Seminaries generally do a fine job of educating the minds of people who are called into ministry. But how well do they form the hearts and spirits of those people? Do seminaries build leaders who are servants of Christ?
An 18th-century painting of a Quaker meeting hangs in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. In it a figure, perhaps George Fox himself, stands speaking with such passion that his hand is clutching his breast. Around him are gathered members of the Society of Friends. A woman sits with her chin in her hand. A man’s finger is laid alongside his cheek.
After serving as a chaplain in World War II, Gordon Cosby wanted to create a church that helped people truly become disciples of Christ. Since the 1940s, the Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C., has called people to spiritual discipline and to social mission.
“A funny thing happened to me on the way to the pulpit today” is as familiar a remark in some churches as “It was a quiet week in Lake Wobegon” is on Saturday radio. Take the recent seminary graduate who comes to her first parish. Sermon after sermon includes a story about a seminary classmate, or about the place where she used to live or about how her wedding plans remind her of something in the epistle. Is there anything wrong with sharing one's life and experiences from the pulpit?
If church leaders had the chance to fashion a seminary from scratch, what would it look like? Would it have its own campus? Would it be tied to a denomination or be fully ecumenical? Would the classical academic subjects be taught and, if so, how would that learning be correlated with the work of forming spiritual leaders and training them in the practice of ministry?
Some congregations are increasingly relying on search firms to fill pastoral vacancies. Minister Search, the first such firm, began in 2001. It didn’t have a single client the first year, but now it does searches for 30 to 50 pastoral positions annually. Another firm began in 2010 and has completed 753 placements. Ministerial search firms are particularly popular with independent congregations, which lack a denominational structure for finding candidates. Firms typically charge a congregation about one-third the annual compensation of the hired minister (Chicago Tribune, September 4).