- 13 Reasons Why (Traditional) Seminaries are Irrelevant (For Church Leaders): Part 1
- 13 Reasons Why (Traditional) Seminaries are Irrelevant (For Church Leaders): Part 2
- Why Seminaries are Irrelevant: A Postscript
- Seminary: Have we Lost our Imagination?
- Reinventing Seminary
- Reinventing Seminary: The Goal
Read Part 1 with the first six reasons.
- The cost is too high. Especially in mainline churches where churches are shrinking, our churches are less financially viable and pastors are coming out of seminary with more and more debt, such a trend is not sustainable. We are bankrupting our churches by making them pay for pastors’ debt burdens.
- Seminaries create unhelpful hierarchies in churches. By having degreed, credentialed church leaders a dichotomy is drawn between the haves and the have-nots. Especially as churches are becoming serious about the priesthood of all believers, this division will become increasingly frowned upon.
- Seminaries have crossed the line into institutional preservation. Especially now that we are in an economic downturn, many seminaries are in institutional survival mode. Whenever you are in survival mode the continuation of the institution becomes primary, not the mission. Seminaries are thinking less about how to train church leaders and more about how to keep the doors open (Our churches often face the same problem).
- Resources are becoming available for little to no cost. The open-source movement is beginning to catch on in areas other than software. Blogs are offering high quality content at no cost. Resources for ministry are offered for free download. Academic journals can be found online for free. This trend will eventually mean that the best scholarship and ministry resources will be published for the world to see for free, making it very difficult to convince someone to pay thousands of dollars for access to cutting-edge thinking and research.
- Technology has made brick-and-mortar institutions less important. With the advent of broadband internet and it’s related technologies we are not bound by geography when it comes to learning and training. Workshops, seminars, online conferences, and whole semester-long classes can be done over the internet. Relocating to do such a thing makes less and less sense as time goes on.
- You learn too much too quickly. Think about it: you hole yourself up in a classroom for a few years trying to soak in a bunch of information and then you are thrust into a congregation to try and put it all to use. In addition to that, you are used to being able to dedicate yourself to your studies full-time. In a congregation you have bulletins to update, newsletter articles to write, people to visit, events to plan, sermons to write, and more. How are you ever going to find time to keep learning? A program that is concurrent with ministry in a local congregation and spread over a longer period of time has two advantages. One, you can focus on and implement a few ideas at a time without being overwhelmed. Take a class, implement it; take another class, implement it; this is a much more sustainable model. Two, learning to budget yourself to have time for ministry and a learning program will better enable you to become a lifelong learner because you are forced to make yourself do both at the same time. This will set you up for being able to continue learning even after your program is over.
- Seminaries usurp the role of the church. This is my biggest problem with seminary programs. Why do we have to go off somewhere for 2-4 years to study theology? What are our churches doing? Shouldn’t the church be the place where people are taught, trained, and released for ministry? The fact that training has been outsourced to the seminaries is a sign of a failure of the church. The future ecclesiology that sees churches as places of equipping their congregations for mission will change this and make seminaries ultimately irrelevant for training church leaders.
Now, the above is quite forward-looking. Maybe seminaries are not completely irrelevant today, but at the very least, seminary is becoming irrelevant, quickly. The seminaries that see this coming and adapt might survive and be able to adjust. But those who stay stuck in a model that is 150 years old are bound to fail.
As I referenced in the last post, Luther Seminary is one of the institutions that is taking innovative steps to adjust to the changing world with their Distributed Learning program and by offering Online Seminars to average church leaders. However, I think they are taking the first baby steps to really helping people rethink what it means to train church leaders. I hope they and others will continue to push the envelope and not get behind the curve of cultural and ecclesiological development.
Lastly, I put in parentheses that seminaries are irrelevant for church leaders. However, it would be a tragedy for there to be no form of Christian scholarship. I hope there are always places for people to get Ph.D.’s in the various fields of study, but I believe that the future of equipping and training people for local congregational ministry has already begun the shift away from the brick-and-mortar institutions towards the local church.
[Update: I have written a postscript on these two posts. Read it here.]
