Seminary Education under the Spotlight

Frederick Schmidt asks some tough questions about how we train church leaders … here. Quotable:

Seminarians often head off to school, uproot their families, and begin paying tuition bills with little clear indication from their churches that their denominations share their enthusiasm for their vocation; and there is little honest information about the shape of the opportunities that lie ahead. In some cases a seminarian can wait five to seven years before learning if she will be ordained, and in the meantime he is forced to run a gauntlet of committees and requirements that is more akin to hazing for membership in a fraternity, than it is serious preparation for ministry.
So, should we throw the system out, disband our seminaries, and launch even more deeply into the brave new world of clergy preparation? Should we throw the task back on the churches, requiring each one to grow its own clergy? Or should we rely on regional choices and an array of on-line approaches? All of those options are currently in play.
… Realistically speaking, I am afraid that we will limp along with a struggling seminary system and a church that never quite clarifies what it wants from its clergy. As one bishop told me, “We (bishops) don’t have strategic conversations about this or anything.”

Years ago, I suggested that the seminary of the future should be one part seminar (on Scripture, theology, church history, leadership, etc.), one part monastery (focusing on spiritual formation, including emotional maturity and character development), and one part mission agency (deploying the student into experiences and internships among the poor, the sick, the mentally ill, the imprisoned, refugees, migrant workers, the elderly, children, and so on). More recently, I’ve wondered whether new church development requires a radically different kind of training from ministry in an established or declining church. I’ve also wondered if what we really need are pastoral orders – think the Franciscans or the Benedictines – where postulants become members of a lifelong community of lifelong learning, mutual support, and friendship. This is truly an important subject, and kudos to Dr. Schmidt for getting the issue on the table.