Though I understand that many seminaries feel called to focus on the training of pastors, I do wonder whether, in light of the broader goal of equipping God's people to participate in God's mission, seminaries should consider whether their resources might be well used for the training of the laity as well as clergy. If all of God's people are called into his ministry, why shouldn't seminaries at least consider how they might help train a wider spectrum of ministers?
Last Sunday, I read a provocative op-ed in the New York Times that speaks indirectly to this very possibility. In "The University of Wherever," Bill Keller, former executive editor of the Times, chronicles the development of top-flight education distributed through the internet. Keller envisions a major disruption of higher education as we know it, with the winners being those institutions that are willing to experiment with what may be the way of the future. This makes me wonder: Could seminaries continue to train pastors with excellence and also help in the direct training of the people of God? Could excellent seminary lectures be made available for people throughout the world? Could social media provide, in some meaningful though truncated way, collegiality that approximates what residential students experience? Could some of this even provide badly needed income for seminaries, whose current business model is struggling, to say the least?
I'm not saying that the internet is going to save the seminary. But I am saying that if the seminary takes seriously its ultimate goal of preparing God's people to participate in God's mission, and if the seminary takes seriously the world to which we are called, and if the seminary examines its available resources and opportunities, new forms will emerge. Some of these just might save the seminary from extinction. More importantly, they might help the seminary to better prepare God's people to be his ministers who invest their lives in his redemptive and recreative mission, thus living as the body of Christ in the world.