Friday, February 14, 2014
Role of Pastoral Formation on Orthodoxy
The NALC is just beginning to set up its theological training structure and it appears that this path will look less like the traditional sems of old and more like the houses of study with a big dose of online education. Who knows how this far flung enterprise will be governed or how well it will produce faithful clergy to serve the new church born of ELCA's hemorrhage of 2009.
Missouri's struggles center around those who believe residential seminary education is a luxury we can no longer afford and one that no longer adequately reflects the realities of modern life and culture. Against this backdrop there are those who insist that residential seminary education must be more than just the favored path, it must be the regular path for all but the exception. Given Missouri's structure of having the seminary faculty both educate and certify candidates for call and ordination in the church, it will be interesting to see how this can be farmed out and fulfilled when as many as 40% of all clergy in training are not residing on the seminary campus (roughly the situation at our flagship seminary in St. Louis).
My point here is to raise another issue. What role does pastoral formation have on the character and faithfulness of a confessional church? How do the evolving shapes of clergy education impact the confessional character of a church body? Whether by design or accident, the two have been largely coterminous for Missouri -- pastoral formation and orthodoxy. Sure, we had a bump along the way in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but we did not substantially change the process when we changed the players in the unpleasantness of that epoch in our history. How will the move to deployed seminary sites and the loss of a common experience and culture at the seminaries of our church body affect the future orthodoxy and confessional character of the LCMS? I do not know. No one really does. But I am fearful that our less is more approach to the education of our pastors will not be without potential and probable disastrous effect.
We will need to take greater pains that we have in the past to prevent a distinct disjuncture between the LCMS of our past and the LCMS of our future. Benedict XVI often spoke of a hermeneutic of continuity with the Roman Church. In part, the seminary culture and education was the means to such a hermeneutic of continuity within Missouri for many years. While certainly not the only means to such confessional integrity in a changing world, it would be unwise to discount the role of a shared educational experience on sustaining what so many other church bodies have lost -- confessional integrity.
At a time when cost and technology are suggesting that there are cheaper ways to do seminary education that might be just as good, it will be a challenge to maintain the residential seminary route as the regular route and to prevent the alternative routes from overwhelming the system. It is no secret that some District Presidents are anxious to extend their episcopal authority and wrest some of the thunder over who is and who is not a credible candidatus reverendi ministerii. The alternative routes (especially SMP) put more of the ball into the DP's court than has ever been in the past. Perhaps this is because they want some input or perhaps it is because they do not like the product being supplied by residential seminary education -- in any case, power acquired is seldom surrendered without a fight. What will it mean when DPs take on a larger role in the training leg of the path to ordination and roster status? I only wish I knew.
Once the LCMS closed Concordia Senior College and transformed the feeder system of junior college with a theological rationale for a structural problem and we lost more than a school. Now we are on the verge of radically transforming the way we train and certify men for the pastoral ministry and we need to be careful that the driving factors of cost and culture do not cause us to throw out the baby with the bath water. The process of pastoral formation has great impact upon and consequence for maintaining the confessional identity and theological orthodoxy that is the hallmark of our history and modern day persona. Lets be careful here, folks. Tinkering with the way we educate and certify men for the pastoral office is also tinkering with the subtle but effective way we have been able to maintain a more collegial ministerium and a more confessional identity.