Dear Gulf Coast Colleagues,
We have eight ELCA seminaries. The face of theological education is adapting to new economies and new mission realities. Maybe not fast enough.
We don’t think we want economics to be the determining factor for the shape theological education, but the challenges we’re facing in this economy force us to ask good questions. And leading ministries in a predominantly Christian culture was different than leading missions in an increasingly pluralistic and unchurched context. Before we needed leaders to maintain age old systems to keep things the same. Now we need adaptive leaders to retrofit congregations for outwardly focused evangelism and ministry.
What are your thoughts about our system for theological education? Here are some key questions. Pick those that interest you and respond as you’re interested.
1. What might theological education look like if it was entirely mission-focused? Consider that the Lutheran Church in Texas owes itself in large part to the St. Chrischona school in Switzerland, a missionary school. How might we prepare missionaries for our own culture?
2. We want theological education to be accessible, but not watered down. Thoughts on distributed learning? Education in place? 2-year MA as opposed to 4-year MDiv? What distribution methods maintain high standards and respond to local needs?
3. In 1945 100% of seminary visa were
covered by our predecessor church bodies. There was no cost to students. As costs have risen, denominational support has decreased as a percentage of the total. At the inception of the ELCA the goal was 50% of costs being covered by synods and churchwide. Today there is no goal. 15-20% of seminary costs are covered by synods and denominations, an amount that far exceeds the commitments of other mainline denominations. Any ideas on creating a stable and sustainable economy of theological education? Ideas on how to increase congregational capacity to give generously to TE? Any thoughts about the four current strategies: A. Continue to streamline costs.
B. Continue commitment to programmatic innovation.
C. Expand and diversify revenue streams.
D. Pursue alliances, joint ventures, partnerships, mergers.
4. We currently have a four-tiered governance:
A. Each seminary has it’s own governing board.
B. Clusters of seminaries promote cooperation and efficient interchangeability.
C. Synods are empowered by the ELCA constitution to promote seminaries regionally, raise funds, and keep a vibrant local relationship between synods and seminaries.
D. Churchwide supports a coherent stem of theological education across the church. Candidacy requirements, curricular consistency, governance docs, board representation and more.
This system served us well for a time. Now it seems top-heavy and expensive. What governance would Provide for a strong seminary-synod relationship? Seminary/local church? What will provide for more flexibility/adaptability?
It’s a lot of questions. What are your thoughts?
September 30, 2010 at 12:34 pm
I think theological education ought to take as it’s model the way that we are approaching new mission starts. “Close” the seminaries: in theory not practice. Then, re-open those seminaries that are fully funded by congregations and synods. Those who do not receive the funding, close.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer in the importance of a theologically educated clergy – and I believe that the formation process of a residential seminary does very good things. But there has to be ownership. Just like a mission congregation needs to be supported by the local deanery/ministerium, so too a seminary needs to be supported by its constituents.
Imagine the difference if our congregations could really say – “That’s our seminary” with the ownership that comes from knowing that every year, their direct gift helps to keep the doors open.
That has been my plea since leaving seminary: support theological education, especially on the congregational level. Make it a priority.
September 30, 2010 at 12:46 pm
Interesting topic to say the least. As an individual who has considered higher theological education I can say with no uncertainty that its a complicated issue. Aside from cost and logistics, the two main factors are my current ministry and my family.
Having taken a “hiatus” from church work after a bad experience, its been refreshing finding myself in meaningful ministry again. Leaving for seminary would put an end/damper on that ministry. Its difficult to turn away from something that has been so meaningful and fulfilled a true sense of calling for the first time in years. There are the distance learning programs but they pose their own problems.
With a child on the way, the distance learning opportunities some seminaries offer are good, but spending three to six weeks at a time away from my family is not something I am interested in considering.
Location has quite a bit to do with it as well. There are zero seminaries within a reasonable distance to our synod. The one that formerly met in Austin was good, but only if you were interested in a multi-lingual education. This is necessary in much of the southwest, but there is also a growing post-modern/urban movement that there is little to no support for in the Lutheran context that I am aware of.
Lastly, so as not to post forever, there is a sense of becoming a cog. This may be unfounded, but for those of us trying to do something new and trying to expand the boundaries of what is considered Lutheranism there is a resistance to buying into a systematical seminary. Personally, I am trying to reach a generation and demographic that is largely not interested in church, certainly not interested in mainstream protestantism. The old system and old way of doing things has lost this generation. I am not particularly interested and certainly not called to participate in a machine that seems to have little interest in the newer generation. My love for Lutheranism and background in the church keep me grounded in the denomination but I am rarely moved by a traditional Lutheran experience. New expressions of good Lutheran theology are needed desperately and it has not been my experience that ELCA Seminaries are interested or capable of generating those expressions.
