Thursday, January 11, 2007

Advancement and the Problem of Seminaries

The problem of seminary education in the LCMS is the flip side to the benefit. The problem is that men are taken out for 4 years for training. They are given a good education, and are well-equipped on a number of levels for the Holy Ministry.

But I wonder if the seminaries are sometimes a cork in the life of the church. Taking 4 years out of one's life is a sizeable chunk. The older and more settled (think career, family, children, etc.) that one is, the more difficult it is for gifted men to take those 4 years.

I'm told that there was once a mistrust of second career men, those who had been in another career, and then gone back to seminary, and become pastors, so much so that the seminary now in Ft. Wayne -- then in Springfield, IL -- had a reputation of being academically inferior to the one in St. Louis.

The question I'm asking is how can the LCMS deal with the issue of men who have gifts and talents that could be used in the Holy Ministry, but cannot take off the 4 years for seminary?

Somebody's going to argue that anyone could take the time off if it was a real priority. OK, I won't argue with you on that. But the reality is that there are men who -- for example -- have several children, or children in college, or who are in debt, or whatever, for whom the 4 years is a real and seemingly insurmountable stretch.

2 years ago, I argued here that there should be alternate routes to training men for the Ministry. Ironically, it's often those who take theology seriously who are most opposed to any alternate routes. But things have really changed in even the last 25 years as far as educational technology and innovations, and I wonder why the LCMS still trains men solely as if it was 1943.

I'm currently in the midst of the following book.

This book is well-written, tightly argued, and tells a good story about the Primitive Baptists in the mountains of North Carolina and Virginia. ("Primitive" in that context means "original," or "first").

I'm intrigued by the PBs, though I disagree with them on a lot: they are fiercely (and unbiblically, I think) Calvinistic in their view of predestination, and they are legalistic on matters about worship.

They also argue that since there are no seminaries in the Bible, it's wrong to have them now. They believe that men should be called to the ministry out of the midst of a congregation, and their ministerial training is a mentorship.

My experience with ministers who are not seminary trained has been that they are often under-educated. I assumed the same with the PBs. I was wrong. The authors of this book -- anthropologists who are not PBs -- found that the PB ministers (or "elders") they encountered were usually theologically knowledgable and biblically grounded, and their preaching was often skillfully crafted.

So back to my original question: why couldn't the LCMS do something like this? With inexpensive books (far cheaper, on a constant dollar basis, than even 20 years ago), fast-access internet, inexpensive phone communication, and the ability to duplicate materials such as CDs easily, why could there not be alternatives to the 4 year seminary process? No one's arguing that it's somehow wrong or sinful to have seminaries; they are good, useful, and a blessing to the churches. But there are other ways this could be done. Why haven't we -- except on a very limited basis -- done it?

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