Not long ago my friend Andrew reported a conversation he had recently with a seminary faculty member who asked him, “Are we doing a good job?” Great question. I’ve thought about this quite commonly in recent weeks. I’m assuming your response to this question might depend on the extent of your experience with Christian ministers, or your own reflections from your seminary experience, if you are clergy.
Though there were aspects of my own seminary experience that I had hoped would be more helpful, I’m thankful for what I received from my theological education. I thought that my experience in seminary equipped me theologically, biblically, and practically for ministry. I do wish that leadership skills would have been emphasized more, and I also wish that greater theological diversity would’ve been present in my training. Overall, as I’ve stated, I’m thankful. My education was also supplemented by experience in great churches throughout my life.
I’ve spoken to friends who attended other seminaries who had hoped for more–practically, biblically, and theologically. I have also heard friends that retrospectively would’ve liked for more instruction on how to lead a staff, as well as how to engage theologically with the world as it exists today, not some time 50 years ago in which Christendom was still largely holding a grip on American culture.
The web is a great space for debate. Whether you leave a comment here, or write your own post elsewhere, I thought I’d derive a few questions worthy of discussion. So, do you think seminaries are doing a good job?
- Do seminaries do an adequate job of training potential pastoral leaders in line with the doctrinal heritage of their particular traditions (Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran, Baptist, etc.)? (Scott Jones helped me see the importance of this question in his book Staying at the Table)
- Do seminaries do an adequate job of teaching the Bible? How many hours of an 85-90 hour Master of Divinity program should focus specifically on Scripture to be deemed “adequate”, particularly in a post-Christian culture that no longer is immersed in the biblical narrative?
- Do seminaries do an adequate job of leadership development? Are graduates equipped with the tools needed to lead congregations that are both large and small, single clergy or multi-staff?
- Do seminaries adequately equip leaders with the tools to creatively engage culture and speak to it (or form it) from the Christian tradition? In other words, have seminaries become a “noncontextual, academy based” ground for training that keeps ministerial leaders in a “wonderfully abstracted world of abstraction”, or are they seeking to help leaders engage the real world missionally and contextually? (Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, 121)
- Do seminaries create occasions where practice and theory meet, so that pastoral leaders can be adequately equipped and taught skills which will be used day by day in ministry (pastoral care, etc.)? Are students observed somehow, someway in ministry contexts where they can be mentored to be better pastoral leaders during their seminary experience?
- Do seminaries adequately cast vision for evangelism, the importance of the church as the locus of God’s transformation, or for the grandeur of the Lordship of Jesus Christ? (I can think of no better example than St. Paul School of Theology, which has a window, I believe in the dining hall, on their campus overlooking the heart of downtown Kansas City. What a great opportunity to cast vision. How often that opportunity is taken I do not know. I could not find a picture of the view on their website.)
- Do seminaries form pastoral leaders into the type of people whom we can undeniably say have dwelt in the presence of Jesus, and whom we would sincerely like to follow?
Feel free to add to this list, or even call into question some of the areas of focus I have identified. What other areas should seminaries focus upon to train leaders for pastoral ministry today? What do you think?