The last two days I wrote a two-part series giving 13 reasons why I think seminaries are becoming irrelevant for training church leaders (read Part 1 and Part 2). However, when reading through the comments, I think I need to make a few clarifications and assertions:
- I love academia. This has nothing to do with bad experiences I’ve had in academic settings. I have an undergraduate degree in youth ministry with a minor in Bible. My favorite classes were the theoretical, philosophical, and historical classes: church history, theology classes, general philosophy, Christian philosophy (where we studied Augustine in depth). I have presented two papers at uptight, boring, stereotypical research conferences (and kind of enjoyed it). If I could be a student for the rest of my life, I just might do that. So, this has nothing to do with a personal vendetta against academics.
- I love the church more. One of the things that keeps me from seriously considering a fast-track to a Ph.D. is that I do not believe the hope of the world is found in seminaries, but in local churches. Yes, I know that seminaries train church leaders, who in turn serve in local churches. But my ecclesiology and pneumatology put more emphasis on these local bodies than academic factories that decontextualize and depersonalize the learning process.
- We still need leaders and they still need to be trained and educated. However, I think that a same or higher quality education can be gained within local networks, without nearly as high of a cost, and while still within a concrete ministry context. By approaching education this way, laypeople are more able to participate in the same kind of educational process as pastors and other leaders without having to leave their careers.
- This will take time. I don’t expect seminaries to become obsolete tomorrow. It will take people who do have academic credentials and who do have careers in seminaries to make a break and forge a new path. There has to be a bridge, an intermediate step, that will legitimize a new form of training church leaders. I don’t want our church leaders trained by a bunch of dunces any more than you do.
- A new process will place spiritual formation on the same level as academics. In my experience, when a professor in an academic setting tries to integrate spiritual formation into the classroom there is quite a bit of backlash. Students think their time (and money) is being wasted and that the professor is just giving them fluff work, so they don’t take it seriously. That our Christian universities and seminaries are not places who take spiritual formation seriously is a tragedy. But the problem is with the model. As long as professors are judged and rewarded on research, publishing, pedagogy, and academic rigor spiritual formation will always be an afterthought. To train church leaders without serious attention to spiritual formation is to produce spiritually anemic leaders. A new model of training can put spiritual formation back where it belongs.
- My approach to education is highly influenced by my current seminary program. As I’ve said before, I am part of Luther Seminary’s Distributed Learning Program. It is a Masters of Arts in Youth and Family Ministry that takes 18 courses to complete, nine classes online and nine on-campus classes in intensive courses (one or two week classes). Without a program structured as this one is, I would not be continuing my education right now. I got into this program out of necessity–I wanted to go to seminary and I thought this was the best program (regardless of denomination) for youth ministry that would allow me to keep my full-time job. But now that I am in such a program I am seeing the high value of a non-traditional program, and it is causing me to totally rethink how we might go about training church leaders in the future.