Sorry for the long post, just some thoughts from somebody who has spent quite a bit of thought and prayer on higher theological education.
September 30, 2010 at 2:17 pm
During my theological education, I very much appreciated the emersions that LSPS incorporated. Along with that were the opportunities to serve and do outreach in the Austin area that ETSS provided. If we are to be mission oriented, we need, along with the “head” education, an opportunity to do mission. Also, I am not sure what the Augustana Synod taught, but the churches that came out of that tradition know what it means to be the greater church. The benevelonce of those churches are the highest that I have ever experienced.
September 30, 2010 at 3:00 pm
Bishop RInehart: You are asking some very important questions regarding the future of theological education for the ELCA. These are many of the same questions that we have been wrestling with as a Covenant Cluster Board and at the Wartburg Seminary Board of Directors–I am a member of both. You are absolutely right that we need to focus on the training of pastors to be missionary pastors who in turn train congregational members to be front-line missionaries in a post-Christian culture. Thanks for raising these issues and holding our feet to the fire! Pastor Rick Rouse
September 30, 2010 at 3:39 pm
As one who was formed in a theological institution that focused on mission in a multi-cultural context, I can’t express the importance of this aspect of theological education. Too often the cross-cultural dimension gets overlooked or pushed to the side and becomes an optional subject in most M.Div curriculums. We can’t escape culture. It’s all around us, and our reality is ever changing, so why do we think it should be any different in our centers for theological education.
In regards to the governance, I am intrigued at the cluster way of looking at it. I wonder what would happen if we had 2-3 geographical hubs that would serve as “headquarters” and they had satellite campuses, a lot like how LSPS was being run by Wartburg and LSTC. Seems to me you can keep your costs lower by not having so many administrative centers. Granted this would be a hard thing to do for our church. I know ties run deep at each of our education campuses. I know many of us were not happy about the MDIV program being cut at LSPS, if it were to come back, could we as the three synods make that happen? Those smaller “campuses” could get more support from their local geographical synods. If there is more of a “buy-in” on a local level, I see more opportunities for church/seminary partnerships as well as on site experience for our seminarians. How great it would be for students to be sent out into local congregations for “class” mentored by local pastors.
I also feel that if we are going to be talking about “mission” in terms of the “mission field” we would be wise to not ignore the presence of the emerging church. What shall our response be as a mainline denomination? It is part of our culture and it is something that I deal with on a weekly basis as potential members come and go. I wish this had been talked about in seminary. I missed the practicle stuff.
We also need to think about the next generation of pastors. I believe we aren’t doing a good enough job in reaching out to our campuses for students who could come right out of college into seminary. There is a fear, I felt it myself, about the length and the cost of the next step. As some of my friends were entering into fields and getting masters degrees in half of the time, there were times I thought, “Is this really what I want to do?” We might be wise to look at our brothers and sisters in the Episcopal Church which have a shorter time. I believe their pastors are no less qualified than ours. And cost. How do we keep the cost down? I was fortunate enough to be one of 16 people chosen for the Mission Endowment Funds scholarship that covered my tuition. This scholarship was made possible by people who invested in the Mission Endowment Fund. How do we accomplish in getting more of our expenses covered by scholarship funds such as these? It shows that we are investing in our church. It shows the person going to seminary that their church cares. I have no doubt that people in our congregations see the value in investing in our students in seminary.
All stuff off the top of my head, but it is time, I think, for the church to begin to think outside of the box when it comes to theological education in our denomination, and I am glad you are having this conversation.
September 30, 2010 at 4:20 pm
Everyone please note that some folks have commented on this thread on my earlier post. Go back and visit “מִיכָאֵל” comments for more thoughts on Thai topic.
September 30, 2010 at 4:27 pm
I am pleased to say that LSPS experiences the generous benevolence of many of the Texas Lutheran constituency, both of congregations and individuals. This past year we had 62 donors, including five new congregations and one corporation. I firmly believe this confidence in giving to LSPS represents “ownership” of the program by many in Texas,
and there are many of us alumni who are proud to have graduated from LSPS, I being one of them! Thanks for your comment!
September 30, 2010 at 4:31 pm
A correction. I meant to say “62 new donors” in addition to the hundreds that we have now that continue to give faithfully because they believe in the mission of LSPS, that is, reaching all peoples, and most especially the forgotten, the invisible, the ones “left-behind,” the ones who speak a language different from our own and therefore are suspect in this culture and country. We are proud to be in mission to the least of these.
September 30, 2010 at 4:52 pm
First, we do NOT need 8 seminaries for our denomination. That’s just plain silly. Maybe 4.
