Author Topic: Theological education crisis...  (Read 5337 times)

Pasgolf

  • ALPB Forum Regular
  • ****
  • Posts: 259
    • View Profile
Theological education crisis...
« on: May 20, 2016, 08:48:34 AM »
http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/leithart/2016/05/the-crisis-of-theological-education

The question is raised, "Are theological seminaries still necessary?"  Leithart raises an issue that is also being raised in the legal field, namely that the expense of the current process, both for church bodies and individuals receiving training, is not good stewardship.  Having attended a seminary during a time when it was possible to graduate without crushing debt, I cannot imagine attending one today.

Mark (retired pastor, golfs the pastures) Renner

Dave Benke

  • ALPB Contribution Leader
  • *****
  • Posts: 12445
    • View Profile
    • Atlantic District, LCMS
Re: Theological education crisis...
« Reply #1 on: May 20, 2016, 10:08:43 AM »
http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/leithart/2016/05/the-crisis-of-theological-education

The question is raised, "Are theological seminaries still necessary?"  Leithart raises an issue that is also being raised in the legal field, namely that the expense of the current process, both for church bodies and individuals receiving training, is not good stewardship.  Having attended a seminary during a time when it was possible to graduate without crushing debt, I cannot imagine attending one today.

This is a very interesting article, Mark.  I've excerpted a few paragraphs.  I don't know about the ELCA or other Lutheran bodies, but in the Missouri Synod, there has been enormous conversation about the cost of residential (and to some extent non-residential) seminary education, at the same time as the always-amped up conversation about theological integrity and confessional subscription, so there's an impasse. 

Seminary has never made financial sense for students. Many seminarians amass tens of thousands of dollars of debt preparing for a low-income, volatile, risky, high-stress job. Now that theological education is widely available with a few key strokes, spending three or four years at seminary makes even less sense.

Today, seminary education isn’t making financial sense for seminaries either. Over the past two decades, report after report has appeared on the financial crisis faced by seminaries. The crisis is spread out across the theological spectrum, from liberal to institutions of the rock-ribbed sort. Staff and faculty have been frozen or reduced. Benefits have been cut. Endowments have shrunk. Tuitions have risen, further reducing student population.

In 2009, Robert Parham reported that dozens of seminaries were in financial crisis, leading to “loss of theological faculty, the reduction of faculty benefits, the decline of student services and the increase in tuition costs.” It has only gotten worse.

Add to that the change in the market for pastoral candidates. As Philip Clayton reported at the Huffington Post, “The traditional seminary student was a white, college-educated male. He either had sufficient personal wealth or a denominational sponsorship to pay the costs of relocating his family to a seminary for three years, where he studied Greek and Hebrew, church history and theology, biblical studies and preaching. At the end of the time he was guaranteed a white-steepled church, lifetime employment, and a good pension.”

No longer: “A larger and larger number of those who are ministering today (or wishing to minister) can’t possibly gain access to traditional seminaries—much less pay for them. These include many persons of color, Spanish-speaking ministers, second-career folks who can’t just pick up and move, people ministering to poor congregations . . . and the list is growing.” Seminaries need to adjust programs and vision in order to train these sorts of candidates for pastoral ministry.

Some seminaries – the most faithful ones – are likely to face ideological pressure as well. What happens to donations when the Federal government threatens to remove tax exempt status from institutions that fail to recognize sexual minorities or transexuals?

The news is not all bad. The pressures on seminaries have forced many institutions to re-think the method and content of theological education. Apprenticeships, hybrid training programs, and other alternatives are now in competition with accredited degree programs.

Clayton argues that we need to change the way we certify ministers: “we need a broad range of certificates for specific skills. Individual certifications will then be grouped or ‘stacked’ together. People will be credentialed when they have amassed the right combination of certified skills for a particular kind of work.” Seminaries are beginning to think about how to become more agile. (See The Convergence Initiative for an informative set of essays on innovations in theological education.)


Dave Benke

DCharlton

  • ALPB Contribution Leader
  • *****
  • Posts: 6831
    • View Profile
Re: Theological education crisis...
« Reply #2 on: May 20, 2016, 10:38:19 AM »
To paraphrase Mr. Skidmore from Oklahoma, "I'd like to say a word for the white college educated male."  My son is a white-college-educated-male, whose father is a pastor and a white-college-educated-male.  If he chose to attend seminary I could not afford to pay for his education.  Neither could he.  Furthermore, while my current congregation does have a white steeple, the days of guaranteed employment, enviable salaries and easy retirement (if they ever existed) are certainly gone. 

