- 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.]