Thursday, September 20, 2007
A Call for a New Kind of Seminary
- The divide between lay and clergy is too wide. Lay people need access to more in-depth Biblical training, and pastors need more real-life experience.
- The divide between the Church and the seminary is too wide. Seminaries often no longer reflect who Christ is, but instead try to be secular institutions which happen to teach theological ideas, rather than being an extension of the Church.
- The seminaries which are gospel-focused have often lost their academic footings, and place the Church in jeopardy for lack of reasoned ideas.
- Seminaries require potential clergy to take on huge debt loads, while debt is not something that Christians should be encouraging.
What I propose is that the local Churches take back seminary, literally. I'm not saying we should reform our institutions, but rather that we should move the physical location of learning back to the Churches themselves. Look, knowing the deep truths of the Bible is not something that should be reserved for clergy. We are all responsible for our faith, and in fact, any of us may be called to act in clergy-like roles. After all, we are God's priesthood. Why should the local Church not provide full theological training to anyone who wants it? Should knowing God and His word not be the right of every child of God?
Now, to make this happen will require quite a lot of work. First of all, those who have been gifted academically need to stop being greedy. Now, everyone knows that authors usually don't make much money, but that doesn't mean they aren't greedy. Many of them view their work as "theirs", and guard it jealously. They don't want any unauthorized reproductions - least of all unauthorized mass reproductions. And heaven for bid such information be freely available on the Internet!
The truth is, those who are gifted academically need to acknowledge that their gift is from God and that it is their responsibility to share that gift with the whole Church. Anything else is boasting in yourself of what God has freely given. This isn't to say that such people should not be paid. There are many avenues of payment that don't require that knowledge be withheld from those who thirst for it. Pastor's frequently make tape recordings of their sermons and hand them out to anyone who asks, and they still get paid. The fact is, the secular world is already understanding this, and us Christians just can't seem to understand this "sharing" concept.
It will also take dedication from the lay people. They aren't used to having anything either required of them, or even to attain such heights. They will have to be coached, and let them know that yes they CAN learn about God. Yes, it isn't just people in dark robes who can analyze scripture. It is every Christian's right to know God's word. In fact, it is a responsibility to know it, and know how to use it. But when was the last time a Church taught the basics of Biblical Interpretation? When have they taught the ancient languages?
In addition, we need to stop viewing pastorship as a lifelong notion. Certainly there will be some, if not many lifelong pastors. However, we should not perceive this as a foregone conclusion. In Paul's churches, the people who took the reigns of the Church after him were those who labored with him. He did not need to send out a search committee for pastors. They were already in the midst of the Church. God can raise up leaders from within. We don't have to look high and low for them. They are already here. If we bothered to teach our lay members, they would have the capacity to take the lead when needed.
Paul taught. In Ephesus he taught for hours each day for many years. Ephesus became a mighty Church. When it was persecuted, it caused many Churches to spring up in the surrounding areas. You see, the lay members had been well-taught, so when it was time, they were easily ready to take the leadership role. They didn't have to wait and find a pastor, or wait for some new kid to pass through seminary. The people were already educated.
So am I just complaining, or do I have a plan? Well, I have the beginnings of a plan. With your prayers and your help, you might be able to help me make this a reality. I estimate it will take 10 to 15 years to make this happen, but I think it can be done. Here's what I'm thinking of:
- Find a teacher
- The teacher teaches one course at a time. The courses are videotaped.
- To start out with, the courses will utilize standard, copyrighted textbooks. Hopefully these can be replaced with open ones over time.
- When future students take the course, they simply download the videos.
- The teacher is available to answer questions and comment on homework (yes, there would still be homework).
- The students can do the course and homework at ANY pace. When they finish a homework item, they pass it on to the teacher.
- The teacher examines and comments on the homework, and tells the student whether the student should spend more time studying the subject or should continue on further. The teacher also provides additional insight to aide the student's thinking.
By going through this process, one course at a time, we can develop a full seminary education that's available to any person who wants to love God with all of their mind. It will bring academia back to the Church, and remove the current separation.