Dr. Brian Russel – Dean, School of Urban Ministries Professor of Biblical Studies
A challenge from a prominent missional thinker a few years ago prompted Dr. Brian Russell to look closely at how he could be a “relevant seminary professor” when he had never planted a church. Russell describes it as a “catalytic moment” when he sensed a fresh calling of God to think intentionally about what his discipline of biblical studies had to do with church planting in the 21st century. “This quest led me to begin to reflect and construct a missional hermeneutic for reading the Bible as a map or guide to God’s mission,” he recollects. “Missional hermeneutics has become my primary academic interest and the focus of my writing.”
In 2005, along with some friends and seminary students, he began a house-based church plant, and the same group became involved the next year in attempting to revitalize a severely declining denominational church. “Since then,” he says, “I’ve worked and consulted with church planters and pastors of churches in decline to shape a missional ethos in their communities.”
Russell describes Orlando as a “gateway city that serves as a provocative context for theological education. If I were planning to plant a church in an urban area or do any cross-cultural ministry, Orlando is an ideal location for study.” Living in Orlando, he says, offers the opportunity to see the diversity of the world in terms of language, ethnicity, religion, secularization, culture, and urbanization. “I get to live in a dynamic environment that forces me to consider the emerging world where our graduates will serve.”
Asked whether a person needs to have a call to church planting, Russell responds, “I think that every Christ follower has the DNA to plant a church. All Christians are called to ‘make disciples.’ This is the mission of the Christ following movement. This includes multiplying communities of faith.”
As to what makes for a successful church plant, Russell reflects, “Prayer. Deep, rich, and generous theological/biblical training. A committed team. A clear vision. A sustainable economic plan that frees the team to focus on ministry. A focus on engaging primarily ‘outsiders’ rather than starting with a large core of Christians.”
For those considering this area of ministry and/or working in it now, he advises, “Read widely. Always remember the ‘other’ and make/keep as many non-Christ following friends as possible. Learn to exegete your social context/location and speak ‘human.’ Make sure that your preaching/teaching declares the good news of God’s kingdom. Keep mission on the front burner by planning for the launching of a new community out of your church plant.”
Russell graduated with a BA from the University of Akron in 1991 and an MDiv from Asbury Seminary in 1994. A John Wesley Fellowship (1996-2000) from A Foundation for Theological Education enabled him to work on his PhD, which he earned from Union Theological Seminary in 2002. He came to the Florida Dunnam campus in 2000 to teach in Biblical Studies, and has been named Dean of the School of Urban Ministries there.