I've heard rumors about a time when a seminarian was told, "If you serve the church, your seminary education will be paid for."  I've also heard that they were told, "If you graduate we will make certain you receive a call."  Today, seminarians told in expected to finance a large portion of their education while also being told that the church doesn't owe them anything.  Those days were long gone by the time I graduated seminary in 1992. 
« Last Edit: May 20, 2016, 11:05:46 AM by DCharlton »
David Charlton  

Was Algul Siento a divinity school?

Brian Stoffregen

  • ALPB Contribution Leader
  • *****
  • Posts: 43160
  • ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀγαπᾶτε τοὺς ἐχθροὺς ὑμῶν
    • View Profile
Re: Theological education crisis...
« Reply #3 on: May 20, 2016, 11:20:07 AM »
To paraphrase Mr. Skidmore from Oklahoma, "I'd like to say a word for the white college educated male."  My son is a white-college-educated-male, whose father is a pastor and a white-college-educated-male.  If he chose to attend seminary I could not afford to pay for his education.  Neither could he.  Furthermore, while my current congregation does have a white steeple, the days of guaranteed employment, enviable salaries and easy retirement (if they ever existed) are certainly gone. 

I've heard rumors about a time when a seminarian was told, "If you serve the church, your seminary education will be paid for."  I've also heard that they were told, "If you graduate we will make certain you receive a call."  Today, seminarians told in expected to finance a large portion of their education while also being told that the church doesn't owe them anything.  Those days were long gone by the time I graduated seminary in 1992.


I graduated from seminary in 1976. We were never told that our seminary education will be paid for; although, I recall hearing that the ALC was paying for about half of our education. (My parents and wife and my part time job made up the rest. I graduated from college & seminary with no student debt.) We were told that graduating was no guarantee of receiving a Call.
"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

Terry W Culler

  • ALPB Contribution Leader
  • *****
  • Posts: 2227
    • View Profile
Re: Theological education crisis...
« Reply #4 on: May 20, 2016, 11:39:15 AM »
I recently saw that it costs about $20,000 per year for a student to attend the Free Lutheran Theological Seminary.  Our tuition is $11,000 per year.  So the AFLC is itself paying $9000 per year per student.  So far it doesn't seem to be a problem, donations are sufficient.  On the student side, though, it is still a costly venture to become one of the best educated poorly paid men in America.

I'm the 5th Lutheran pastor from my family.  The first one (back in the 1840"s) never attended seminary but lived with and studied under the well known 19th century Lutheran pastor/educator Ezra Keller.  It might be that the day will come when such arrangements could again thrive.  Seminary training is a good thing, but it's not the only way for someone to prepare for service as a seelsorger and prediger.
Goodnewsforabadworld.wordpress.com

Dave Benke

  • ALPB Contribution Leader
  • *****
  • Posts: 12445
    • View Profile
    • Atlantic District, LCMS
Re: Theological education crisis...
« Reply #5 on: May 20, 2016, 11:44:12 AM »
I recently saw that it costs about $20,000 per year for a student to attend the Free Lutheran Theological Seminary.  Our tuition is $11,000 per year.  So the AFLC is itself paying $9000 per year per student.  So far it doesn't seem to be a problem, donations are sufficient.  On the student side, though, it is still a costly venture to become one of the best educated poorly paid men in America.

I'm the 5th Lutheran pastor from my family.  The first one (back in the 1840"s) never attended seminary but lived with and studied under the well known 19th century Lutheran pastor/educator Ezra Keller.  It might be that the day will come when such arrangements could again thrive.  Seminary training is a good thing, but it's not the only way for someone to prepare for service as a seelsorger and prediger.

I agree with this.  Especially since we're in the "post-Christian" era, we might take a few looks at how the Church in its early years accomplished on-job-training education and spiritual formation toward ordination through various levels.  We've done some of that to good result in the Atlantic District, where many of the males trained in our diaconate went through various processes, often utilizing distance education, to reach ordination while being primarily taught and mentored locally.

Dave Benke

Dan Fienen

  • ALPB Contribution Leader
  • *****
  • Posts: 12580
    • View Profile
Re: Theological education crisis...
« Reply #6 on: May 20, 2016, 12:14:02 PM »
Is the (having become) traditional 3 year residential study at a seminary, 1 year internship on vicarage, route to the ministry good and beneficial?  Yes.  We have some of the best educated clergy, especially compared to some of the churches around us whose pastors receive much less education.  Not only does this prepare them to be theologically knowledgeable, but also a theological resource of some breadth for their people.  They can confidently come to their pastor and bring questions that arise out their introspection and interaction with the culture around us that is often hostile to Biblical Christianity and largely ignorant of what Biblical Christianity actual is.  Also the collegial nature of the seminary training can be a beneficial part of pastoral formation.  I value highly the seminary experience that prepared me for ministry.  It should not be lightly abandoned.

