Friday, April 27, 2007

Re-Envisioning Seminary

Brian Russell asks:

If we were to start a new seminary from scratch, what would it look like?

Hat tip to John Carney at the Methoblog.


8 comments:

Frist! said...

Frist!

larry said...

The thing that bugged me the most about seminary is that I was there because I knew God's call in my life to pastoral ministry, but many of my fellow students were just kind of checking out seminary to explore their own personal faith. They didn't know if they were called to pastoral ministry or teaching or children's ministry, so they kind of wandered about aimlessly (in my judgment).

The second thing that really bugged me was placing students in internships, often in areas of youth ministry responsibility, in which they remained for only one school year (9 mo), and then left. That is a disasterous way for a church to offer youth ministry, or any other for that matter.

A seminary from scratch . . . I would do a couple of things.

Those in a pastoral ministry program would be required to have a clearly stated sense of calling to that ministry. Those gifts and graces would also have to be recognized and affirmed by others, such as a home church. There would be an intense interview process and psychological screening would be required.

In other words, I would want a seminary environment filled with spiritually and mentally healthy students who know they are called, and be willing to direct students who want to explore God's call in their lives to either wait or go elsewhere.

The academic creditionals coming in would be fairly unimportant. However, prior practical experience in ministry leadership would count heavily. Has the student led a small group Bible study or prayer group? Has he or she shown faithful commitment to the membership vows of his or her local church? Have they already had a staff or volunteer position in a local church? Para-church ministry is good in all sorts of ways, but involvement in the local church is the key I would look for.

I figure the seminary experience should form those who are already called and passionate for using the local church as an effective tool for making disciples. They can learn strategy, clarify theology and solidify their grasp of scripture. Only survey level coursework in church history and counseling would be required. All students would be expected to serve in some pastoral role in the same local church for the duration of their studies to get a feel for the ups and downs of ministry and see how strategy really applies in a particular context.

Well, these are kind of disorganized and random thoughts from someone who pretty much hated most of his seminary experience.

rocksalive777 said...

Rohan. More specifically, Edoras.

'Nough said.

John said...

The thing that bugged me the most about seminary is that I was there because I knew God's call in my life to pastoral ministry, but many of my fellow students were just kind of checking out seminary to explore their own personal faith. They didn't know if they were called to pastoral ministry or teaching or children's ministry, so they kind of wandered about aimlessly (in my judgment).

I see this a lot, too. But I wouldn't deny the opportunity for people to come to seminary to explore themselves, so as long as they have the money to burn.

And this is probably why they are admitted. The seminaries want to grow and expand (or stop shrinking), and so admit students that probably never will go into the ordained ministry. And if the result is a very informed and developed layperson, how is that bad.

Seminarians who don't get involved in continuous local church leadership experience are pretty foolish, but I don't think that it's the job of the seminary to require such experience. Students have to be self-disciplined enough to do that themselves.

I see students who spend 3-6 years at seminary, and flitter from church to church, getting bored with one and moving to another, or whose primary ministry experience is within the seminary. And they pay for it later. But they're adults and can make those decisions themselves without the seminary's administration.

And another consequence of requiring local church invovlement is that there are good ministries that occur outside of the local church. If we are, for example, training someone for homeless ministry or a hospital or military chaplaincy, then heavy involvement in the local church setting doesn't get them ready.

larry said...

John,

I don't expect my opinions to be practical or realistic. The initial question is about a "dream seminary" or "seminary from scratch."

I agree that those wandering souls are adults and can make their own decision about how to spend their lives and money; my problem is that it tends to dilute the effectiveness of the whole process of preparation for ministry. the seminary really needs to have a strong sense of its own mission, and if that mission is training up pastors, then those who are called to chaplaincy ministry need to be told "Don't be trained the same way pastors are trained." Just having open doors to anyone who wants more education is not the mission of the seminary. We already have the problem of people being trained to be chaplains instead of pastors and then being expected to lead congregations.

If "iron sharpens iron," then interacting with others with similar passions and calling is helpful; I found that difficult in my seminary experience. Too much conversation with fellow students revolved around their existensial crisis of the day. . .

Whether the seminary should require involvement in the same local church over time or the ordaining body for the individual could be debated - I just think it needs to happen. Denominations and seminary had better start working more closely together to get the results that they want. If the UMC or any other denomination wants pastors to have some degree of effectiveness when they graduate from seminary, then they need to require this. People are litterally going into their first pastorate right out of seminary with only 9 months of ministry experience, at least from the seminary I attended. That's downright scary to me.

Well enough rambling; thanks for listening.

Mark Winter said...

1. Mostly practical courses on how to run a church such as "How to Preach to Sports Fans" and "Evangelistic Blogging" instead of "Soteriological Themes in the Apocrypha."

2. Mega-chapel budget to bring in people like Rob Bell, Mike Slaughter, Anne Graham Lotz, etc

3. Full-service Starbucks in the student lounge!

John said...

Whether the seminary should require involvement in the same local church over time or the ordaining body for the individual could be debated - I just think it needs to happen. Denominations and seminary had better start working more closely together to get the results that they want. If the UMC or any other denomination wants pastors to have some degree of effectiveness when they graduate from seminary, then they need to require this. People are litterally going into their first pastorate right out of seminary with only 9 months of ministry experience, at least from the seminary I attended. That's downright scary to me.

I wholeheartedly agree. I just think that this is the fault of a candidacy process, not the seminary.

And personally, the last thing that I want is an Asbury that is even more intrusive and voyeuristic than it already is.

Andrew C. Thompson said...

A monastery. It should look like a monastery.