Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Reflecting on Seminary 10 Years Later

10 years ago tomorrow, I went to Boston University for orientation which officially began my seminary journey.  I have been thinking about that and wondering where the time has gone, and then Adam Hamilton said that he was meeting with the pastors of the 100 largest churches and the deans of all 13 United Methodist seminars, and he wanted to know what people thought should be passed on to both groups that our seminaries should be doing.  So here are some of my thoughts:

Business administration:  I was fortunate enough to have been a manager for some Fortune 500 companies. I had handled budgets over $1 million dollars, with the largest being $34 million, although I was not ultimately responsible for that one I just helped track the money.  I had overseen a staff of 25 for a business open 24-7-365.  I had hired, trained and fired people.  Unfortunately most of my classmates had never had this experience, and when they got out into churches didn't know what to do, or even where to begin.  Now there is no doubt they had other experiences and gifts that I lacked, but this one hurts the local church, and I have yet to hear of a seminary that requires a class like this.  BU has a business school, and others are close enough to schools that have similar departments to make this a reality.

Medical knowledge:  BU has also a medical school, but we had nothing to do with them.  Since a large portion of what pastors do is dealing with people with medical issues, and not just those in the hospital (and we can debate whether this is what pastors should be doing), a lack of anything regarding medical knowledge, procedures, etc., is obviously lacking.  I would recommend that everyone who is seeking to enter the pastorate be required to take a semester class on medical stuff, (types of cancers, treatment, side effects, what different things mean) which would include insurance, as well as how to tap into the social services programs available to people.

Pastoral Care:  Yes I know that pastoral care is required, but my pastoral care class was so absolutely terrible that it caused me a crisis that put me into counseling.  I don't think that's the purpose.  In talking with others in the Boston area about pastoral care at the other schools I didn't hear any glowing remarks about them either.  It appeared, at least in Boston, that pastoral care was clearly the one place where the old adage that those who can't do, teach, actually was true.  I don't know how to solve this problem, and requiring CPE isn't the answer as those who have had terrible CPE experiences (which is a significant percentage) can attest.  Perhaps CPE supervisors have the same problem that those who are teaching it have.

Internship:  I loved my internship and the church, and even stayed there for three years, but the biggest problem is where seminarians are doing their internships.  Bishop Willimon has said that he thinks one of the biggest problems in the training of clergy is what we train them to do.  He says we send them to small churches to do their internships (which is true), then their first appointments, and sometimes second and third appointments are to small churches (also true), and then they make their way up to larger churches and we are amazed that they don't know what to do.  Why would they, he asks, when all we've taught them how to do is to run small churches?  Is it any wonder that small churches dominate the conference when that's all our clergy know how to run?  I was greatly blessed to have my first appointment be at a large church, and I had some experiences and gained knowledge there that I never would have gotten at a small church, and it would have had to have been learned the hard way in moving up church sizes in my appointments.  If the largest churches in the denomination want to help create a new future, they need to be taking on interns by the dozens to teach them how to run a large church.  Large church skills can transfer down to the small church, and I believe if you run a church like it is bigger than it is that it will grow, but it's very hard, and in some instances impossible, to transfer small church skills to a large church.

Church Connection:  The faculty I got the most out of and learned the most from where those who were actively engaged in their local churches and were willing and wanted to talk about that experience.  There is always the pull in academia towards being academic, and the church wants to pull in the opposite direction, and there is a pendulum that tends to swing at most seminaries moving from extreme to extreme.  I don't know how you reach a medium between those two, because they are both important, but that should be the goal.

Disconnect:  Someone once asked me how I tried to bridge the chasm that exists between academia and the church in what is taught in both places.  My reply was not that there is a chasm between academia and the church but that he chasm is between clergy and the church.  The clergy know all the information that is taught in academia, and most of them agree with it, but they refuse to teach it or even acknowledge it to their congregations.  So it is not that the academy is off doing there own thing and refusing to interact, it's that the clergy are the ones refusing to interact.  They take what they know, put it on a bookshelf, and move on as if nothing has changed, and the problem is that our congregations then don't know how to interact with the Bible or with fundamentalists churches in any meaningful way, and we don't interact with them in any meaningful ways, which allows those churches to have voice within this culture.

I loved my time at BU, and then later at Harvard, and I am greatful for the experience and what I learned.  Could things have been better, of course they could, but in any professional field there is going to be a disconnect between what happens in the classroom and what happens in the real world, and if you don't believe me go ask a teacher, doctor, lawyer, etc.  As the military says no plan ever survives contact with the enemy.

There is really only so much that can be taught in seminaries to prepare us for the ministry, much of the rest has to be learned on the ground, in the experience of it.  But here is where I would fault the annual conferences and the Board of Ordination, which is that once you are out the experience stops.  I know that we are supposed to be doing continuing education, and there are requirements for that, but I have yet to see a BOOM actually follow up on that, and if they did I would tell them that I have now served two churches which could not afford to send me to continuing education.  This is where there has to be leadership and resources at the annual conference level to provide these things.  Just say that this year we are going to target this area, and work on that, and set the expectation that clergy are going to participate and that we are going to be teaching each other.  I would love to take another preaching class now that I have been doing it for awhile, I would love to know what other creative things people are doing with their sermons, how they are using technology in sermons (and in worship) but good luck finding such a thing.  We are supposed to be connectional and yet we let all these resources rot on the branch because we are too busy running our churches.  If we are moving on to perfection, as Wesley says, then we need to be doing a much better job in helping ourselves to improve and get better at what we do.

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