However, times change, and the reality, as a number of posters have pointed out, has changed.  Recruiting men for a personally expensive education that leaves them deeply in debt with a good chance of ending up with a job that is barely above subsistence and inadequate to service their debt and provide adequately for their family, with minimal job security makes little sense.  Practicality demands that we consider ways to make things more affordable.  The ideal situation is great, but one does not eat the ideal but the practical.   

Pr. Daniel Fienen
LCMS

DCharlton

  • ALPB Contribution Leader
  • *****
  • Posts: 6831
    • View Profile
Re: Theological education crisis...
« Reply #7 on: May 20, 2016, 12:19:41 PM »
To paraphrase Mr. Skidmore from Oklahoma, "I'd like to say a word for the white college educated male."  My son is a white-college-educated-male, whose father is a pastor and a white-college-educated-male.  If he chose to attend seminary I could not afford to pay for his education.  Neither could he.  Furthermore, while my current congregation does have a white steeple, the days of guaranteed employment, enviable salaries and easy retirement (if they ever existed) are certainly gone. 

I've heard rumors about a time when a seminarian was told, "If you serve the church, your seminary education will be paid for."  I've also heard that they were told, "If you graduate we will make certain you receive a call."  Today, seminarians told in expected to finance a large portion of their education while also being told that the church doesn't owe them anything.  Those days were long gone by the time I graduated seminary in 1992.

I graduated from seminary in 1976. We were never told that our seminary education will be paid for; although, I recall hearing that the ALC was paying for about half of our education. (My parents and wife and my part time job made up the rest. I graduated from college & seminary with no student debt.) We were told that graduating was no guarantee of receiving a Call.

Apparently,  ;)then, they were long gone by 1976. 
David Charlton  

Was Algul Siento a divinity school?

DCharlton

  • ALPB Contribution Leader
  • *****
  • Posts: 6831
    • View Profile
Re: Theological education crisis...
« Reply #8 on: May 20, 2016, 12:25:06 PM »
Also the collegial nature of the seminary training can be a beneficial part of pastoral formation.  I value highly the seminary experience that prepared me for ministry.  It should not be lightly abandoned.

Seminary was one of the most enjoyable times of my life.  The community of worship, study and conversation was a true blessing for me.  One of the places I have found a similar kind of community is in the Society of the Holy Trinity. 
David Charlton  

Was Algul Siento a divinity school?

Mark Brown

  • ALPB Contribution Leader
  • *****
  • Posts: 1253
  • Pastor, St. Mark Lutheran, West Henrietta, NY
    • View Profile
    • Saint Mark's Website
Re: Theological education crisis...
« Reply #9 on: May 20, 2016, 12:26:01 PM »
When I was at sem I was still working full time a very good job.  That allowed me to pay for it.  There were several things that the finances of seminary make problematic: a) the burden often falls on wives, b) the people making the decisions don't realize what they are doing in a meaningful way, c) the entire system seems designed to "eat its young".  But the one thing that really sticks in my mind to this day was an overheard conversation.  I was eating one of my rare lunches in those days next to the faculty table.  Their conversation turned to "purpose of the sem".  One of the deans at the time made a statement that "we are no longer just a parochial training ground for pastors for the LCMS".  He said it with a little disdain in his voice.  And the general consensus around that table was in line.  At least nobody contradicted him.  I almost left the sem that day.  It was a major irritant that what I was killing myself for was perceived as something to be disdained.  It also made each of those big money checks just a little harder to write.  And it made the constant harping of "half of your cost is being paid by someone else" also seem a fraud.

That being said:
a) A seminary education is a worthwhile endeavor.  I'd not really want to see it go.
b) But there is a question of institutional purpose.  What are seminaries good at?  What have we tasked them with that they aren't?  What have they tasked themselves with that isn't core?
c) Likewise there is a question of institutional purpose in regards to synod and district.  Having a seminarian from our church, we are tasked with an amount of funding.  So far, we have been able to meet that.  The districts are also tasked.  By and large they don't.  Seminaries used to be the purpose of Synod right there in the initial constitution.  Today, not so much.
d) and we need to look at ourselves.  Do we as congregations agree that an educated clergy is a good thing?  What would we be willing to do to ensure that?

