The seminary is important. For years the standard has been, “If ministry is in your future, then so should seminary.” But I’m not sure if I will be going to one because I think the seminary needs to be re-imagined.
Things are changing. Church budgets seem to be shrinking to align themselves with declining donations. Mennonite Church Canada has been hard pressed financially for the past few years. Churches are ever struggling with ways to engage a young adult demographic that is seemingly disconnecting from institutional churches. We are moving into a post-Christian world where the story of Jesus is becoming largely “unknown,” and the systems that have kept the church strong seem to be coming into question.
Yet there is tremendous movement and hope. Many churches are starting to wonder what it looks like to connect with their neighbourhoods and speak of beautiful peace, grace and redemption. Many people are exploring different ways in which to be church together.
In light of these changes—and what seems to be the status quo of our seminaries—here are some healthy topics for conversation as we re-imagine what it looks like to train our future ministers of the gospel.
During my undergraduate studies I racked up $20,000 in student debt. I recently had a conversation with a friend and prospective seminary student who indicated that, with living expenses and tuition, he will be staring down the barrel of $50,000 worth of student debt.
What makes these numbers more significant is the difficulty many are facing finding church jobs that pay enough to work off the debt.
- Do we want our future church leaders to be held hostage by student debt?
There is a significant difference between the classroom and the street. While being well versed in classroom academics may have its place, to do so at the loss of on-the-ground learning may be too big of a price to pay.
With churches starting to ask what it means to connect with their neighbourhoods, training leaders almost exclusively in the classroom only facilitates the disconnect.
- Where do we want our leaders of the future to be trained?
Yet as we engage in conversations about re-imagining the seminary, there is a need to celebrate two particular strengths. The hope is that these will help inform what a seminary of tomorrow could look like.
Intentional structured learning
Learning takes intentionality. Learning with a group of students under the direction of a good professor is a significant strength of the current seminary. Wrestling through biblical texts and other valuable material is beneficial to everyone.
- What do a re-imagined structure and intentionality look like when we change our learning place from the classroom to the street?
Seminaries offer us a place in which to connect with an existing network of people. Personally, in my undergraduate studies I saw tremendous benefit in this. Many of those with whom I studied, professors included, I keep in contact with regularly. This network, this fluid community is a source of strength and encouragement for many, even beyond the academic institution.
- How can we network our students and future leaders?
I poke and prod at this because the seminary is important. Seminary education needs to be saturated with excellence, which is the very reason why institutions need to think about some of these conversations. They train leaders who will be foundational to the future of our Mennonite church. This makes it imperative that seminaries do a “better than good” job.
We need well-educated, well-prepared leaders for the changing times before us. We need our leaders to train other leaders. We need our leaders to empower our Believer’s Church communities to be active in this mission of God.
I celebrate what the seminary of yesterday has done to empower leaders and take hope that, as the world around us changes from Christian to post-Christian, the seminary of today and tomorrow will do the same.
Chris Lenshyn is associate pastor at Emmanuel Mennonite Church, Abbotsford, B.C., loves his wife and son, and blogs regularly at www.anabaptistly.wordpress.com. Share your thoughts on his article and about the future of the seminary in the comments below