Feb 21, 2006
I recently began consulting with three seminary faculties that have gone through significant changes and crises in the past three years. These crises involved retirements, staff sexual misconduct, building programs, faculty-administration conflicts, curriculum changes and financial strains. In addition, personal tragedies had affected staff relationships by deepening both personal and corporate pain. In one case, conflict led leaders to make decisions without consulting staff or faculty groups.
One day we woke up and saw that they were everywhere. Looking back, we realized that they had been there all along, growing in the soil under our feet, watered by the same water we drank, preparing to pop up their heads and bask in the sun.
Who were these creatures? Seminarians, and future seminarians—people discerning a call to ordained ministry. Suddenly, at a church with 225 members, we had eight of them, all needing to meet with pastors and deacons to determine their fitness for ministry. Suddenly we were a calling church.
Elijah, the great prophet who has traveled the length of Israel and spoken the word of the Lord directly to Israel’s king, is now about to take the longest journey of all. Somehow he knows that his time has come. His disciple Elisha knows too, but they do not speak of it. Instead, Elijah turns to Elisha and says, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.”
Elisha will hear none of it. He vows, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they go down to Bethel together, with the unspoken reality of impending death accompanying them.
Seminary programs should be one part monastery, one part seminar and one part mission agency. As monastery, such a program would require emerging leaders to spend extended periods living in community and devoted to spiritual practices like contemplative prayer or lectio divina.
Those who have served as pastors know that without spiritual disciplines we can’t be sustained in our calling. Practice in the spiritual life—which is so often taken for granted—needs to be a central thread of training Christian leaders.
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. Protestant Latino/Latina churches (iglesias evangélicas) all over this country are discovering that their need to provide graduate-level theological education to their pastorally gifted leaders is blocked by rules that exclude “illegal aliens” from higher education.
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. Our being is relational, so learning about that being, and its relation to divinity, involves a degree of intimate relationality and a participation in the eternal conversation of the Trinity.
"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.
The highest levels of theological education will always require the maximum breadth of learning, which will still be represented by a liberal arts baccalaureate degree followed by a specialized master of divinity. There will never be any substitute for excellence in the study of the Bible, church history, systematic theology and the practice of ministry.
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. It would appear that a seminary education is simply about getting a piece of paper which acknowledges that a person has jumped through the denominational hoops.
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.
Hamas to use shari‘a as governing basis; churches urge peace: Movement might moderate positions temporarily
Military action against Iran is unwarranted and unwise: one, a nuclear threat is not imminent. Two, the U.S. and Israel’s military superiority should discourage Iran from aggressive action. Three, the destruction of Iran’s nuclear facilities would be difficult: they are widely dispersed, with many in underground bunkers. Four, Iran has the means with which to retalliate. Five, Iran could embargo its oil and plunge the world into deep depression. Finally, military action would strengthen hardline Islamists (Richard Falk, the Nation, Feb. 13).