Things like Theopolis (the article) or PLI or SMP or their likewise are work-a-rounds for formal institutions that have become unmoored from simple core purposes.  Where I am in NY the local public school now spends about $28K/student/year.  For my three kids the district spends $84,000 per year.  After saying thank-you for the enforced generosity of the taxpayer, one question I ask is what can't you get for $84K?  The other one I tend to ask is if the entire institution was abandoned and the money dispersed, with $84K I could hire a personal tutor for my three kids at a good salary with benefits.  Would that be better or worse?  I think the same things when I see the seminary tuition broken down.  If our current institutions were disbanded and we had to procure what they do from scratch, would it be cheaper?  Would it be better? 

But then I remember I'm just a very small person with a call to about 100 souls (one of them at sem) and turn back to the text for the week.

Dan Fienen

  • ALPB Contribution Leader
  • *****
  • Posts: 12580
    • View Profile
Re: Theological education crisis...
« Reply #10 on: May 20, 2016, 12:56:21 PM »
I fully expect howls of protest and derision, but the seminary is a trade school, the primary degree, M. Div., is a professional not an academic degree.  This used to be especially evident at Concordia Theological Seminary, Springfield, Illinois.  The way things were at one time set up was that Springfield was the "practical" seminary primarily for second career men and those who decided late in their college education to become a pastor. 

St. Louis was the academic seminary and the culmination of "The System" that originally started with young men going away to boarding High Schools run by the Synod at Milwaukee, Concordia, MO, Fort Wayne, and probably other places that fed into a two year college program (later 4 year with the last two years at the Senior College in Fort Wayne, a school dedicated to pre-sem education) and finally St. Louis.  For a number of reason that whole system broke down.  I don't think any Synodical boarding high schools exist, both seminaries accept 2nd career men, many entering seminarians have not graduated from an LCMS college or university, at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne has become just as much of an academic seminary as St. Louis.  Already when I was in college and seminary, in the 70s the System was in disarray and on the way out.

The purpose of the seminary should be to train pastors to serve parishes.  Like a number of professions, that of pastor as an intensely academic side.  There are a whole lot of things that it is good for pastors to know.  So rather than just a certification, there is the professional degree, M. Div., like other such degrees like the Juris Doctor for lawyers or M. D. for doctors.  On the side, seminaries might train for and grant academic degrees, like S. T. M. and Th. D., but those are not so much preparation for the parish as it is for academic work.

Perhaps one path to a solution to the theological education crisis is to return seminaries to the role as trade school for pastors and consider how best to equip men to serve in that capacity.
Pr. Daniel Fienen
LCMS

Terry W Culler

  • ALPB Contribution Leader
  • *****
  • Posts: 2227
    • View Profile
Re: Theological education crisis...
« Reply #11 on: May 20, 2016, 01:38:28 PM »
Dan is right here.  I suspect that many of the problems we seen with bad theology in some Lutheran seminaries derive from hubris and a desire to be a little Harvard or Yale.  They lose sight of what their task is and why they exists.  In the AFLC our seminary program is designed to prepare men to be parish pastors.  Some do go on to other academic endeavors (after all, someone has to teach in the seminary), but most serve the people God has gathered in various congregations.  For a while I actually opposed accreditation for the seminary because I feared losing that focus.  But I've come around on that issue. 
Goodnewsforabadworld.wordpress.com

Mark Brown

  • ALPB Contribution Leader
  • *****
  • Posts: 1253
  • Pastor, St. Mark Lutheran, West Henrietta, NY
    • View Profile
    • Saint Mark's Website
Re: Theological education crisis...
« Reply #12 on: May 20, 2016, 01:42:26 PM »
Let me propose a thought experiment.

Start a third seminary.  It is online only, so its campus consist of renting cloud space from Amazon.  Its curriculum is exactly the same as CSL/CTS with one modification, homiletics is moved to the exegetical department and all other "practical" classes are cut.  Total full time academic study 2 years.  The student continues in their home congregation.  The substitute for the practical curriculum is a two year deaconry at a real congregation.  It would be an ordained deacon.  Said deaconry would come with a stipend, inteded to be paid by congregation, but if the congregation is too small, the synod/district/home cong picks it up.  This could be two years at a large congregation in the suburbs, it could be two years in a small congregation in a rural area under the supervision of the next closest pastor.  Admission is based on Home Congregation putting forward the man for original study and supporting it.  Placement as deacon is based on faculty in conversation with local pastor.  Ordination as pastor and first call are based on faculty and supervising pastor.

Total price: $10,000.  (I don't think that is crazy.  Texas has colleges that will offer a full BA for $10K.  This is two years less.  Georgia Tech offers a MA in the same way for ~$7,000.  Don't like that, ok, make the total price $15,000).

