Change is never easy. Most often the willingness to change (or the necessity to change) comes from external factors—an economic adjustment, an environmental shift, or a personal crisis. The only certainty in life is that things will change.
The church is going through a time of adjustment due to cultural, economic, social, and demographic changes. There is nothing new in this. The church has not only survived but thrived during times of change for twenty centuries.
As the church goes, so go the institutions charged with training ministry leaders. There have been many models for theological education over the centuries. Each model was created to equip and form ministers who would lead the people of God within a particular culture to build up the Kingdom of God.
We can learn from and honor these past traditions of theological education, but we do not have to preserve those things which are no longer effective or beneficial for preparing the next generation of ministry leaders.
There are many ways to address this challenge, but let’s start with those who are being called to ministry.
First, they tend to be older when they respond to the call to ministry. Many are mid-career men and women who have been involved in the marketplace and now wish to invest their lives in a different way. Some are young women and men who have taken some time to volunteer, travel, and learn about the world and their place in it, and they are now ready to change their world.
Second, they bring unique skills to their ministry preparation. Many have graduate degrees, others are experienced in a particular vocation, and most are very savvy about social media and all things digital. They want to know how to use these skills for ministry.
Third, in many cases but not all, they have ambivalent feelings about the church. Some did not come to faith through the traditional church route but rather through parachurch ministries or outreach programs. They may not even have a particular denominational bent. Others have had a bad experience in the church but they love Jesus and want to give their lives to Kingdom work. In fact, many understand that the work of the Kingdom is not limited to what goes on within the walls of a building but is much broader.
Fourth, they thrive on seeking the holy. They readily practice those spiritual disciplines—lectio divina, centering prayer, and journaling, for example—that bring them closer to God. They are willing to embrace both mystery and paradox in their faith journey.
Fifth, they are more diverse. There is ethnic diversity, economic diversity, and gender diversity. They reflect the society in which we will live--and that's a good thing!
Many of these students will enter traditional seminary programs and be disappointed. There is nothing wrong with the faculty, the curriculum, or the setting, but they find that they are being prepared for a ministry that no longer exists.
The theological institutions which will attract, form, and produce effective ministers for our time and place understand not only that the times have changed but that they need to change as well. The institutions that not only recognize that change is happening but embrace it will be in the vanguard of preparing effective ministers for our time.