October 12, 2015

Re-Imagining Theological Education


            Twenty-four seminaries and ministry organizations came together in Chicago this past weekend for the purpose of sharing the ways in which we are innovating. Leaders of theological schools know that we are facing strong headwinds as we seek to provide relevant ministry preparation for churches that occupy a different social space than in former times.
            We talked about service learning and vocational discernment; new forms of delivery, especially technologically enhanced; competency based programs; collaboration with other professionals who seek continuing education; congregationally-based instruction; and, creative ways to use our physical campus sites to generate additional revenue. And I have only mentioned a few of the wide-ranging topics!

            A major area of discussion was how accrediting bodies and denominations are rethinking the issue of credentialing.  Is it always necessary for a pastoral candidate to have a Master of Divinity from a seminary accredited by the Association of Theological Schools?  This requirement precludes many who do not have the privilege of this kind of graduate education.  White privilege continues to infect many schools.
            What I found surprising was that no one talked about global partnerships except Central.  As one of the presenters, I spoke of the significance of our collaboration with Myanmar Institute of Theology.  The intercultural and interfaith learning that occurs as part of this shared Doctor of Ministry program is significant and essential for understanding dimensions of global Christianity.

            Surprising also was the lack of concrete initiatives to empower women for leadership.  Once again, Central has a differentiating identity in our Women’s Leadership Initiative.  Perhaps other denominations have made more progress moving women into senior ministry positions, but the percentage of American Baptist senior pastors who are women is 9.4%.
            An inherent tension in ministry preparation lays between mastery the classical areas of theological education—biblical studies, theology, ethics, Christian heritage—and the arts of ministry, such as preaching, working for justice, pastoral care, and congregational leadership.  Knowledge and practice must cohere if the deep wisdom of our faith be formed in new generations.

            I came away from the intense three-day conference encouraged by the passion of other seminary leaders in their discrete contexts.  I also celebrate Central’s nimble movement toward an ever more relevant form of ministry preparation.

            Molly T. Marshall

Central makes a bold claim: we prepare ministers to craft the future with God.

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