In the historical book of 1 Kings, we hear the story of Elijah fleeing from Jezebel (19: 1-15). Fearful for his life after his stunning defeat of the prophets of Baal (the queen’s religious preference), the prophet went in the opposite direction from his place of service in the northern kingdom. He makes sure that he travels beyond the legal reach of Jezebel. When he arrives at Mt. Horeb, no doubt hoping for an encounter with God akin to that of his forebear Moses, the first word that came was simply “What are you doing here, Elijah?” God must ask it again before the prophet is able to hear the divine direction to return to the work to which God had called him. In his fear, he had gotten completely off course.
There is no more important question for a leader to ask than “am I heading in the right direction?” A leader’s credibility depends upon knowing where she or her wants to take a church, an organization, or a theological seminary. Nietzsche is famous for his line: “a long obedience in the same direction,” which ideally speaks of a measured pursuit that does not require course correction. Many schools are now facing the kind of financial crisis that Central faced five years ago, and approximately 47% of them are considered “financially stressed.” Course correction is essential for the mission of these schools to survive.
This week Presidents and Deans from ATS schools will gather in Montreal for the biennium, a time when schools review the standards by which their accreditation is sustained. On nearly every school’s mind is how to navigate the continuing financial stress of providing high quality theological education in a time when traditional forms of institutional support are ebbing. Seminaries must become much more entrepreneurial and collaborative if they plan to move into a sustainable future. Traditional congregations are in decline, a reality mirrored in many schools. The church needs the seminary more than ever to think in fresh ways about its mission. The seminary needs the church to embody the heritage and practices that keep theological studies grounded in the world. Over fifty years ago H. Richard Niebuhr called the seminary “the intellectual center of the Church’s life” (The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry, 107). In my judgment, this stellar definition must guide our work afresh.
Where is Central headed in these days? We are becoming a seminary of choice for Baptists and ecumenical friends as we construct innovative educational programs, provide experiences in global Christianity, and make congregational health a priority in classroom instruction and ministry praxis. As we engage the challenges of urban ministry, emerging congregational forms, and empowered lay leadership (in addition to those pursuing standing as clergy), we listen for the voice of God and trust that if ever off course, God will grant new direction.
Molly T. Marshall
For more information about our perichoretic seminary, visit www.cbts.edu