We had lunch last week with a couple whose son recently graduated from seminary. They noted that many of their son’s fellow graduates have no interest in serving the local church. These degree holders want to work for hospitals, serve with not-for-profits, or start their own organizations. Others intend to pursue further academic study. This is anecdotal information, of course, but it mirrors what I hear from many associated with theological institutions.
My own experience with Central Baptist Theological Seminary is that many students there are already engaged in church leadership full-time, part-time, or as volunteers. They are seeking theological education in order to be more effective in their ministries. Most are thirty or over and serve what we would call mainstream churches.
With limited resources, where do the seminaries choose to put their resources? Do they want to educate individuals who see ministry in a larger context and may never serve a traditional church or do they educate those already immersed in the mainstream church culture and will serve local congregations?
Perhaps the key questions are, “Who is funding theological education and what are the outcomes they expect?” Theological institutions usually seek funding from churches and denominations by promising to educate leaders for the church. If this is no longer completely true, will these funders contribute to ministries that are not church-related? If not, who are the potential contributors to an expanded vision of ministry in the world?
In the near future, seminaries must decide if they can do both and, if they do, how they will pay for it.