These are very interesting and thought-provoking. I personally have found #12 to be true; I would have liked to take pastoral care after entering professional church ministry when it would have made much more sense in a more practical setting.
It’s going to be tough, though, to reinvent what seminary should be when it’s hard to imagine anything other than what has already been. I enjoyed my time in seminary, but I also see how it didn’t prepare me for a lot of the practical needs of parish ministry. I was taken aback when I discovered that church work was, to a great extent, administrative. No one had warned me about that.
I’ll need to ponder more, but this is a wonderful and thought-provoking list. Thanks for posting it.
Laura, thanks for joining the conversation. I think I will include a postscript on this mini-series about my own personal love for education, scholarship, and academia. I think it will help to balance where I’m coming from; I might come across as too adversarial right now.
I’m honestly just looking at current cultural trends, shifts in ecclesiology that are beginning to take place, and my own experience in a non-traditional seminary program and making some observations about the future. Yes, it will be difficult and it will take time, but I think the church will be better off for it.
Gosh…I have to tackle more of these 🙂 Good points man, well thought through.
#7. Totally agree. You get what you pay for though. If a seminary is cheap it probably says something about its quality.
#8. Partially true. I think this goes back to what I said yesterday. People follow leaders. Seminaries raise up and help leaders be knowledgeable and qualified.
#9. I haven’t seen that. Maybe more so in denominational seminaries, which I agree with you…are a thing of the past.
#10. Very true. However, seminary is much more than resources for me.
#11. Internet classes are rarely as good as face to face. But I do agree that good seminaries are rethinking how they can take advantage of having a location and the internet at their disposal.
#12. This for me is a personal choice. You can do seminary in 2 or 3 years…or you can take your time and let it soak in. I am choosing the latter. 2 years in and I’m not even half-way done.
#13. Certainly the church can do a better job of discipleship and teaching outside of the Sunday morning context.
How about this: when we’re 90 years old we both revisit these posts and see who “wins”?
Thanks for the thoughts. I’m looking forward to more lively discussion over at goingtoseminary.com. Are you going to do it?
great posts! My undergraduate degree in CE is now 33 years old nothing I learned really applies to church today and did not prepare me for 35 years of ministry 25+ in Mega-church land. I do think it taught me how to finish something I started which has been a great life lesson since so many folks who started in ministry with me are not in ministry any longer. I didn’t go to seminary but went straight to working in a church. Now in my late 50’s I do wish I had a post graduate degree. Some of my books are used in seminaries I don’t think the extra degree would do anything for me but I still wish I had one.
Jim, thanks for the comment. I’m sure you would agree that there are less expensive ways of learning to finish something you start!
I must have had a radically different seminary experience, though I do agree with #7.
I graduated from seminary a year ago and I can say, without a doubt in my mind, that I could not do this job as well as I do without that education. I was educated from a theological standpoint, yes, but also had many classes that were practical in nature – on leadership, system structure, church politics, adaptive challenges, counseling, etc – that have made my ability to do this work better. I also was required to do 250 hrs of field education, with a supervisor, while there. This helped me “put legs” on what they would theorize about in the classroom. Plus the fact I’d done ministry in the church before going there helped, as I had previous experience to draw form and help me relate to the issues talked about.
Perhaps the fact I felt so well-prepared is due to two things: 1.) The seminary had just finished years of research interviewing pastors and the families of pastors who left the ministry to do completely different jobs. They integrated their findings into the classroom, helping prepare us for what burn-out looks like. 2.) I am still in contact with some of my seminary professors (and my field education director) plus several fellow students, all who give me advice, are sounding boards, and help me through some of the tough stuff I face day-to-day. That network of support is vital to help keep me going.
All this combined made my seminary experience invaluable and anything but irrelevant. I am more thankful than every for this after reading your post and the comments.
Where did you go to seminary? Sounds like they are taking the right approach.
Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis.
As with most issues, one must be careful to not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Many of Matt’s conclusions have value, but should not be accepted indiscriminately across the board. I am also a graduate of Covenant Seminary in St. Louis and I agree wholeheartedly with Stephanie’s comments above.