I was just sitting with one of my parishioners, working on how we can rework an old website so that it can be more interactive. Before this I was visiting a parishioner who had been in hospital. Before that I was leading a bible study and before that a staff meeting. While I did use a few bits of knowledge that I gained in my seminary education, I must admit that both what I learned in seminary classroom and and the very setting of a classroom somehow antiquated or perhaps out of touch with the reality of contemporary pastoral ministry that I experienced in this one day. The skills that I used today involved working with and leading a team, facilitating discussions, creating a healing relationship and technologically based communication. I must admit that I am not sure how any of these skill can even be taught in the setting of a traditional classroom. Perhaps it is time to not only rethink what is taught in seminaries, but even how we teach. What if seminary education was moved primarily out of classrooms and was instead in sites of practice. What if the focus shifted from knowledge learned to skills and competencies gained? This is now a question that many seminaries are exploring. If you want to read more you can read this article in the Washington Post.
I’ve been following new and different models for training pastors for some years, as far back as when I was on the LTS board in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The Washington Post article reflects exactly what our church should be doing- moving to “on site” models of training, which would include the academics of theology and bible. Unfortunately, we are caught in a need to sustain an institution rather than a ministry. We are caught between two philosophies of education (as you said antiquated and contemporary) in which the institution is vested in academic accreditation and research while the church is vested in leadership skills training. The missional directions are different for each philosophies. Structural boundaries also obstruct new ways of being- for example, our synod is a part owner in a seminary but has little say in the curriculum. We give suggestions but because of the seminary structure, accreditation requirements, Candidacy Manual requirements and philosophy of learning, these ideas rarely affect change in the training model.
Fortunately for us, lay leaders are getting it and we have more training and need for training of this leadership than for rostered leadership.
The church is experiencing this ongoing shift, the kind Phyllis Tickle talks about as the 500 year rummage sale. Others call it “living in the borderlands” (Gary Nelson), or call it a time of discontinuous change, or liminal space. However we label it, the tools we need to navigate these huge shifts in culture, skills, and expectations are different than they may have been even 20 years ago. A seminary would thrive if it became a place that sought to make sense of this complexity and equipped leaders to navigate that complexity in faithfulness to Jesus and his mission by the light of the Gospel. But a seminary will stiffle its student and ultimately close down if it cannot see what is upon us. I’m reading Roxburgh’s latest book (Missional: Joining God in the Neighbourhood) and he’s laying out, drawing a lot from Newbigin, just how profound this change is for the church. It’s a whole new paradigm shift and I thank God we can participate in what God is doing!
I always felt that a better model would be one wherein packed units of academic learning were followed by equally long units of practice in the field. The experience would be year-round. Students would be paid for their work, thus offsetting the cost of seminary tuition, leaving grads with no student debt to worry about. And much more emphasis would be placed on team building and team ministry and on equipping lay ministry. I can see a separate track for graduate study students who want to learn theology and Biblical languages but who do not want to serve as clergy. I would also add that I believe virtually all clergy should be cross-trained in another field, such as social work, education, etc., because the way clergy are chewed up and spit out now-a-days means we may need more focus on transition from church work to secular work, instead of adapting curricula for second career seminarians. But, then, if my opinion was really that important, I suppose I’d be on a board or task force that deals witht his topic.