Thursday, October 12, 2006

"Hang on God, I'm Waiting for my Calling"

Work and Integrity” got me thinking about seminary, and religious education in general. As a society, we need properly trained engineers, doctors and lawyers. But I wonder why we are so committed to graduate-level education for pastors? What is this instinct that pastors need to have a Master’s degree in order to be properly “prepared” for ministry?

Until very recently, this level of education was not required for ministers. Even colonial preachers, who were required to have formal ministerial training, would enter college between the ages of 14-16, spend a few years studying (mostly liberal arts), and then move on to a church. During the Second Great Awakening, Methodist and Baptist pastors were often little more than itinerant prophets who experienced a profound encounter with God and felt called to share His love with others.

It seems that the “elite,” educated clergy model rests on a notion of “pastor-as-civic-leader” that no longer exists. There was a time, especially in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, when the pastor served as a focal point for civic organization and cohesion – like the doctor or judge. The pastor needed to be highly educated – not primarily for his religious duties – but so that he (and it was mostly “he”) could adequately lead the secular civic society. The current equivalent might be something like a city councilman. But is that what pastors are really for? Can you imagine a biblical story of God calling someone, only to have him or her say, "Well, that sounds good God. Now, if you'll just wait three years for me to get the necessary education, I'll be happy to serve." Yeah, right.

Nothing seems more foreign to me than sending a ministry candidate far away from his or her church in order to be “trained for ministry."

Grace & Peace

Currently Reading
"Work & Integrity"
By: William Sullivan