If that third seminary was allowed to be started.  Let's say I'm a sacramental entrepreneur and think this is the best place to innovate to get the gospel out and by some miracle the people of the Synod let me.  What percentage of current seminary students would I capture?  Would the program expand or contract the number of people studying?  Would it serve the church?  What stands in the way of such a program?

Matt Staneck

  • ALPB Contribution Leader
  • *****
  • Posts: 3337
  • Shabbat Shalom! Matthew 11:28-30, 12:8
    • View Profile
Re: Theological education crisis...
« Reply #13 on: May 20, 2016, 01:59:43 PM »
Let me propose a thought experiment.

Start a third seminary.  It is online only, so its campus consist of renting cloud space from Amazon.  Its curriculum is exactly the same as CSL/CTS with one modification, homiletics is moved to the exegetical department and all other "practical" classes are cut.  Total full time academic study 2 years.  The student continues in their home congregation.  The substitute for the practical curriculum is a two year deaconry at a real congregation.  It would be an ordained deacon.  Said deaconry would come with a stipend, inteded to be paid by congregation, but if the congregation is too small, the synod/district/home cong picks it up.  This could be two years at a large congregation in the suburbs, it could be two years in a small congregation in a rural area under the supervision of the next closest pastor.  Admission is based on Home Congregation putting forward the man for original study and supporting it.  Placement as deacon is based on faculty in conversation with local pastor.  Ordination as pastor and first call are based on faculty and supervising pastor.

Total price: $10,000.  (I don't think that is crazy.  Texas has colleges that will offer a full BA for $10K.  This is two years less.  Georgia Tech offers a MA in the same way for ~$7,000.  Don't like that, ok, make the total price $15,000).

If that third seminary was allowed to be started.  Let's say I'm a sacramental entrepreneur and think this is the best place to innovate to get the gospel out and by some miracle the people of the Synod let me.  What percentage of current seminary students would I capture?  Would the program expand or contract the number of people studying?  Would it serve the church?  What stands in the way of such a program?

Not signing onto every detail you've suggested (mostly because I haven't looked into it myself), but I agree with the gist. I think the SMP program should become a true "alternate route" like Springfield was back in the day. I'm not sure you need a third seminary per se, because cohort experiences and week long intensives serve a good purpose, but we've always been purveyors of alternate routes, so why not have it online today?

M. Staneck
Matt Staneck, Pastor
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Queens, NY

Dave Benke

  • ALPB Contribution Leader
  • *****
  • Posts: 12445
    • View Profile
    • Atlantic District, LCMS
Re: Theological education crisis...
« Reply #14 on: May 20, 2016, 02:08:54 PM »
Let me propose a thought experiment.

Start a third seminary.  It is online only, so its campus consist of renting cloud space from Amazon.  Its curriculum is exactly the same as CSL/CTS with one modification, homiletics is moved to the exegetical department and all other "practical" classes are cut.  Total full time academic study 2 years.  The student continues in their home congregation.  The substitute for the practical curriculum is a two year deaconry at a real congregation.  It would be an ordained deacon.  Said deaconry would come with a stipend, inteded to be paid by congregation, but if the congregation is too small, the synod/district/home cong picks it up.  This could be two years at a large congregation in the suburbs, it could be two years in a small congregation in a rural area under the supervision of the next closest pastor.  Admission is based on Home Congregation putting forward the man for original study and supporting it.  Placement as deacon is based on faculty in conversation with local pastor.  Ordination as pastor and first call are based on faculty and supervising pastor.

Total price: $10,000.  (I don't think that is crazy.  Texas has colleges that will offer a full BA for $10K.  This is two years less.  Georgia Tech offers a MA in the same way for ~$7,000.  Don't like that, ok, make the total price $15,000).

If that third seminary was allowed to be started.  Let's say I'm a sacramental entrepreneur and think this is the best place to innovate to get the gospel out and by some miracle the people of the Synod let me.  What percentage of current seminary students would I capture?  Would the program expand or contract the number of people studying?  Would it serve the church?  What stands in the way of such a program?

Not signing onto every detail you've suggested (mostly because I haven't looked into it myself), but I agree with the gist. I think the SMP program should become a true "alternate route" like Springfield was back in the day. I'm not sure you need a third seminary per se, because cohort experiences and week long intensives serve a good purpose, but we've always been purveyors of alternate routes, so why not have it online today?

M. Staneck

The underlying assumption in the Missouri Synod is that there is a need for two seminaries providing the on-site curriculum.  Enrollment says otherwise.  The idea of a second "practical" alternative is good. 

Dave Benke