August 21, 2009

to degree or not to degree

I've mentioned in the past that we've had an ongoing conversation about what role theological training ought to have in our future. I had the privilege of talking with Mark Lau Branson and Alan Roxburgh last night about such things. But I have???what seem to me???some very practical questions about this. It is clear that a lot of the higher education opportunities available for those seeking to become professional clergy focus in great part upon institutional sustainability. With some exceptions, the fact of the matter is that most Christian institutions and churches are running out of money. This isn't so much about bad business practice (although that is often true) but mostly about the growing irrelevance of how the Gospel is commonly communicated within our culture (ie. no one's interested). It seems obvious to many that we need to find better ways to educate both paid and unpaid leadership in how to guide local faith communities in North America in the 21st Century. But how? And where does a professional clergy fit in? Here are some scatter-brained thoughts that I would love to get your feedback on...

How important is it to get a degree in something focused on Christianity in some manner? Don't get me wrong, I feel as though we need to train people in theology. But what does the future hold for those that have a specific degree in such things? When a handful of us left professional ministry to start Matthew's House, those with degrees in ministry or biblical studies found it very hard to find a job outside of ministry. Yet, there was not a Christian institution that would have funded such a calling as ours. Is a degree important for those called to such work? Or should we get educated in other fields that can support us?

My friend Jamie is a pastor at heart and a theologian to boot. But he is also a sociologist so he can pay the bills. I wish I had been as smart as Jamie... regarding both forethought and intellect. My good friend Kevyn and I got certificates in areas of construction, Rick got his contractor's license. (Yeah, bad "alternative" for us in this economy... like I said, not the best at forethought) Is this the direction that Christian leaders should follow? In an economy such as ours, how many people can afford degrees that may not pay themselves off?

There are some that would read this and feel that I am simply some embittered individual trying to raise trouble. I actually ask these questions out of my deep love for the Church. I recognize that our institutions are not going to change over night. And I still plan to work with them as best as I can. In fact, if I could I would love to walk into a seminary classroom and share what I have learned and I know many others just in San Diego who would do the same. One of the challenges in this scenario is that those of us that have been working at finding new forms of church life do not hold the qualifications to walk into that seminary classroom to share what we've learned (Even if I someday finish an MA it still won't be enough???I need a DMin at minimum).

Lastly, there are schools that are trying to address this. One of the reasons why I met with Alan and Mark was because of this. But a concern of mine is that it will still be the same kind of person that gets educated and I wonder if we should be a bit more deliberate about changing that. What I mean is that it still seems as though we are mostly educating white, middle to upper class males. Yet, those doing some of the most selfless, risky amazing ministry amongst people are not those kinds of people. This has a lot to do with broader social issues. But these others are often the voices we need desperately to hear from. White, middle to upper class white men have been the recipients and shapers of theological education for a long time. Yet, as we stand at the tomb of Christendom, how do we empower those that have actually???for a long time???found ways of doing ministry without the resources of the Christian institution? Especially since more and more of us are doing just that today.

There isn't one answer to this. But I am curious to hear about your experiences and thoughts. Please share.

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