Second, we have ecumenical partners: we could be cashing in on these relationships by developing mutual “learning academies” where our resources are shared together. I’d suggest starting with our seminaries that are already working in relationship with other ecumenical bodies (e.g. the GTU in Berkeley or the ITC in Atlanta).
Third, the Lutheran church has always prided itself on its educated clergy, but education doesn’t necessarily translate into mission or excellence; in my opinion “on-the-job” training with debriefing experiences is far more effective.
Fourth, I believe we need to see a re-organization of our ministry training system that is more apprentice-based, focusing on local ministries and congregations being the grounding for pastoral ministry (local grown!). Of course graduate level theological study has its place, especially for those seeking to be biblical scholars, church theologians, professors, and leaders in specialized ministries.
Personally, I think a year of academic study at any full-communion seminary, a multi-cultural immersion experience, plus two years of “internship” that leads to rostering, with first call theological education for two years following rostering would serve the purpose of “educating the clergy” while focusing on local grown ministry leadership.
September 30, 2010 at 8:51 pm
The title “Theological Education” seems to make many explicit assumptions about what might be important to learn in order to become a “pastor.” I would point you back to Willard Van Orman Quine’s “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” along with Nancey Murphy’s “Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set The Theological Agenda” and say the following. Education need not only be “book knowledge”, which is the memorization of facts and figures along with the ability to read the text in the original languages. Education in the postmodern context includes anything that works in a specific situation. Maybe “theological education” might mean a passion over what is happening in a community, the ability to organize a group that solves a problem that the church faces, or a person that can relate well to one group or another.
I would argue in a postmodern world, the definition of “theological education” should be whatever works in a given location. Yes, I know the issues with the call to the “larger church”. But really, what does that look like? And does the Holy Spirit give everyone this gift? It seems to me that we need to recognize the men and women God has already called whether they have the finances or the “book knowledge” to go to a “traditional” seminary.
September 30, 2010 at 9:51 pm
Dear Bishop Mike,
As someone in the middle of “Theological Education” right now, I would like to offer my two cents’ worth –
In regards to your point #2 –
2. We want theological education to be accessible, but not watered down. Thoughts on distributed learning? Education in place? 2-year MA as opposed to 4-year MDiv? What distribution methods maintain high standards and respond to local needs?
I would argue for flexibility while maintaining standards. My anecdotal observations and experience is that there is a great number of candidates who are not considered “traditional” students – people who hear God’s call to ministry but “life” complicates answering the call. No, I would not water down to an MA instead of an MDiv. If by distributive learning, you mean what I am basically doing (online courses and intensive terms) – I think this is a good alternative for people who can’t stay on campus full time. Actually, a distributive program that moves toward an MDiv would give people another option between on campus and TEEM only, and would eliminate the need for TEEM in many cases. I would challenge anyone to take my online classes and tell me they are not up to the same levels as traditional classroom courses; it may be a little bit harder, because you really have to discipline yourself to stay on target. I think that the standard should be an MDiv, but I also think that the seminaries should be given flexibility in planning the courses. In other words, keep the content, but creatively develop different ways to deliver the content.
I also think that life experience counts, but I will leave it to wiser minds than myself to figure out how to be faithful to both the person’s experience and educational standards.
Thanks for listening!
+ peace and joy,
October 1, 2010 at 9:24 am
I graduated from LSTC in 1989 and I thoroughly appreciate my theological education, particularly the scholarly approach to Scripture and systematic theology. I was privileged to be taught by many of the Seminex professors who were declared heretics by the LCMS in the mid-70’s.
Having said that, much of what I do day to day in the parish seemingly has little to do with what I learned in seminary. To be in mission today, one has to be a leader, and the only thing close to leadership training I got in seminary concerned small group dynamics in my pastoral care class. Aggie Lutherans under Pastor Deb Grant did a much better job at training people for leadership than did LSTC during my time there. What I know about leadership I learned from Alban courses and by hanging out with good leaders.
My seminary education did not train me to help unchurched people follow Jesus. I was trained to shepherd an established congregation made up of confirmed Lutherans. I was trained to receive new members by baptism or transfer. However, in my first call–in this Synod–I was baptizing at least one adult every six months, and receiving people from different traditions all the time. Being exposed to at least one way to make a disciple from “scratch” in our culture would have been helpful while in seminary.
Another thing I learned after I got out that I’ve found extremely useful is the concept of how a congregation’s average worship attendance dictates how the pastor is expected to function.
Of course, an effective mission pastor today has to make use of all available technology. Many pastors aren’t “tekkies,” but knowing how to use something isn’t the same as being able to build it.
But nothing works in the mission field like getting to know the culture. The problem arises when you find out what aspects of the local culture are contrary to following Jesus.
