by Emily Morrison
SOMA is a 9-month residential discipleship training program, whose participants engage in a communal lifestyle, serve as Jesus’ Body and share Good News with the world around us.
This first batch of students—the class of 2019—come from states including Minnesota, New Jersey, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and California. Some found SOMA through the WH podcast, others through their home churches and some through friends or family who said, “Hey, you should check this out.” Some students call themselves “fan-Boyds” while others say they “Don’t care much for Greg Boyd.” Their perspectives span the theological spectrum, but they resist labels and appreciate that there is respect and the willingness to listen to all ideological positions. Most of them left jobs behind—including work in the oil industry, military, and tattoo artistry—with no plans for what comes next. There is no one “SOMA type” but they are united in a desire to be ministers of the Good News wherever they go and whatever they do.
We asked Kevin Callaghan, Woodland’s Discipleship and Formation Pastor, to answer a few questions about SOMA:
Why “Seminary for Everybody”?
We feel that all disciples need training—not necessarily the high-level of scholarly/professional training offered by accredited seminaries, but still good theological and ministry training and personal formation. AND, we feel that “regular” seminary is way out of reach for almost everyone in terms of cost and location, so we really do see this as “seminary for everyone.” We find that SO MANY church-goers are starving for a deeper, more intensive kind of discipleship and equipping for their own spiritual life and for their potential ministry impact, so all are welcome.
What is significant about the three descriptors: “missional” “discipleship” and “community”?
For a few years, Greg, Paul, Janice and I (Kevin) researched and explored our “theology of church.” We concluded that there are three essential elements that together make any Christian community an authentic “church” in New Testament terms: (1) a new covenant “family” community with a high level of commitment, nurture and accountability, (2) “mutual ministry” or discipleship to help each other grow in Christ, and (3) active involvement in missional witness to non-Jesus followers. We want to form small-scale church communities that are actively engaged in all three of these aspects of church, and hope to see them popping up all over.
Can you compare/contrast this with similar programs?
There are a number of similar programs like Youth With A Mission’s Discipleship Training School, and the Assemblies of God’s Master’s Commission. Both are 5-10 months long, full-time, involve robust discipleship teaching and ministry immersion as a community. Our program is different from these only in some of our theology and teaching, as well as the Missional Discipleship Community (MDC)/ house church component—each student will be part of one of Woodland Hill’s MDCs through our Sojourners House Churches. There are other “alternative” seminary programs like Master’s Institute and Underground Seminary, and these are more high-level theology and more geared for church-based ministry. Our goal is that graduates not necessarily go into full-time ministry (though they could) but that they live out MDC for a lifetime.
When students complete the program, what do you hope will be their main takeaway(s)?
A deeper, vibrant connection and consecration to Jesus, a stronger understanding of the Bible and the Kingdom of God, a secure identity in Christ, and a heart for living out missional discipleship communities as a lifestyle!