Monday, August 16, 2010

Seminary thoughts

Over the last several years I've begun to wonder whether our (evangelicals who value theologically educated pastorate) system is a.) the most faithful to Christ's commission and b.) doesn't eliminate pastors who may be truly called.

Here are some thoughts from seminary professors, one of which, Richard Pratt, had a huge influence on me personally. If you check this out, and read the comments below, you can tell that they didn't have him as a professor: he made us call him "Richard" not "Dr. Pratt." Anyhow, Richard argues for a more hand's on technique, evangelism, preaching, evaluation, and emphasis on rigorous spiritual disciplines like a "boot camp."

I also appreciated Al Mohler's remarks, calling us to understand the obvious inability of seminaries to give hand's on training to pastors. That's the job of the local church. That's why I found a mentor very quickly upon arriving at seminary.

One of the things that I appreciate about our denomination is that we place a high value on a theologically educated pastorate; I would NEVER argue against this. I believe this is necessary if the Reformed faith is to be passed on and serious gospel deviations are to be squelched.

An interesting lad in our Intro to Hebrew class told us that in his Baptist church (I know they're not all like this), they just voted him in as pastor. And that was it! There really wasn't any training or testing period, or ordination process. That scares me.

I'm still in the process of thinking through this, so I'm only thinking. I've personally seen the danger of people who haven't been to seminary, and have simply read a ton of books. They consider themselves theologically educated, but what they've done is simply read the books they liked. They are not well rounded.  Their ideas are not tested or challenged in community, or by former pastors, and they are far from teachable. And they too scare me. Learning from experienced pastors and dialoging in community is vital.

There are alternative ways of theological education currently available which don't require someone to uproot the family, and leave the place where they are currently ministering. I'm becoming more of a fan of these lately.

However, there is also part of me that isn't totally sold on these. I thoroughly enjoyed my seminary experience. It was in seminary where I met my wife, my closest friend, got mentored, and left with a number of fellow ministers who have been a huge resource and blessing in my life. 

But since I escaped from my three years without any debt, that probably puts me in the small minority. While I wouldn't do church the way some mega-churches do it, I wonder whether their process of ordaining pastors from within might be a better and more biblical model. Then add to that some distance education, spiritual formation, dialog with experienced pastors, and finally passing denominational ordination requirements.
I'm trusting that those in my denomination, who have begin to already consider these things, will move forward in dealing with this issue with both wisdom and proper haste.

Feel free to comment and tell me what you think of seminary education today or my thoughts.

11 comments:

Kevin T. Smith said...

I like Pratt's thoughts.

For my two cents - Keep in mind that I have next-to-no experience in this area (I have taken one RTS course -- so far - will maybe take more later!) I too place a high value on a theologically educated pastorate.

I have seen in our denomination -- a tendency to have an overly academic pastorate.

If you are producing pastors who use Christianese and big words that they get from Seminary education, it is hard for normal people to relate to these guys who start spouting words such as ecclesiology, premillinial dispensationalism, eschatology, soteriology, etc.

In addition, I think that in many cases, seminaries seem to spawn debates focusing on intellectual minutiae in various aspects of theology - certainly there are fundamental aspects of our faith that are foundational, but I also think that we as Presbyterians sometimes take it a bit too far -- (see Frame, "Machen's Warrior Children"). Many "down in the weeds" arguments distract us from the big picture. Not only that, it is hard for those without a seminary education to even know what what we are talking about when we get into those debates.

I think seminaries need to somehow focus on relational ministry as well as a grounded theological education. Yes, pastors need to be grounded in a firm foundation of Biblical knowledge and the essentials of the Reformed Faith. But I also believe that there is a spiritual aspect and a relational aspect that has to be developed as well..

Not sure how these things can be taught, but at the end of the day, people need to be able to understand + relate to pastors and vice-versa. The bottom line - we need to share the gospel with people in ways that they can understand.

The good news is, God will use us + shape us to do His good work.

Thanks for putting up with my mini-rant!

Just my 2 cents!

Keith said...

Hey Geoff. I enjoyed Dr. Pratt's thoughts and agree as far as the need for pastoral preparation to require hands-on practical training and not just scholarly aptitude. Ideally I think the context for this is the local church and not seminary alone.

