When it comes to Christian discipleship options, Mike Allen and Scott Swain noticed a gap in available options. Pastors, elders, and lay leaders could take classes at a seminary or participate in small groups within their local churches, but there was nothing in between. 

What if pastors wanted discipleship outside the church? What if lay leaders wanted deep theological study without working toward a degree?

The Paideia Center for Theological Discipleship at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) Orlando hopes to fill this gap. Participants with the Paideia Center read classic Christian texts, gather for monthly discussion led by a trained leader, and meet for an annual conference. The purpose is for believers to be formed by the wisdom of Christian texts and deep, thoughtful discussion of those texts.

“Training in Wisdom”

“Paideia” is a Greek work meaning “training in wisdom.” The purpose of the Paideia Center, according to Allen, isn’t simply to gain knowledge or earn a degree but to develop skill in living.  Allen, along with Swain, serves as co-director of the Paideia Center in addition to serving as a professor and the academic dean of RTS Orlando.

By coming at the same idea from three different perspectives, students get a bigger picture of how Christians have understood a concept throughout Christian history.

The discussion groups meet monthly for 90 minutes of guided discussion on the text that participants have read. In the fall the groups worked through “On God and Christ: The Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius” by Gregory Nazianzus, a fourth-century pastor and scholar. In the spring the groups will study and discuss Martin Luther’s 1529 Catechism.

Allen says the texts chosen have “shown through the centuries to be the most productive texts for helping people thinking about different issues.”

The annual conference, taking place in Orlando on January 10-11, 2019, will focus on the theme “The Triune God.” The conference will feature speakers, including Carl Trueman of Grove City College and Blair Smith and Scott Swain of RTS, but will have more panel discussions and small group interactions than a traditional conference. And while there will be times for attendees to break into their monthly discussion groups, people not currently involved with the Paideia Center will still have lots of opportunities to learn.

By coming at the same idea from three different perspectives, students get a bigger picture of how Christians have understood a concept throughout Christian history.

“We want to instill in all the participants confidence that they can go read Augustine, Luther, or others for themselves and competence to do so by practicing with others and a leader guide,” Allen said. 

Filling a Need

Although RTS Orlando already provides opportunities for growth in wisdom through its degree programs, Allen and Swain intend the Paideia Center as a unique contribution strengthening church life. 

Pastors and church leaders seem to agree. Registration opened in June for 10 discussion groups in cities around the country capped at 20 participants per group, and the groups filled quickly, with some reaching capacity within a few minutes. The Paideia Center is adding groups in more cities and international groups to meet demand. Each group has a trained leader to guide discussion.

In a wider culture marked by acrimony and rancor, and a religious sub-culture stunted by the misconception that laypersons cannot discern and mature on their own, Allen said the way Christians discuss is just as significant as the way they read. He believes Christians grow in wisdom and maturity by studying and interacting with the texts that have stood the test of time, developing the patience to understand the text, listening to someone else’s ideas, and with generosity, and working to see how someone arrived at a certain position. 

For more information, visit https://paideiacenter.com.