August 29, 2016

The Changing Profile of Christian Leadership

            Faculty retreat provides time to look ahead at what is next in theological education and what the seminary needs to do to prepare creative leaders for the church and community.  During our recent time at Conception Abbey—a wonderful context for prayer and reflection—faculty members explored how demographic trends for churches, and consequently seminaries, call us to new approaches in recruitment and formation.

            We considered the implications of America’s changing religious landscape, especially the decline of Christians as a predominant share of population.  According to the Pew Research Center, the “unaffiliated” and other faiths continue to grow.  Where will we find students interested in ministry?  The usual feeder systems for seminary—churches and college religion departments—are not as robust in our time.   Many congregations do not think sufficiently about the next generation of ministers and thus do not practice the discernment processes of noticing, naming, and nurturing giftedness among their members.

            Younger adults in the 20’s and 30’s are particularly prone to move toward an unaffiliated status, and the reasons are varied.  Many are suspicious of institutions, preferring to lessen the overhead in order to use resources for more direct impact.  Many perceive the church to be judgmental and intolerant; some perceive its “doctrine” as fixed and irrelevant to urgent contemporary concerns.  The necessity of frequent moving for jobs also contributes to a lack of connection with a community of faith.
            One of the most striking reasons for younger adults to avoid affiliation is the perception that churches believe arcane, scientifically vacuous notions about the origin of the earth, environmental issues, human identity, and Christian triumphalism.  Others contend that faith and reason are in opposition, which is a gross over-simplification, in my judgment.
            Yet, God continues to beckon these to devote their lives to bringing about horizons of transformation in this broken, upside-down world.  Their yearnings to put the world to rights, as N. T. Wright says, is an echo of a voice that summons their very lives.  God is still speaking, but the world makes it hard to hear.  Habits of distraction, especially, contribute to neglect of the true self and its holy aspirations.

            I am grateful for wise faculty members who seriously engage this religious terrain.  They continue to adapt pedagogical approaches and even how they articulate their theological grounding in order to make their wonderful expertise and ministry practice more accessible and attractive.

Central's newly revised M.Div. curriculum pillars and threads.

            Central continues to innovate in order to provide the creative leaders churches and society need.  We believe our mission is more important than ever, and we eagerly seek to engage what is occurring now and what may come next.

            Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares leaders for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.

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