The modern university system is bloated, fat, and generally meaningless from the standpoint of both value and return. Nevertheless, everybody figures out a way to go these days. Louis Menand, in The New Yorker, pretty much says the same. So if enrollment numbers are indicative of success then the American university system should be a shining star but we all know that’s not the case. More are going to college than ever before but
“students are increasingly disengaged from the academic part of the college experience . . . The system appears to be drawing in large numbers of people who have no firm career goals but [the universities are] failing to help them acquire focus” says Menand.
Could it be that seminary, as it has been practiced over the last 150 years, has basically done the same? This week the SBC and the General Assembly of the PCA are having their respective national meetings. I have attended both in the past and there will be reports that their various seminaries are flourishing and growing like well-watered weeds. On a side note, I have yet to hear a seminary president say, “we’re doing terrible, stop sending your money.” Could it be that much of the growth reporting centers around a faulty view of ministerial training or worse, an unbiblical view of the church.
It would appear that the exception has become the norm. Rather than seminaries coming alongside the church it is churches that are expected to come alongside seminaries and go wherever the wind happens to be in that generation. If you don’t believe this then inquire as to which board of elders your favorite seminary is directly accountable to. On the positive side there are some schools that are making great strides to get this right. I’m encouraged by what I see with schools like Master’s, Expositor’s, Shepherd’s and ones that I’m less familiar with but admire like Cornerstone.
I think churches have a responsibility as well. Should anyone go to seminary that is not already manifesting some level of ministry gifting and ability in his local church? Churches can adopt some form of criteria to test men before sending them off. A robust apprenticeship program or internship can be a great ministry for local churches and give men time to mature and grow in ministry. On the other hand, we also need to reexamine whether sending men off is good for the church at all. I think this is a sacred cow for many but one worth slaughtering if need be. In this day and age, the seminary classroom can be localized in such a way that men can serve in their local church and still attend class through virtual means. I’m not talking about on-line degree factories but places like The Expositor’s Seminary where like-minded churches host real-time classes with back and forth interaction at the same time on numerous church campuses. On this, seminaries and churches need to think outside the box and I’m encouraged that many are doing this.
I hope visionary pastors and seminary leadership will listen to screeds like this. I for one will rarely send a man off to seminary if I’m convinced we can have the best of both worlds right here in the local church. I would love to continue this conversation so let me know what you think and what options have worked for your congregation.