Word of the Week

A Case for Theological Education

When I decided to go into ministry, even before I was sure about being one of these "crazy women pastors" I knew that I needed to go to seminary.  I don't know if it was the constant push toward "full-time Christian ministry" in the congregation of my youth or the examples of what one did when called to ministry were deeply engrained in me. But, the necessity seminary degree was never in question.

However, it seems of recent that there are several folks I've encountered who have expressed interest in ministry but have no urgency to gain theological education. Their reasons against it have been a shock to my system as I've listened. Reasons like:  "If God calls you, what more do you need? Can you just be trained by working in your local church? Maybe I'll just take a few classes online . . . "

(Such reasons would never fly in the traditions of my Rabbi and Imam friends)

Yet, the more I've thought about all of this nonsense, the more I've realized how much I value my theological education and see a bleak future in sight for the church without continued emphasis on it.

For me, spending three years set a part for time in study, worship and daily interaction with spiritual nerds like me also called to serve both the church and the communities, was more than the required coursework. Yes, the coursework was important. There are lectures I heard, books I read, and exams I studied for that continue to shape the way I do ministry in my current context. Seminary was about the formation.

Marjorie Thompson writes this: "Spiritual formation is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ by the gracious working of God's spirit, for the transformation of the world."

Theological education creates opportunities for spiritual formation that attendees often have at no other time in their lives. They have the space and time to reflection. They have access to some of the most brilliant minds in Biblical scholarship. They have classmates to lean on, to grow with and to learn from.  And, hopefully more than their knowledge base is transformed.

Theological education gives you the opportunity to position your life patterns in healthy ways so that when you reach churches or community centers, you don't begin to self-destruct them even before you start.

Ministry always has been and always will be about people and relationships. Theological education not only fosters growth in teaching and  preaching skills, but the spiritual and emotional maturity it takes to grow a thriving community of faith.

I fear for my ministry bound friends who want to settle for what they think they know right now or what they think they can learn through self-guided study.

Ministry is just too hard without a full range of life experiences, go-to resources on your bookshelf or in your phone. I'm thankful for my memories of my time at seminary and eager one day to go back to learn more (in the form of my doctorate). 

I hope that more churches and pastors stop steering folks away from what could be one of the most formational experiences of a person's life. Just do it: go to seminary!  I'm such a fan and I know your future ministry context will be too!