02 October 2014

How I Would Solve the Problems of Seminary Education

Disclosure: no one has ever approached me wanting to know my opinion on how to solve the problem of mounting seminary costs, nevertheless that has not prevented me from forming opinions on the subject.  Second disclosure: in all reality I have no idea how much it costs to run a seminary, but again that has never stopped me from offering my ideas.

Here you go.

1.  Abandon trying to meet the Association of Theological Schools accreditation process.    Their process has homogenized the MDiv and DMin degrees.  Really, is their substantive differences between MDiv programs in North America?  Not really.

2.  Start the economics discussion with a reasonable cost for the student.  How much can a student afford to pay for his/her education over the course of three years?   How about $10,000/year.  Is that reasonable?  Perhaps.

3.  Student to Faculty Ratio: how many students would a seminary need to support a student?  Let us say 10.  $100,000/year for a salary + benefits package.  Yeah, yeah I know about utilities and staff costs, I'll get to those later in the list.

4.  Number of Faculty: How many faculty does a seminary need?  Tricky question. Because, every discipline is critical and many turf skirmishes exist.  How about 8 faculty members: OT, NT, THEO, HIST, PAST CARE, SPIRITUALITY, MINISTRY,  & SOCIAL JUSTICE.  For the other classes: two options.  One, use the talent of the local area to supplement.  Two, faculty members can teach outside of their discipline.  Why cant a preaching professor teach church history?  Why cant a theology professor teach preaching? Why cant New Testament professor teach pastoral care?  Addendum: create institutions that honor the craft/art of teaching rather than publishing.

5.  Duration of Education.  Why should seminary take three years?  Why not 2?  And this comes from a person who took an extra year of seminary (that is four for the mathematically challenged).  I think the number boils down to laziness.  Yes, laziness.  Schools know that most pastors will not continue to read and study once they start the pastoral life.  I cannot tell you how many professors I had who shared with me how many "horror" stories of good students who simply checked out once they graduated; pastors who stopped reading, stopped going to the library, stopped asking questions, stopped theological inquiry.  And those horror stories proved mostly true when I talk with other colleagues.  I think seminaries cling to three years because they know this is their only chance to deconstruct bad theology and practices.  Is there a way to change this?

6.  Church-Seminary Symbiosis.  The days of denominations being able to fund seminaries I would think is mainly over.  But that does not mean local churches and religious bodies couldn't give more financial support.  Also, churches, ideally, should be the places where folk are receiving their call, and those churches should be helping funding those educations.  Why couldn't clusters of churches adopt/support students or professors?  More to the point what if churches and seminaries lived in closer relationships with the re-formation of theological circles, study groups, etc.?  Why not state an expectation of ongoing study & inquiry as vital for pastoral ministry.

7.  Trustees.  Trustees will only be placed on boards of seminaries not because they can give bundles of dollars but because they love the institution with all their heart/mind/body/soul!

8.  Staff, Utilities, Upkeep of buildings.  I love old gothic buildings but I realize the upkeep of them are beyond the capacity of most theological institutions.  So two options: sell the campus and move to another location. or sell and move to a local college campus.  Many college campuses have space, gothic buildings, maybe even a chapel, and maybe even some creative dorm space.

9.  Alumni/ae Support.  let us face it, pastors are not deep pocketed people.  Most of us are dreamers and barely get by in life.  But we love our calling/profession and wouldn't trade it for the world.  We may not have gobs of money to donate to our seminaries, but there are people in the congregations we serve with funds to give.  What if seminaries coaches us on legacy giving (helping both our skills in development, and stewardship in the churches we serve, and stewardship for our seminaries).  Would that be enough to cover the extra costs?  I have no idea, maybe.

10.  Number of seminaries.  Have a PhD candidate conduct this project.  When was the last time Mainline Protestant numbers mirror the numbers we have now?  And when you find that number how many theological seminaries were there?  Once that number has been established that is the number we collectively strive to arrive at.  Is there market saturation?  Most definitely.  And I'll gladly pat the back and say atta-boy or atta-girl to the fool who undertakes this task.

there you go, in ten easy steps all the problems of seminary are solved.  :)

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