Our churches and the environment in which they minister is changing. The theological institutions that were created to serve the churches are not only aware of this but are seeking to be relevant in the situation.
I write about this as a person with contacts in theological education. I serve as an adjunct instructor for a seminary, read reports and articles from the Association of Theological Schools, and talk regularly both with pastors and with theological educators. Writing as one who has his nose under the tent, I suggest that theological schools provide several services in the future if they intend to survive and prosper.
1. Preparing ministers for parish and congregational ministry. Churches will continue to seek seminary-trained clergy and look to established institutions to provide them. In addition to learning skills in preaching, biblical interpretation, teaching, and pastoral care, prospective ministers will also need to learn how to equip lay leadership, deal with conflict, facilitate change, and build bridges in a multi-faith, cross-cultural society.
2. Creating theological education opportunities for ministers in underserved populations. This includes immigrants with limited education and minimal English ability but also educated men and women from other countries who are new believers and wish to grow in their faith.
3. Forming individuals who will minister outside the walls of the church through para-church organizations, health care, not-for-profits, and social entrepreneurship. These non-traditional ministries not only provide an alternative means of financial support but they also create opportunities to fulfill the mission of God in the world.
4. Providing theological education for those who have assumed ministerial roles in their churches. Due a decline in ministerial candidates or limited financial resources, many churches have called those who have not been able to attend seminary to assume leadership roles as pastors and associate pastors. These individuals may be highly motivated and bring skills from other professions, but they need a strong theological basis to be more effective.
5. Offering basic theological formation for lay leaders. Laity have always played a significant role as leaders in every congregation, but the financial bind that many churches find themselves in calls for increased involvement of lay leaders. We are asking more of these individuals, and we need to resource them.
Theological institutions are adapting to societal changes in many ways--revised curricula, online class offerings, increased use of supplemental faculty, and engagement with social issues. This adaptability can be brought to bear on the opportunities to reach, teach, and support emerging populations for Christian service.