For most of church history, theological education was something you could only get if you went to seminary—studying theology was out of reach for everyday believers. For that reason, theology has been seen by many as something too lofty to lay hold of. This is unfortunate because, whether you know it or not, your theological convictions are the very foundation upon which you build your entire life. Think about it— what aspects of your life are not affected by what you believe about God, who He is, and how everything else relates to Him?
When we began a systematic theology program at The Austin Stone over a decade ago, our leaders asked the question, “What would happen if we equipped our people with a seminary-level theological education? What if formal theological study wasn't reserved for only seminary? What might God do in our church, families, city, and among the nations?” And by God's grace, we have seen nearly 2,000 people graduate through the program over the past decade!
What Is The Austin Stone Development Program?
It’s a running joke among the leaders of our church that The Austin Stone Development Program (ASDP) has suffered many name changes over the years—Men's Development Program (MDP), Women's Development Program (WDP), Leadership Development Program (LDP), and Men's and Women's Development Program (MWDP). I once proposed we call it WWJDP—the What Would Jesus Do Program. No one went for that one. While the name and acronym have changed over the years, the fundamental purpose of this program has not. Simply put, we want to know God better so we can glorify Him more.As we gear up for the 2022-2023 program year, I want to step back for a second and look at what this program is and what it is designed to do. The Austin Stone Development Program is a church-based, higher-education program built to train men and women for biblically qualified leadership in the home, church, city, and nations. The program lasts approximately eight months and consists of:
- Theological Study – We learn to see the beauty of Christ and become a faithful handlers of the Word of God.
- Experiential Learning – We understand learning is best done with a specific ministry in mind, along with opportunities for reflection and feedback.
- Cohort-Style Development – Life change happens best when reflection, cooperative learning, and accountability are in community.
- Coaching and Mentoring – Each cohort has a coach who provides mentorship, gospel counseling, tutoring, advising, and shepherding.
To be clear, this is a systematic theology course. I know that can sound a little intimidating. But, as students soon learn, theology is simply the study of the nature of God and, by extension, the ways in which all things relate to God and one another. In other words, theology is an effort to lay hold of a deep personal knowledge of God by studying and treasuring what God has revealed to us about Himself.
You cannot rightly love what you do not know. And because God is a God of infinite worth, the more you know Him, the more you will love Him. The more you behold Him, the more you will be conformed into His image. This is what we're after. Now, to be clear, this ought not to exist only at the level of knowledge. True Christlikeness—the kind we're after in ASDP—also involves transforming our emotions, will, and obedience.
J.I. Packer puts it this way, “If our theology does not quicken the conscience and soften the heart, it actually hardens both. If it does not encourage the commitment of faith, it reinforces the detachment of unbelief. If it fails to promote humility, it inevitably feeds pride.” In other words, if studying theology is only an intellectual exercise for the excessively brainy, then it’s bad theology. The purpose of theology is greater intimacy with and conformity to Christ, not just knowledge.
As we begin preparing for another year of ASDP at our North and Downtown Campuses in 2022-2023, would you please pray that God would indeed reveal more of Himself to the people of The Austin Stone? If you’re interested in learning more about the program or are interested in possibly applying with our North or Downtown Campus this year, please email me.
Applications for the 2022-2023 program will open in May, and will be posted at austinstone.org/asdp as soon as the applications go live.