Skip to main content

A Partnership Whose Time has Come

The process for supplying ministerial leaders used to go something like this.  Churches nurtured young people who “responded to the call to ministry.”  After the candidates completed college, the church sent them on to the denominational seminary which not only taught denominational doctrine but were funded by the denomination to do so.  When the student graduated, he (and sometimes she) began candidating through the denomination’s accepted process and found an initial place of service.  

This may be a simplified explanation that did not always work as smoothly as stated, but this was the general idea.  The current situation is much more complicated.  Potential seminarians respond to the call later in life—either after an educational hiatus following college or after starting a career and family.  

 Some don’t have any college education at all.  Denominations are no longer funding theological education as they once did, so students carry more of the educational debt load. A final challenge is that churches may call out potential ministers, encourage them to receive preparation, and then cannot afford to employ them.

The changes in the religious ecosystem call for new types of partnerships among individuals preparing for ministry, churches, and theological institutions.  For the most part, churches still want trained clergy leaders.  Most traditional denominations require a certain amount of education before they will ordain a minister.  Even megachurches see the value in ministerial education.  A recent study conducted by Leadership Network and the Hartford Institute for Religious Research showed  that three-quarters of mega churches have an internship or mentoring program for ministerial preparation.  Twenty-five percent of those are conducted in cooperation with a recognized seminary.

With the advent of distance learning and flexible degree programs, any church can partner with a theological institution to provide training for a prospective minister. With many churches choosing to call ministers out of their own fellowship, the importance of adding another partner to the mix is vital. 
This collaboration provides resources and perspectives that the church alone cannot supply.

The next step, and perhaps the hardest, is convincing a church to step up and be a responsible financial partner in this relationship.  In the best of all possible worlds, the church would not only help provide a place for a prospective or current minister to serve, but would compensate the person and assist with the cost of his/her education.  A commitment on the part of the minister  either to serve   the church for a specific period of time in return for this assistance or to provide partial repayment if she or he left would safeguard the church’s investment.

Other benefits could result from the relationship as well.  For example, seminary professors could provide Christian formation opportunities for church staff and laity.  Church staff could take advantage of the library and continuing education offerings of the seminary.  The church could offer a laboratory for other seminary students to observe congregational life in action. 

The times call for new ways of thinking and relating but implementation requires openness on the part of all the potential players.


Check these out

Confessions of a Recovering Southern Baptist

I am grateful for my heritage as a Southern Baptist.  I was exposed to the Bible and worship from a very young age.  I grew up in a church in south Alabama that supported the Cooperative Program of missions giving.  This meant that our church had the benefit of being part of a supportive group of local churches and the educational opportunities that afforded. Our state convention provided varied and effective ministries with groups like orphans, ethnic groups, and college students.  We supported missionaries at home and abroad.  We had good Bible study and training literature (which we paid for, of course).  I went to an accredited seminary and paid a remarkably low tuition.  Wherever you went on a Sunday morning (in the Southeast and Southwest, at least), you could find a church that sang the familiar hymns and studied the same Bible lesson. In hindsight, I realize that this Southern Baptist utopia was imperfect.  There were significant theological differences, often geograp

The Bible Tells Me So

As I read the story of the Good Samaritan during my devotional today, I was reminded of the times that I have heard the story in the Christian education setting of the local church--as a youngster in primary and intermediate classes (old terminology), as a young adult in college classes, and then as an adult, often teaching the passage myself.     The characters and story line are very familiar due to these experiences of Christian education. These are challenging times for Christian education in the church.  Like so much of what is happening in the church today, the old forms do not seem to support present needs.  What once worked no longer seems to be effective.  Christian education or the formation of believers is in a state of flux. In an article on , retired professor Colin Harris addresses this issue. He points out that the period of the 60’s and 70’s  “saw the beginnings of a loss of vitality within the educational dimension of church ministry, as the

A Future for the Global Leadership Summit?

Craig Groeschel, the founder and senior pastor of Life.Church. The Global Leadership Summit which began as a project of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, and its founding pastor, Bill Hybels, over 25 years ago was held this week without Hybels. For several years, the GLS has been now produced by the Willow Creek Association, a spin-off organization and a loose network of churches but Hybels has been its driving force. Attended by thousands at the church facility in South Barrington and broadcast to thousands more at satellite locations, the annual meeting brings together not only evangelical leaders but outstanding speakers from business, charitable organizations, politics, and business.  For the first time, Hybels did not appear due to allegations of sexual impropriety brought against him over the past year by former employees, staff members, and business associates.  He has already left the church and resigned from the board of the association.

The Baptist Diaspora

I have just returned from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly.   As usual, I had the opportunity to meet and greet many friends and colleagues.   My reflections on the meeting will wait until tomorrow, but as I drove home and thought about who I had seen there, I also thought about those who were not there. During the 1980s and 1990s, the progressive Baptist movement in the south lost many who had identified with the Southern Baptist Convention to other denominations.  Women ministers moved to denominations such as United Methodists to become pastors.  Some changed to denominations such as the United Church of Christ due to its clear stance on issues of social justice. Others became Episcopalians because of their love of the liturgy. The exodus continues today, however.  An American Baptist friend on the west coast told me recently that several young ministers who had been nurtured in CBF churches and seminaries had accepted churches in his a

Calling a Woman as Pastor

From time to time, I receive a call from a member of a pastor search committee that is considering a woman as their senior pastor (which is a term that I don’t find anywhere in scripture, but I understand the concept).   I am always flattered that the candidate has chosen to use me as a reference, so I take the opportunity very seriously.   I must admit, however, that I come out of some of those conversations a bit frustrated. The interviewer usually has a set series of questions, and I try to respond appropriately while pushing the boundaries a bit.   By doing so, I am often able to engage the interviewer more informally and address some concerns specifically related to women in a pastoral role.   As a result, I am no longer surprised when the caller will say something to the effect, “But there are some on our committee who feel that she does not have enough experience.”    On one hand, if the concern is that the candidate does not have any experience as a senior pastor