I'm excited about a new curriculum I'm about to go through with some of our rising young leaders, called Porterbrook (http://www.porterbrooknetwork.org/). It was written by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester in the UK and is endorsed by Tim Keller. It's sort of like pre-seminary community college designed for people actually doing ministry, and the workload is realistic for people who are on mission in the local church.

Geoffsnook said...

Kevin,

I appreciate your thoughts, especially on Mechen's Warrior children. Seen enough of those.

Keith,

Thanks for the thoughts and resource. I'll check it out brother.

I guess I still am in favor of a both/and type thing; I just wonder how much of it has to be through a seminary. I think it needs to be overseen by a seminary but more needs to be done under a pastor. Like an apprentice.

dbills said...

I am split on this issue as well. I speak as a born and bred WVian knowing how hard it is to locate qualified people to pastor our churches. There are probably less than 20 Reformed churches in this state and education has everything to do with it. Highly academic educational requirements brushes against at least three problems in Appalachia: 1) It difficult to find potential ministers. 2) The culture finds it difficult to identify with highly educated ministers 3) The culture finds it difficult to embrace the more complicated reformed theology.

On the other hand, low academic requirements are also responsible for reformed theology's lack of success in this state. The easier theology is the theology that those who are less educated among both ministers and parishioners will more readily embrace.

This of course puts reformed theology at a disadvantage. There ought to be a middle ground for training, that provides enough to maintain reformed orthodoxy but that does not at the same time inhibit locating people and training them to be pastors within our culture at a level that can succeed practically in our culture.

Geoffsnook said...

Dennis,

I appreciate your thoughts, especially in relation to WV. Reformed faith is less than strong in WV. It is probably less than weak.

Theological Education is definitely lacking, as I have a neighbor I dearly love being told she is to only read the King James (even though she doesn't understand it!). That is just sad.

Perhaps thinking through a middle ground could be helpful here. I don't propose any solutions, just raising some questions. It's a bit safer to raise questions in the blogosphere than on the floor of presbytery I've found!

dbills said...

Indeed. These thoughts must be considered unofficial musings. But what about this? What about an educational program that did not require a bachelor's degree, but was still theologically and exegetically intense. A Master of Divinity that did not require the prerequisite Bachelors degree--a true Bachelor of Divinity. Non-traditionally delivered; a blend of rigorous classwork and practical responsibility in church settings, perhaps even in a paid position as a church intern. Whatever it is, it needs to be rigorous, especially if with BA degree.

Unfortunately, to not have a BA jumps some serious maturing time that those early years of academics provide.

Usually that maturity is not even available to MDiv graduates, but only comes through the crises of real living both within and outside of the church.

The non-traditional program should therefore be for older students and it must either be a paid program within the church so that it can be pursued full-time, or it must be a program that can fit into the life of a deacon or elder while he works his regular job.

If no BA, then must contain the basics that give people the tools to do study--reading and writing especially, but also mathematics and logic in order to exercise the mind to do rigorous and critical thinking. After these basics, they can then be taught the theological and exegetical tools. All the while, they should have active pastoral, diaconal, or ruling responsibilities within congregations. They must feel the weight of work and be forced to go through the practical struggles of leadership and servanthood that provide the wisdom necessary to pastor.

Typing on the fly, so might not make much sense.

dbills said...

correction--"especially if with NO BA degree."

Randy Greenwald said...

Geoff,

As always, thought provoking. But especially so for me given my new setting. As this popped up I was pondering how to be a mentor to seminary students without allowing that to draw me away from the commitment I have to the church I pastor. Anyway, you know I'm in a unique setting!

Thanks.

Rack 'im.

Geoffsnook said...

Dennis,

Looks like you've been thinking about this more than I have!

Randy,

You're in a unique setting there and have a huge opportunity to mentor seminary students. Just do what you did with me and be consistent with them and they'll be blessed for sure brother.

Some area pastors did a great job mentoring. Some unfortunately didn't, and I really couldn't understand why. You have an awesome chance to help round out their seminary experience. I know RTS-Orlando will benefit from you.

I'm also curious what you think about folks doing what you did? Moving away to study, having kids, working at a grocery store, perhaps going into debt (though that is just speculation).

I know you wouldn't change it for yourself, but would you want people to still go through it? Just curious of your perspective.

dbills said...

Geoff, your post has inspired some thoughts over at blog.adoniram.net

dbills said...

I put another post on my blog continuing some of the thoughts here on starting a Seminary in West Virginia. blog.adoniram.net