Theological schools and church leaders need to accept collective and unambiguous accountability for developing excellent clergy—leaders with the qualifications, capabilities and credentials to shape communities in the life-giving message of God’s grace, justice and reconciliation.
By 2050 Latinos and Latinas will constitute at least one fourth of the U.S. population. They are increasingly part of Protestant as well as Roman Catholic churches, though they often live in this country without legal status.
What we want theological education to look like depends on what sort of church we want, and on what we think ministers are for. Do we want highly trained leaders who know how to lead, recruit and motivate? Or do we want pastors and priests who know God, and know how to connect other people to God?
From the Academy of ancient Greece to the medieval schools, education was understood to be centered upon conversation (conversor, literally meaning “being together”). Plato’s dialogues and Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae are written in the form of a conversation.
"Unite the pair so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety,” wrote Charles Wesley in the 1763. Theological education in the middle of the 21st century will still be wrestling with that basic pairing.
Way too much emphasis is placed on making theological education accessible and convenient. With the rise of Internet courses and distance learning, seminaries have accommodated to the spirit of individualism rather then drawing on the biblical mandate that leaders be formed through intentional community.
By 2050 the training of ministers will have shifted to where the students are located. Teachers will travel a third of their time. This will be cheaper and more effective than transplanting students. Cheap travel will allow courses to be set in a relevant historical location—Reformation history taught in partnership with a Germany-based tour company, the book of Ephesians taught in Ephesus.
With many mainline Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church expecting fewer young pastors in coming years, the Fund for Theological Education (FTE) says that it will receive $6 million from the Lilly Endowment for matching grants to congregations that back seminarians starting their Master of Divinity studies.
I write this near the end of a doctor of ministry class at Columbia Seminary, where 16 pastors are exploring virtues for preaching. We are exploring virtues instead of skills because most of us recognize that scholarly exegesis, narrative flair and good eye contact have gotten us about as far as they will.
A free association exercise: Random memories from the 18 months I spent as a chaplain intern at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.
Computer lists of patients generated by the clacking dot matrix printer and folded neatly to fit into my coat pocket. My tiny notes and check marks slowly accumulating beside the names as the day went by.