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01 Apr '13

An interesting article on seminaries in America and the professionalization of ministry

Posted by T.J. Addington in seminaries
In light of a recent blog, "What I didn't learn in Seminary and why it matters," and other blogs on the professionalization of ministry where we hire people to do ministry rather than release the congregation into ministry I found this article (Are Seminaries Putting Their Blue Days Behind Them) to be very interesting.

To be clear, I believe in the necessity of good theological training. Theologically, I received one of the best. However, unless American seminaries can find cheaper and more user friendly alternatives to the traditional three to four year model of full time residential training at the cost of much debt and outside of the day to day ministry environment, I believe that they will continue to face the issue of relevancy and that students (and the church) will find alternative methods of training pastors. They must also pay attention to a ministry environment in the church that has changed drastically in the past 50 years!

The current and future economy will also force another issue. Can we afford to hire professionals do do ministry for us or do we need to relearn the theological truth that those in full time ministry are tasked with equipping the congregation to do real ministry? I fear that the mandate of Ephesians 4:11-12 has largely been lost in the American church today. How many of our full time staff spend the majority of their time doing ministry for others rather than equipping people to do ministry and releasing them into meaningful ministry?

Unfortunately, one of the consequences of both specialized training for ministry along with the professionalization of ministry has created an A and B team mentality that raises the profile of those with the education and lowers the mentality of those who do not. I believe there is widespread belief in the pew that "I am not qualified to do real ministry." We often reinforce that view when we don't fully utilize the very gifts God gave each one to join Him in His work - Ephesians 2:10.

In addition, we often redefine ministry as what happens inside the church - supporting all of our programming rather than thinking outside the church where most of us spend the majority of our lives, impacting our circles and relationships. This is one reason that many churches have influence that extends to the limits of their parking lot rather than beyond. One large evangelical church staff member told me recently that in their congregation of 1,000+, he could only count 13 local conversions in the past year.

A lesson we could learn on all of these counts is from the majority world where formal theological education and the hiring of staff is not an option. Why cannot we deliver informal (or formal) theological education in more creative, less expensive ways as we must do there? And in terms of staffing, it is largely volunteer since they cannot afford to hire full time staff. Are there alternate models that we need to look at? Not an either or but a both and?