Friday, July 31, 2009
Rev. Magazine posted an interesting interview this morning with Leland Eliason, the provost at Bethel Seminary about the relvancy of today's seminaries. They deal with some sensitive subjects; like the changing culture of the church and the seemingly unchanging culture at many of the nation's seminaries; the number of prominent, growing churches that are pastored by non-seminary trained pastors,...I have a slightly different view on this. When it comes to higher education, learning is not what education is about. Learning is easy. I barely attended class in graduate school. Read on my own and showed up for tests or other evaluative exercises. Nope, higher education is about apprenticeship and gatekeeping.
So… pastors that do well over the long haul without seminary training are just really self-motivated. I can buy that totally. I know some of them, and this motivation and the appetite for learning and having a great mentor is a quality that each and every one of them has.
Seminary then, is for the people who don’t have the motivation, structure, or discipline to make it happen? Is that really what he meant to say, or am I reading it differently?
The true value he does say that seminary gives is the perspective of church history. I would agree… but this could also be just as easily learned through self study and motivation, could it not?
What’s your take? Is seminary still invaluable? Are the teaching young pastors what they need to know to be effective in local ministry?
If seminaries are fading into irrelevance, then it is because they are failing at that function. They are educating, but not preparing, they building student bodies instead of building pastors.
And this is a huge problem for the church. If, and this is a gigantic if, a church staff served apprentice functions then maybe we could get by without something like a seminary, but most church staffs I know, the younger people are just cannon fodder. The senior staff uses them for labor, and if, God forbid, something goes wrong, they are disposable and blamable so that senior staff can keep right on going.
It seems our choices in pastoral formation are over-educated academics with no leadership skills, or self-centered survivors, skilled at building the church, but not disciples. Not a pretty picture.
I personally think the solution needs to start in the congregations. If took seriously what it means to be lay leadership, then maybe, just maybe, staff would have to improve.