The Problem With Seminaries Today

I recently read a post by Colin Hansen on the Out of Ur blog that captured a lot of my feelings toward seminary right now.

The current trend in seminaries and advanced education is to move classes to be more accessible to more people than the standard residential education model (think undergrad, living on campus for 4 years). This means online classes, night classes, weekend-long classes, and classes that fit outside the normal work day.

Generally speaking I do a combination of short intensive courses and travel to school once a week during the semester for classes. I am the non-traditional student in that I don’t live on or near campus and I work full time on top of going to school. Colin Hansen said:

It seems that fewer students today can afford to set aside a few years for full-time coursework. So seminaries expand their online offerings, bolster their satellite locations, and make their courses friendly to commuters.

But where he really got me was with his following statement:

I share in these financial struggles, but I want to advocate for considerate expansion. A master of divinity is no mere means to the end of pastoral employment. Spiritual formation must accompany this program. How can this happen if we neglect relationships with fellow students and professors and fail to set aside time to reflect on the massive volume of material we’re learning? Busyness is the enemy of meaningful thought and deep faith.

Seminary establishes patterns for ministry that don’t end on graduation day. A student who sees only the immediate becomes a pastor who responds only to the pressing (emphasis mine).

I’ve felt this tension in my own life and studies. My life is busy enough without school and there are few moments when I am able to give thoughtful reflection to what I am learning and being challenged by. And in my work this means I am very rarely able to dream big dreams for the ministries I serve in. I’m at the constant call of the most pressing thing.

This is neither healthy or wise.

As seminaries change structure and models they must also keep in mind the learning patterns of their students. The end goal should not be always be more students and more money.

I’m grateful that my seminary has made it possible for me to further my education and spiritual formation while also working (it’s the only way I can afford school anyway), but there are repercussions to living busy lives (maybe even too busy).

All to often we overlook those repercussions and the expense is far greater than we can truly know.

The expense is wisdom.