Thursday, February 08, 2007

Pushing the Pulpit

The following post is from a blogger in CA who went to the same seminary as I did. I came across her post, and thought since I spent so much time responding to it, I should put it on my blog too.
From Endangered Species: Church
This morning I came across something in the United Methodist Newscope that caught my attention. The New York Times published an article on January 27, 2007, about how seminaries are having a tough time getting young graduates to go onto local church ministry. Apparently, students are not necessarily going to seminary to become ordained pastors. This has put the onus on seminaries to do more vocational counseling and might I say--nudging.
''We need to lead the horses to water, as it were,'' Dr. James Hudnut-Beumler, the dean of the divinity school at Vanderbilt University, said of what has become a common effort across faiths and denominations for seminaries to lean on their students -- ever so slightly -- to consider a pulpit job." (from the New York Times Article)
If students are not going to seminary to be a part of the pulpit-pastor mill, what on earth are they spending all that money doing?
This was something I had the pleasure of talking about with CST president Jerry Campbell. As we talked it became clear that many in my generation and younger are going to seminary to get the kind of faith training and exploration that used to happen in the local church. In fact, because the Church does not seem trustworthy, young people go to a place of trust (learning institutions are that for us) and spend thousands of dollars receiving high quality Christian Education.
While I do not believe that the sole purpose of seminary education is to pop out trained church leaders (that's a lofty goal!), I do think that as we examine a changing and emerging church, we need to challenge the seminary to do the same kind of examination.

Here's what I added to the discussion....

Good topic! A friend and I spent a few hours the other day wondering what it would be like if the church expanded the orders of ministry to include a "teaching" order. This could possibly be a way to keep a connection with all the young adults getting MDIVs and then pursuing more education in order to teach. The church could validate their calling and ask them to contribute in some way to the life of the church through a special "Rabbinical" order (that terminology may be confusing, so something else might be more appropriate) You get the idea. A possible "dollars and cents" impact of this idea could be more participation in the pension plan, insurance programs (that might end up killing us as the baby boomer pastors begin retiring) and who knows what else.
I was a student at CST and was encouraged to pursue my calling into a PH.D by one of the professors there, even though it was my intention to go into parish ministry (or perhaps campus ministry) This professor did have a keen awareness of my passion for teaching, but I decided that the parish probably needed ministers who felt called to teach as well. (Plus another 4-6 years of school didn't fit into my "family plan" at the time, nor will it ever, perhaps....though I'd really love to go). As it is now, I put "gasoline" in my tanks by offering frequent Bible studies, taking sermon prep and construction very seriously--and the fact that I'm appointed to a smallish parish gives me plenty of time for study. (Though I tend to end up playing with my son---hell, will I regret that on my deathbed? Yeah right!)
Basically, in a nutshell--Seminaries should be selling the idea to MDivs who are considering jumping ship into other degrees or careers that with the flooded field of college educators, they have a greater chance of teaching in the parish than in the academy anyway! And sooner! The idea that the parishioners dont' want serious and critical study opportunities is bunk. I find teaching in the church to be ultimately rewarding, even though I too felt the pull of the Ph.D instead of a pulpit.


  1. Nathan,
    I'm far from an acedemic, but I understand what you've shared. While it is a shame that some come to seminary to get a better understanding of the faith in which they were raised (or not), I see it as a vital function of administration at seminary to prep people for ministry.
    If some come without that intention, they should, by virtue of the spirit of the institution, be persuaded to at least consider it. After all, knowledge is power, and failing to use that power, in ministry, is selling the knowledge short.
    My layman two cents worth.

  2. I should like to offer my most humble salutations and felicitations on this festal day of St. Valentine. I have the highest regard for our community, the “Methoblog” and wish we could make acquaintance under more auspicious circumstances as I am sure that these acquaintances may yet become a valuable and enriching friendship as we exhort and instruct each other to be conformed in the image of Christ.

    I remain God’s most humble servant,

    John Wesley