Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Fear and Trembling in New England...

Sitting in the computer lab at the School of Theology, I realized I might not have completed a vital assignment for today. At that moment, my life, the universe, and everything flashed before my eyes and all I could think was "maybe it's really 41!" Odds are, this is just the kind of thought that comes to most sleep-deprived graduate students taking more than a full courseload and trying to work as well... but I can't know unless I'm told.

The truth is, CPE is both more practical and more fulfilling than I had expected -- not because I think it's a bad thing, mind you, but because I had hoped to take it after finishing Seminary and knowing exactly what issues I needed to address in a clinical setting. Our Board of Ordained Ministry has determined that won't work, so I've decided to cram it in now, lose sleep, become a less effective student near the end of my time at school, and try to cram in the experience without having to give up my income to boot... and I'm almost enjoying it.

In my "spare time" I've been contemplating the value of formal seminary education, and I've concluded that at least where I've been a student it is neither academic or practical, but a broken amalgamation of the two, approximating a very poorly organized baccalaureat program. I'm not entirely sure how to do it better, though requiring all our clergy to get an M.A. in either Theology, Biblical Studies, or a related field, and spending an intensive year or two as an associate to a compitent experienced pastor might work as well. I don't know -- but that's more or less what the Wesley's did, and it didn't seem to be any worse than the current system.

I'm in favor of an educated clergy, but I fear the current system creates people without any real expertise, but with substantial sense that they should be experts -- and that might make us all more dangerous, not less.

What do you think? How could we improve on the system most churches use to train clergy?


Anonymous said...

My father-in-law (a Nazarene pastor for over 25 years)has a really good take on the whole seminary experience. Basically, he says that professors at seminaries train, teach, and reproduce more professors. Active, working pastors train, teach, and reproduce pastors. That's not to say that he (or I) thinks pastors needent get further education, it is just limited. The CPE thing makes some sense, although I think it would make much more sense to have it in a church setting, instead of a hospital or somewhere else.

Pastoring, as far as I can tell, is something that requires experience, mostly because you end up working with people. Specifically, you manage people who are kind of like employees, but you can't fire them, so you need to learn how to poke and prod very gently. (Tongue in cheek there, of course.) More than that, seminaries tend to draw together like-minded folks, at least in a lot of ways. You don't have that as a pastor--you need to connect and minister to as broad a section of people as possible. That kind of wisdom, besides requiring an ample helping of Godly grace, only comes from doing it and failing at it.

A focus on church experience, and less on high theology that the majority of folks in most congregations won't ever think about, is my quick and easy solution to this problem. Obviously that's easier said than done, and gives away my bias toward Evangelical churches, styles, etc. However, if the goal of pastoring is to reach people with the Gospel and help them grow in to disciples of Christ, it's not really getting done very well with the current system, especially among the mainline churches. (No offense, but a glance at church attendance figures can reveal that.) That's my quick and dirty opinion, anyway--get simple and love people like Christ. I'm curious to see what others think...


nathan said...

I certainly think some things need to change. I decided for myself that I would never be a full-time student again. I will complete my MDiv over the next ten years or so. Training as I go. Honestly, I learned more from some godly mentors and pastors than I did from my seminary professors. The problem with seminary is that there's no time to apply what you are learning. I believe that training for the ministry should be done through the church. More emphasis should be placed on the discipling relationship with seminars scheduled throughout the year on the side. Part of me wants to complete seminary just so I have some credibility to change the system. Otherwise, I haven't gained much from the two years I spent in full-time seminary education. But I sure have learned a lot from actually pastoring. I'm grateful to the men I have in my life who are coaching and guiding me as I simply do what I'm called to do. Not many seminary professors will do that.