Monday, April 23, 2012

The problem with seminaries...

Over the past few years there have been abundant discussions and heated discussions over what should be required in terms of training for those to be ordained.  In the LCMS we have had our DELTOs and SMPs and so many incarnations of diaconal offices, yet none official with Synod as a whole, that it has become more than a theoretical question.  I have posted some of it here.

There have also been a host of articles by non-Lutherans about seminaries and whether or not they remain a good idea.  Lutherans don't have seminaries simply as educational centers since we include in them field work and an internship and, at least for Missouri, the seminaries also then certify and commend graduates to the church for ordination (as they have done for so many years).  But often we end up borrowing from those who are questioning the value of seminaries and using their arguments in our own discussions.

I was given a link to a FORBES set of articles which hit on seminaries pretty hard.  In fact the author suggested that he would give a person with some business experience (real world) and a mentor the nod over any twenty something with backpack in tow heading to class at a seminary.  Ouch.  This is less a discussion on seminary than an indictment against having an educated clergy at all.  Maybe that is where some Lutherans are headed but I doubt Missouri will follow that path.

This guy said that "seminary" education for the apostles was rabbical mentoring with Jesus which included some theological debates with the religious authorities but mostly it was parties, stories, healings and alms.  That is a pile of bulloney if you get what I mean.  Jesus' instruction of His apostles was not an endless string of tall tales, eating out, dramatic healings, and a few kindnesses thrown in.  It was exactly what a seminary education is supposed to be today.  Jesus opened the Scriptures to them to show how the Son of Man would be betrayed into the hands of sinners, suffer and die on the cross and on the third day rise again and how all the Law and the Prophets pointed to this and were fulfilled by this.  Granted they did not have a dorm room or cafeteria or library or classrooms or bookstore or parking lot, per se.  But they did have reasonable substitutes for them and the content and context of seminary training is not so radically different today than it was for the apostles learning at the feet of Jesus.

Seminary should not equate to buildings and curriculum catalogs only.  Seminary is organized instruction in the Word of God to open the learner to the Law and the Prophets as they point to Jesus and to prepare them for the pastoral vocation of preaching, presiding, teaching, and caring for the people of God (and therefore, by extension, also to the people not yet in the kingdom).  I am not saying that everything has to look exactly like it does not.  All I am trying to do is bust the myth that theological and practical training of the clergy is a modern day invention.  It is there throughout Christian history in various formats but with common core of instructional matter and a common goal and outcome.  In fact, it may have been more rigorous in the past than we have it today.  No, Jesus did not give mid-terms or finals but His apostles were with Him constantly over some three years of His public ministry.  What they learned or did not learn was helped by the gift of the Spirit who would bring to mind all that He had told them. 

For those training for full time service as Pastors, the worst that could happen is that you might end up driving a cab instead of being a Pastor.  For those in Jesus' day, the worst that could happen to you was being run out of town or arrested and martyred.  Personally, I would choose the former over the latter consequences.

The seminaries that have served Lutheranism, specifically Missouri, for so many years are not monolithic and unchanging.  They have adapted and changed and continue to be a thing in process -- with the goal of meeting the needs and expectations of the Church they serve.  But I am not ready to ditch seminaries in favor of a mentoring program and I am not ready to distance what happens on our seminary campuses from what the apostles learned directly from Jesus.  Different, of course, but the same as well.

I am exceptionally proud of the educational system that produced me (though I would not ever blame them or my parents for my own flaws and failings).  That system, by the way, is gone.  The Synod dismantled it in the late 1970s.  I mourn the loss of the feeder system that built progressive foundations in preparation for and to be fulfilled at the seminary but, in many ways, the Seminary in Fort Wayne today is a whale of a better school than it was when I graduated 32 years ago.  It has a much better and well integrated curriculum and the faculty is much closer to the parish than some of (well, many of) the profs were when I was there.

When I began as a Pastor, I was close to the most educated person in my parish.  Not so today.  I have a congregation filled with folks with graduate training at least as extensive as mine and, in some cases, they are far more educated than I am.  Now is not the time to be ditching a seminary training model in favor of a mentoring system with a few book learning courses thrown in.  Our people can see the difference.  Holiness of life/intention and education should not be antithetical.  Holiness and a sense of calling should not be allowed to substitute for adequate training. We need both.  We need people who serve out a deeply formed sense of personal calling, people of good character in the faith, people instructed and judged capable by the Church, and people whose calling the Church confirms with a local election.  This is most true of the men who would be Pastors but no less true of the auxiliary offices held by men and women.


Dan O'Day said...

You make some great points, but I also think you missed the point of his article. His point was that the disciples were trained via apprenticeship. It was more clinical than didactic. You are correct in pointing out that this apprenticeship did include a lot of didactic instruction, but it primarily occurred in a clinical setting. Jesus was doing ministry and the disciples (apprentices) were with Him and learning as much from example as from verbal instruction. Jesus would then explain His teachings and actions in greater detail to them. This would look a lot more like having candidates embedded with pastors in the parish and learning theology as they go. I am not opposed to higher education for pastors, but this is not pastoral formation - it is noetic formation. Perhaps the seminary degree could be the prerequisite to pastoral formation, but apprenticeship is the model needed for effective ministry preparation. And I'd be willing to bet that a few of the original apostles could have never met the entrance requirements at Concordia....

Janis Williams said...

Though I am a woman, I was educated in a Baptist seminary. I have a Master's in Religious Education. My degree did not include the Biblical languages (which I rue). It did include basic New and Old Testament Survey courses. The bulk of my degree was practical. I studied psychology, counseling, educational theory, etc.

Practical education (whether in Social Sciences or Business) is not adequate for Theological leadership.

I am not eligible for the ministry, but were I male, I would not focus my education on the practical but the theological. Temperament you are born with; common sense can be learned in harness. Theology should be well-taught and learned by those who lead Christ's Church.

Joe Herl said...

I would like to suggest two other reasons to value seminary education. First, the seminary provides spiritual formation as future pastors are formed in a life of prayer through the Daily Office. This happens to an even greater extent at a Catholic seminary near us, where all students sing Lauds, Mass, Vespers, and Compline every day, and the upperclassmen also say the other offices privately. The value of this is evident, as the Church's liturgy shapes the private prayers and spirituality of the students.

A second reason for seminary education is that it forms community and builds trust among pastors. When controversies later arise in the Church, it is much easier to talk through them with an old friend than with a stranger.

Anonymous said...

Apprenticeship is mentoring, no? While this apprenticeship was clinical it was not primarily so. It was primarily didactic for the apostles. They did not learn by doing but by listening to the teacher. Only a couple of instances show the disciples being sent by Jesus for a task. The rest of the time they listened and watched (sometimes being questioned by Jesus and fewer times questioning Jesus). I think we look back upon the disciples time with Jesus as some idyllic field trip when it was hard work for a people not accustomed to being taught and then held accountable for that teaching.