The seminary that I graduated from gave me a good theological education. We studied church history, denominational history, theologians from history, etc. When graduated, I felt as though I had a solid introduction to theology. But it was all quite academic. Which I loved. I read theory, philosophy, and theology just for the fun of it. So, that wasn't a big challenge for me. The challenge was connecting what was important to my professors, and the authors that we read, with what is important to congregations. Seminaries explore very different topics than congregations. So that brings up an important set of questions. Is the purpose of seminary to prepare students for academic careers? Or is the purpose of seminary to prepare pastors for ministry? That's a very dichotomous choice, I realize. Some people may suggest that seminaries could or should do both. That would be the old "both/and" approach to my question. But I don't think it's that easy.
Denominations, seminaries, and churches in Mainline Christianity are crumbling, cracking, and collapsing. My denomination, the United Church of Christ, has hit crisis mode. Denominations can hardly afford to exist. Seminaries are out of money. And churches are hemorrhaging members and closing their doors. It's a stark situation. I'd rather face the crisis now - when we are still able to address it effectively - instead of waiting until it is too late. It's time to rethink how we "do" denominational structure, seminary education, and church ministry. It's not an exaggeration to say that everything must change. Many people are talking about this emergency. And those who aren't should be. We should all be engaging the work of Philip Clayton, Phillis Tickle, Brian McLaren, Diana Butler Bass, the Ooze, the Emergent Church, etc.
As someone who cares about the Church and it's future, I consider myself part of their movement. I don't even know what to call the movement. And it doesn't really matter. Call it anything. The important thing is to be part of it. As the faithful readers of this blog know, we have written much about movement. So, here is our latest installment. It's our advice to seminaries. Please include practical and spiritual classes along with the academic and historical classes. In order to be practical about our theory, here are ten classes that would help seminaries do just that. Add classes like these and become part of the movement!
1. Creative Preaching
Explore, discuss, and practice a diversity of styles of preaching, including dialogical, theatrical, black church, etc. No more lectures for bored congregants.
2. Weddings, Funerals, and Other Special Occasions
Explore, discuss, and practice ways to host meaningful worship experiences for special occasions such as weddings, funerals, healing services, etc. It's time to jazz things up a bit.
3. Spiritual Practices
Explore, discuss, and practice relevant and effective spiritual practices, including lectio divina, honoring Sabbath, meditation, etc. We need to mix theological prowess with spiritual depth.
4. Technology in the Congregation
Explore, discuss, and practice effective ways of using modern technology, including projectors, Skype, blogs, social networking websites, website development, etc. The world is changing - and the church must change with it.
5. Pastoral Visitation and Counseling
Explore, discuss, and practice relevant and effective techniques for pastoral visitation and counseling, including Family Systems Theory and Narrative Therapy. The Church needs healing pastors.
6. Conflict Mediation
Explore, discuss, and practice relevant and effective techniques for compassionately mediating or proactively avoiding conflict in modern congregational settings. This is just part of the gig.
7. Church Administration
Explore, discuss, and practice relevant and effective administrative skills as they relate to modern congregational settings. This goes beyond being able to use a calculator and send an e-mail.
8. Modern Theologians
Explore and discuss how modern theologians such as Brian McLaren, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Peter Rollins, Sara Miles, etc. are important for modern congregational settings. While historical theologians give us context on the past, modern theologians give us context on what's going on right now. Plus it might be helpful to put down the static books and start reading dynamic blogs.
9. Modern Church Leadership
Explore, discuss, and practice relevant and effective leadership styles and skills as they relate to modern congregational settings. Changing times demand different skills.
10. Being A Healthy Pastor
Explore, discuss, and practice relevant and effective ways that pastors can promote and maintain their own physical, mental, and spiritual health as they serve modern congregational settings. Lead us not into the temptation of overworking, but deliver us to better health.