October 1, 2010 at 1:48 pm
As an addition to this conversation, consider this address of Daniel Alshire, president of the Association of Theological Schools, at it’s gathering: http://www.ats.edu/Resources/PapersPresentations/BiennialMeetings/Documents/2010/2010Aleshire-FutureHasArrived.pdf
October 1, 2010 at 1:50 pm
Conference of Bishops disccussion this morning with the eight seminary presidents was vibrant, and all over the board. There was a lot of conversation around distance learning, consortiums (interdenominational seminary clusters) and working more closely with our ELCA colleges and universities. There was lament that the market too often dictates where we go with our structures. Nevertheless, what if we had interdenominational seminaries with Lutheran departments all over the U.S? We could have a seminary in every major city of the U.S. There are excellent seminaries in Dallas, Houston and Austin. Why not have the option to learn in a rich interdenominational environment in all three places and more? This might allow people to be in theological formation while also staying engaged in their specific ministry context. There was also conversation around training 1,000 evangelists, if evangelism, mission, outreach is truly our priority. Seminaries evolved because the education that universities gave pastoral candidates coiuld be bookish. The seminary was designed to supplement the academy with spiritual practices. What if seminaries were primarily about spiritual formation?
October 4, 2010 at 8:31 am
Most people who enter seminary do not receive a seminary education for the sake of only a theological education. They enter Seminary to serve as a rostered person in the church and serve the mission of the church. It would seem to me, therefore, in order to get our vision for Theological Education clarified, we need to have a good understanding of what the church’s mission is for leadership in the 21st Century. It is then we can ask how can seminary education provide leadership for the church for the next generation.
The church talks a lot about being a missional church. It still lacks clarity and it does not seem that the very basic community of the church, congregations, grasp what it means, either. We speak in generalities but we don’t get to pointing to it when we see it and how it can apply to our sense of mission throughout the church.
Nevertheless, I will take a stab at what we might do to prepare leaders for the church:
1. Leaders will need to be educated in who we are as a community grounded in Word and Sacrament. This is essential and our leaders must be theologically grounded, invitational in our message, and equipping the body of Christ for ministry.
2. Leaders will need to have a passion for justice. The scriptures are very clear that when God’s people of faith are doing justice they are living faithfully. This is local and global. Jesus desires for his church to die to self, walk with people who live in poverty, and tear down the walls.
3. Leaders must be ecumenical in conviction and practice. We are in this together.
4. Leaders will need to pursue excellence in communication. This is a moving target but we do have things with which to work. Theological eduation must enter into forming leaders with excellence in communication for the 21st Century.
5. Leaders must be people who love Jesus. I don’t think this can be taught but it is as necessary as any of the other things listed here. I would say it is the most important. The church drifts to be institutional. The church, however, is a part of a movement within the kingdom of God. Leaders must be people who love Jesus so that there is a high probability that leaders will help the church to remain focused on what this is all about.
So, here is how my design of Seminary would look like:
1. Biblical, theological studies in ecumenical settings. I think we need to begin to dismantle our own school of theology and come under one roof with many schools of theology. We should join in creating centers for theological eduation that include at least our ecumenical partners. Each will have their “department” to run their candidacy process for the sake of their denomincation and for rostering. But just imagine centers of education where there are different ways of approaching the faith we share. Students will be in classes with other students from different traditions. I believe it will make better theological leaders for the church.
2. Studies and practice in communication. This is critical for the times in which we live. We must train leaders in the art of communication; creativity; and how to access many forms of communication even as these continue to expand.
3. Contextual education needs to take a different shape for the church of the 21st Century. I would propose:
a. 4 months of an internship in a congregational setting. Use that time to explore, ask questions, be evaluated, and get involved in a congregation.
b. 4 months living among people who live in poverty. It is difficult to call this a “Program” but it is contextual. We talk a lot about justice but few leaders of the church have lived outside their middle class lifestyle. If we are going to have a passion for justice we need to live among people for whom justice is denied or who at least are not recipants of the “good life” in our society.
c. 4 months to start a ministry project and make it successful. Leaders for the church will need to be entrepreneurial.
It would make sense to spread these contextual eduation requirements over the course of the years of studies rather than to have them in one 12 month time period. They could be worked in as a semester study, one each year.
4. Continuing education. Seminary education lays the foundation but continuing education will need to be essential for leaders to stay abreast of what it means to lead the church. If we combine seminaries as centers for theological studies with our ecumenical partners it is likely that there will be some facilities that won’t be needed. What if those facilities were centers for continuing education, with its own staff and educators, for the sake of the continuing education of rostered persons. Again, this could be ecumnical.
The shape of seminary education is life-long learning.
Seminary studies, in order for pastors to be rostered, still may take three years and contextual education equvilency of one year. (still four years).
If mission is shaping the future for seminary eduation (and not money) this is the direction I would take.