What is seminary for, really? It seems to me that the typical goals have been things like: maintain accreditation with Association of Theological Schools (ATS), hire world-famous faculty, be a leader in scholarship, maintain denominational standards of indoctrination, and have a beautiful campus. These must be the goals because seminaries seem to do these things quite well.
Seminaries are failing at one important thing: training effective leaders in the church. There are different anecdotal and research-based evidences that point to this. The most obvious one is that the church in America is declining–effective leaders generally grow and multiply churches and other leaders.
Seminaries need to re-orient their goal: sustainably training people for leadership in the church. That’s it. Everything else is subservient to that. Is ATS getting in the way of your innovative new training program? Forgo accreditation. Are you spending too much maintaining a campus infrastructure to keep tuition costs reasonable? Sell the buildings. Have too much money tied up in full-time faculty? Get rid of them. Enrollment down? Jettison the denominational boundaries and make outsiders feel welcome.
Sustainability is the key. Seminary costs are rising. Congregations are shrinking. It doesn’t take a lot of fancy math to know that this is not a sustainable long-term game plan. The easiest way to make seminary sustainable is to decrease costs for students. When it is already difficult for a full-time pastor to pay student loans, it’s just going to get more difficult as church leadership turns ever more in a bi-vocational direction.
Notice I said seminary is for training “leaders,” not “pastors”. Ecclesiology is shifting, and for the better in my opinion. Ordained, denominationally-sanctioned ministry will become a thing of the past (and already is in evangelicalism). Local churches will be the ones who call people into ministry, and their roles will be diverse. Many potential leaders need training, but they will never preach a sermon. Maybe they will never teach a Sunday school class. But they will coordinate the church’s mission outreach, lead the discipleship ministry, or coordinate massive projects between churches and community organizations. Churches need well-rounded leadership, and if the leaders are going to be bi-vocational, then there will have to be more leaders. Seminary training will need to be flexible enough to train this diversity of leadership.
Seminaries have one goal: to sustainably train people for leadership in the church. I have some ideas what it might look like if a seminary seriously embraced this goal and will share it with you over the coming weeks.
What do you think a seminary would look like that relentlessly and sustainably trained church leaders?