In a world of blogs, conferences and books is there still value in going to seminary? It doesn’t take long to find leaders in what appear to be healthy churches with little to no post graduate study in theology or ministry. The church plant movement that has become so incredibly popular has produced networks like Acts 29 and NewThing that have fulfilled some of the void that was once filled by seminaries. Is it worth the debt, the seemingly frivolous courses and even the time?
Seminary will obviously look different in its various contexts, however for the seminary experience to remain (or become) relevant in an age of training networks and the like there are some basic values they must employ.
Abandon the Customer Service Model
I realize that today’s market dictates this turn, but in the seminary (and probably to some extent all graduate schools) pursuing customer service as the thing to differentiate is counterproductive. The rise of options with for profit universities and is a great example, because in doing so the experience is diluted and the return lessened. Customer service is all about accommodation, which in the academy means lower expectations and less challenge to the students. Lowering the bar may seem like a great way to expand the potential pool of students, but should we really be lowering the bar of those who will lead our churches? I know this may hurt the bottom line and seminaries like business have bills and payroll to meet, but this customer service model seems to be dangerous in the long run.
Resist Online Degrees
They are ridiculously convenient, but woefully lacking. Lectures can be listened to and tests taken but without some sort of face to face interaction seminaries are selling their students short. Ministry is incredibly dependent on relationships and interpersonal communication. It is in the classroom that people learn how to express themselves and more importantly listen to others. The community that occurs in the academy is just as important as being able to regurgitate information in a multiple choice test. Think back to your college or graduate school experience. Where did you learn how to work with people you didn’t like? How did you learn to deal with conflict? On what test did write out the steps to listening to someone’s argument and responding? All of this was done in community venues. Even with social media, message boards, and video conferencing you are losing that vital aspect of the seminary education.
Now if these two values alone are embraced by seminaries the tuition is going to increase and/or the salaries’ of the faculty will decrease, neither being very preferable. Crippling student loans are not the solution here. Instead it is the local church realizing that it may be cheaper to sign the leaders up for a conference or a network but a degree is incredibly more beneficial. Not that those aforementioned avenues of education and training aren’t worthwhile, it is that they are only worthwhile when placed in relationship with a seminary education. Local churches and lay leaders need to make this a priority.
Instead of giving you a 5,000 word post I am going to be breaking this up giving you the reader a better opportunity to digest and respond, so stay tuned.