Seminaries have been described as General College for Professional Ministry. Students take Greek, Hebrew, Old Testament, New Testament, Church History, Theology, Christian Education, Practical Theology, Pastoral Care, and Preaching. This track has not changed much in the past 50 plus years.
As I – and many others – have written, seminarians are being trained to serve churches that no longer exist. Or at the very least least, we need seminarians trained to do 21st Century Ministry which is totally different from 20th Century Ministry. Again, this is old news. But I believe that . . .
Seminaries need to teach future professional ministers how to shift a congregation’s culture.
Last weekend, I worshiped with a congregation I love. They are currently being led by an Interim Pastor, so they’ll soon be electing a Pastor Nominating Committee who will search for their next “permanent” pastor. After worship I lunched with several over-80 year old members who love their congregation and wonder what the future holds for their church. “What can we do to attract a good pastor?” I was asked.
The answer is complicated.
If they want someone to do ministry the way it’s always been done, then I have two responses:
- Your church is going to die. My guess is that it will die within 10 years. I’m regretably certain that it will be gone in 20 years. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but crunch some numbers and see what you come up with in terms of your membership and your budget numbers.
- You can easily find a chaplain of any age to preach, teach, visit, marry, baptize, and bury to serve you until you die.
If they want someone to lead them into the next 50 years, then I have one answer:
- You need to call a pastor who is an expert in shifting your congregation’s culture.
The problem is that most of our pastors have no idea how to do this. What if we taught this in seminary? (I have ideas why we don’t but that’s for another blog post.)
Imagine equipping a new (or seasoned) pastor in the tools needed to help a congregation discern:
- How does the neighborhood see them? (Maybe they are invisible. Almost certainly they are not The Church On The Corner that everybody notices and respects.)
- Who is in their neighborhood? (Have they noticed that they might not speak English? Have they noticed that the neighbors don’t look like them? What are the neighbors doing on Sunday mornings?)
- Can they imagine being the church without _____ (Traditional Sunday School? A choir in robes? Sunday morning worship? A 9:30 Bible study? Potluck dinners?) Maybe those traditional features are working for them still, but what if they are not working any more? What needs to be relinquished?
- Can they imagine shifting away from transactional ministry? (e.g. “If we start a pre-school, young families will join the church” (as opposed to just offering a pre-school because the community needs it.)
We don’t need anymore classically trained pastors who have no idea how to navigate a culture change in their congregations. While we love smart pastors who can exegete a Koine verb or articulate the various theories of atonement, we need culturally, pastorally savvy pastors who can navigate difficult shifts with love – while also exegeting verbs and knowing theories of atonement.
Who can identify seminaries that are teaching this today? And what are those seminaries?
Image of one of my alma maters: Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA.