- 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
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?
Benjer McVeigh says
On sustainability: one thing that I keep thinking about is, “Isn’t there a cheaper way to train a church leader?” And I say that as someone who really loved my seminary experience and believe I got a great education for a decent price when compared to other Masters-level programs.
Looking back at my seminary experience (M.Div.), the best part of those years was that I was serving at a church at the same time as pursuing my degree. I would say that I have learned at least as much–if not more–about being a pastor by serving in a local church than I did in seminary. I don’t think that getting rid of classes is the answer by any means. After all, I am a much better preacher and teacher because of my Hebrew and Greek classes, and there’s no way I would have learned those skills on my own outside a classroom. However, I would say that a handful of classes were not helpful to me at all, and that 1/3 to 1/2 of them were useful, but didn’t need to be taught in a seminary setting. (The remainder I would say were best done in a classroom, such as apologetics, languages, history, etc.)
If I had to venture a guess, I would say that the future of pastoral training lies in network-based (or denominational-based) non-accredited training programs. I think that while some seminaries will survive–and will do good work in training leaders–as it becomes more and more difficult to earn a living as a pastor in our culture, grass roots movements will find better, cheaper ways to train leaders, and graduating from an ATS-accredited seminary or theological school will become less important and less common.
You’re stealing my thunder! Yup, I think you are exactly on the right track. I’ll detail more with the future posts.
One of my frustrations with seminary was the overlap between my undergrad and seminary classes. I know now everyone had Bible and Church history before coming to seminary. But for those of us who did, it would be nice to not have a whole bunch of hoops to jump through. Maybe some seminaries handle this better.
Tom Schwolert says
The problem is that most of the really great leaders aren’t going to seminary, so seminaries aren’t really pushed to be anything different. I have even seen where really strong leaders weren’t allowed into seminaries because of some of their radical views. And then those that are allowed in, don’t get in because because t0hey have great leadership qualities but because they have good church-speak but get out into the real world on the ground where churches are messy and they have no clue how to lead. So they just go along and keep things peaceful and the church gradually declines and then people cry out for leadership, etc., etc. It’s a vicious circle.
Yeah, I think we are seeing a lot of that. Which is why I would expect that most seminaries that embrace the kind of approach I am hoping for will be new or young seminaries, and maybe they won’t even call themselves “seminaries.” But, I’m guessing that the established institutional seminaries won’t change a whole lot. They might nibble at the edges, but things like accreditation, bureaucracy, and tradition will get in the way of wholesale change. Which is fine. Oldline churches will still need leaders until they die out.
I just changed my study focus at DTS to their newest MA program that focuses on Christian Leadership. It’s really encouraging to be a part of a program that’s focusing purely on the Scriptures and Developing Leaders. I’ll agree that seminary is getting extremely expensive. If I didn’t receive some funding from church and scholarships I’d be forced to choose between seminary or working at the church. In Dallas there is not a focus on developing leaders usually because the developed leaders end up getting “Promoted” to the Dallas area. So I consider myself blessed to be learning and focusing on how to raise up leaders in the church and through the church. Great blog post!
Josh, thanks for your insight. I may be emailing you about DTS soon. We’ll see.