK, maybe I’ve done this myself) talk about suffering through Hebrew or Greek and no longer as a pastor reading the biblical texts in the original languages.  Dr. Schenck designed our courses for biblical languages, “Greek for Ministry” and “Hebrew for Ministry,” by first asking “How will pastors use the languages in their preaching and teaching?  Based on that usage, what do they need to know to effectively utilize the languages in their preparation and proclamation activities?”

As we develop our faculty and curriculum, we’re building our capacity to stretch students in the whole cycle of Praxis.  Since my last blog contribution…

…I’ve attended the Provost’s Scholarship Awards Banquet.  Dr. Ken Schenck’s Fulbright Scholarship was announced, providing funding for him to spend time in Germany researching how the understanding of the significance of Christ’s death may have developed among the earliest Christians (i.e. their realization that no longer were sacrifices required, etc.).  Also announced is that Dr. John Drury is a Hinds Award Recipient to write “A Canon of Christian Theology: The Methodist Tradition, 19th and 20th Centuries.”  This event reminded me of the amazing capacity of our faculty for “reflection and study.”

…the “Church Laboratory at 12Stone” ( took place, where the health and uniqueness of that ministry context, explored under the direction of Executive Pastor Dr. Dan Reiland, has stretched our students’ perspectives on “engagement and action.”  Our partnership with Teaching Churches and Teaching Districts (i.e. a Church Planting elective in May 2012 in partnership with the West Michigan of The Wesleyan Church) makes an equally valuable contribution to praxis.

Praxis may not make perfect…but it keeps Seminary and Church working synergistically (rather than lobbing verbal grenades at each other) and holistically to prepare world-changers.