Progressive Christian Channel
The Emperor's (Not So) New Clothes: A Response to Frederick Schmidt
Schmidt acknowledges programs like BKSM are being developed precisely to address these kinds of issues. But he also seems to cling to the expectation such efforts will end in abysmal failure, and that residential seminaries are the only institutions capable of achieving these kinds of goals. This, I suggest, is shortsighted. Residential seminaries will always have something to offer to the church, but they cannot provide all of the kinds of preparation for ministry the church now needs. They have, in fact, already lost their exalted status as the sole purveyors of high-quality theological education; the emperor has not been wearing any clothes for some time now.
In addition to the imperatives Schmidt offers (all of which are indeed essential), I would add the following:
- prepare students for mission and ministry in a "mixed economy" church;
- equip students to engage in collaborative forms of ministry;
- overcome the false dichotomy of "theory" and "practice" and recover an integrated curriculum;
- prioritize teaching skills that enable life-long learning.
Contemporary theological education needs to be able not only to prepare people for traditional parish ministry, but to encourage the development of new ways of organizing Christian communities and of pursuing mission. Thus, educators need to address the question of how (not "if") their efforts encourage an entrepreneurial ethos in those they teach.
Similarly, contemporary formation should equip those preparing for ordination to pursue collaborative relationships with those they serve. Those called to ordination can no longer function as the "professional Christians" of their communities and congregations; rather, they need to be able to enable all the members of the body to engage in mission. Christianity can no longer be a spectator sport, and those called to ordination need to be able to think of themselves as coaches and trainers rather than performers and service providers.
Likewise, we need to move beyond the unhelpful bifurcation of "theory" and "practice." Contemporary formation needs to be able to demonstrate the integral connection between learning and spirituality, between worship and outreach, between being deeply grounded in the classical tradition and being responsive to contemporary questions.
Finally, all of this further requires that those called to ministry (ordained and otherwise) need to be able to include life-long learning as an essential component of their vocation. Gone are the days when completion of a three-year course of studies can be thought of as sufficient for sustaining one through many years of ministry. Formation programs need to be the beginning of one's preparation for ministry, but cannot be thought of as the terminus.
The time for hand-wringing and finger-pointing has passed; we are now in a time in which those committed to revisioning theological education in a manner consistent with the mission and ministries of today's church should explore every available and effective means possible for helping each member of the church take up the ministries to which they are called.
Andrew Grosso serves as Dean of the Bishop Kemper School for Ministry, Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church (Atchison, KS), Canon Theologian for the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas, and Adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology at Nashotah House Theological Seminary (Nashotah, WI). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.