Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Creating Community

One of my seminary professors said on more than one occasion, “I would trade all of my seminary degrees for the opportunity to have spent three years studying under the Master.” I always considered this a rather sentimental thought, but I certainly understood the spirit with which it was voiced. I have also wondered if it reflected on his experience of being part of the faculty of a theological institution!

The seminary that Jesus conducted was certainly more incarnational than institutional. There were no facilities, no other faculty members, and only occasional access to books. It was an itinerant school that was in one place today and another tomorrow. I have a feeling that chapel was held quite often and that the potluck fellowship meals were rather boisterous.

The key element was, of course, fellowship. Jesus built a community around himself. There were various rings of intimacy but deep and enduring relationships were being built. In the years ahead as the surviving disciples became apostles and spread the Gospel in many lands, the Spirit would bring to mind not only the teachings of the Master but the fellowship they had with him and with one another.

Creating community continues to be one of the key aspects of theological education. The challenge comes from the busy schedules of students and the fragmentation this produces. Most seminaries now only offer classes two or three days a week on campus. They usually meet from early in the morning to late at night. Fellowship meals and chapel services are inserted as often as possible. Even so, many students or bi- or tri-vocational and spend little time on campus. Others are taking classes online or do directed studies with professors and rarely come to the campus. Increasingly, seminary professors are finding that teaching is not an 8 to 5 job (if it ever were!) and find themselves working at least the second and maybe the third shift!

Community is vital to theological and spiritual formation. Some things are best learned in dialogue with professors and other students. We learn from the experiences of others and share our own struggles. Seminary leaders are well aware of this and will find new ways to keep relationships alive, but it will be something of a challenge. It certainly will be nothing like walking the dusty roads of Galilee with Jesus.

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