Spiritual Formation is not a Class [Part 2]

The disciples as depicted in the BBC’s The Passion. © BBC/Mike Hogan

I have been writing about the need for change within our seminaries and the basic foundational problem within the current system we have in place for training pastors and leaders for ministry. I have suggested that the fundamental problem is an over-emphasis on knowledge/information as the means for pastoral training and development.

Since writing the first part of this post, I’ve learned of so many more initiatives that seminaries are undertaking because they recognize the gravity of this situation. It’s also been interesting to discover other blogs being written on the same/similar topic. As I’ve been reading and researching, I’ve been encouraged by what I’m hearing, but not convinced that the root of the issue is yet being addressed. 

The root of the issue, as I have been suggesting, is that the training of pastors has come to focus too much on knowledge as information that simply needs to be downloaded over a series of courses in a classroom. Such an approach ignores the person of the man or women being trained and zeroes in simply on making sure they have all of the right information. The result is that a professor can walk into his classroom, download all of the required information to the students, issue some assignments, and then leave – feeling entirely confident that he has just adequately prepared his class for the world of ministry that awaits them after they graduate.

I’m sorry, but that may “work” for the secular world of MBA and MD’s out there, but so much more is necessary for the proper training of pastors and ministers.

What if seminaries made it possible for professors to shepherd their students by eliminating the need to be published or the responsibility to go on the road and speak? What if seminaries gave up on maintaining their reputations by flaunting their professors and instead built them by the way they discipled their students? What if seminaries told accreditation boards to go to h—…uh…home? What if the seminary course-load was all inter-related and seamless? What if the professors took personal responsibility for knowing their students beyond first names and where they come from and actually discipled their entire class they way Jesus led his disciples?

Sounds amazing to me. Why isn’t this happening?!

No, really. Why isn’t this happening?!

Seminaries and their professors who are training the future pastors of this world must see their responsibility as more important than grades, accreditation requirements, or even prospective students. So many of their students have never been mentored or discipled in their entire lives. Several have never had someone walk alongside them in order to help them see how their personal story interacts with the reality of God’s existence. Who knows how many seminary students have personal identity struggles or other kinds of baggage that needs just as much attention and training as “rightly” understanding the book of Romans does.

Jesus trained His disciples by simply making sure they were in His presence when life happened. His classroom wasn’t just the synagogue, but also the marketplace, the homes of tax collectors and sinners, weddings, funerals, pagan cities, righteous cities, and even the open water of the sea. He made sure the disciples were there when He corrected the bad theology of the Pharisees, but He also made sure that Matthew (a tax collector) and Simon (a zealot who hated tax collectors) got along as they walked from Galilee to Jerusalem for a week. Jesus invested three years of His life into twelve men. Eleven of those went on to lead their own churches and had an enormous impact on the world around them.

Jesus prepared disciples to not just possess right knowledge about Him, but to live and die just as He did.The result wasn’t disciples who walked across the stage with a diploma, but disciples who did the will of God because they knew exactly what it was simply because they had been trained how to know it.

It is my strong opinion that we could more adequately prepare our ministry leaders if they didn’t just teach a right understanding of what Jesus taught, but also trained them the way that Jesus trained.

When the irony is that obvious, isn’t it time for a change?

4 thoughts on “Spiritual Formation is not a Class [Part 2]”

  1. I’ve never understood why I feel so hesitant to finish my seminary degree.

    I know I would JUMP at the chance to be a part of the seminary you described in the second half of this post.

    “Jesus prepared disciples to not just possess right knowledge about Him, but to live and die just as He did.The result wasn’t disciples who walked across the stage with a diploma, but disciples who did the will of God because they knew exactly what it was simply because they had been trained how to know it.”

    Yes. Can’t wait to read more…

    1. Thanks, Ginger. It’s easy to dream about the ideal seminary on a blog; I kinda feel bad ranting all the time. I wish there was a more effective way to help see some of these changes come about. Maybe someone who is finishing her seminary degree might have more opportunities?

  2. Totally tracking with you here. My Masters (traditional Seminary format) and Doctoral (much more like what you’re describing) work are worlds apart — with the second infinitely more transformative than the first.

    I know the Forge isn’t designed to function in the same way a seminary does, but I’d be interested to hear how these thoughts are impacting/changing the way you’re setting up syllabus, classes, etc for Forge classes.

    1. Laura- would you mind sharing more the difference between your Masters & Doctoral work that makes the latter so much more transformative?

      As for the Forge, I continue to revise our schedule, classes, curriculum, etc. as these ideas come more into focus. I think the biggest thing on my mind right now is how much more I need to model the things I want to teach before/as/while/after I teach them. I also need to teach them in a context that probably isn’t found in a classroom setting. As a teacher, I feel more and more of the burden of responsibility as I see what needs to happen.

      There’s no getting around classroom learning, though. There’s no need to, either. It’s a useful way of learning. However, it shouldn’t be the only way that we learn. So I’m hoping that all of our experiences outside the classroom continue to integrate theology with real life experience. Travel will remain an important part of what we do, but not just long trips any more. Short day trips can be just as effective. We’ll see.

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