“Pedagogy is discipleship. All faculty are forming students for something. For many, it is a fragmented formation.”

Dr Steve Rankin, University Chaplain, Southern Methodist University

Don’t send that email

I recently read this Harvard Business Review article by Anthony K. Tjan, CEO of Cue Ball. In it he makes the case for having live conversations rather than electronically-mediated communication (such as email and social media).

This is especially the case where important decision need to be made or conflict needs to be addressed. He writes,

There is a rising and unproductive trend towards people trying to do digital conflict resolution. The de facto path for issue resolution seems to be increasingly via email. More accurately, email has become a convenient mechanism for issue-avoidance. It is easier, quicker, less stressful, and less confrontational to have critical or challenging issues sent over email versus a live one-on-one with a counterpart.

The immediacy of email, as the fact that it appears less confrontational, all mask the hidden cost of email:

  1. It is hard to get the EQ (emotional intelligence) right in email.
  2. Email and text often promote reactive responses.
  3. Email prolongs debate.

In light of this, my resolution is to pick the phone up more rather than send off an email. What do you think?

Seminary as trade school: parish-based theological education?

As a leader in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA and an ordained Presbyterian minister, I spend my life sandwiched between the university and the church. InterVarsity is both a para-church and a para-university movement–we work within and beside both institutions to advance their respective missions as well as our own.

InterVarsity contributes to the mission of the church by making disciples of students and faculty and sending them into the world as agents of Gospel-change. We contribute to the mission of the university by creating diverse, center-set believing communities that seek the welfare of the university and value respectful dialog and a common life with those who also call the university home.

One of the places where church and university encounter one another, in addition to campus ministry, is in the training of pastors and religious leaders. Historically this task has been performed by theological seminaries (usually stand-alone institutions) and divinity schools (of universities) related to the a church (as in denomination).

Regardless of whether there is a legal relationship between a theological institution and a denomination, there is the functional relationship that exists in that most denominations required their ordained clergy to receive a theological education from an accredited institution of higher education. It may be their first, second, or tenth priority, but all institutions of theological education train pastors.

These relationships often create tensions between the academy and the church:

  • How does academic freedom relate to theological and confessional integrity?
  • Can pastors be trained to perform their calling by those who have little to no parish experience?
  • How effective are seminaries in connecting academic learning with the practice of ministry?
  • Is the cost of seminary burdensome to future clergy whose earning potential is depressed?

Leadership Network reports that in light of the above issues (and more) some churches are stepping into the task of preparing ministers for parish service:

In 2011, the church [Sojourn Community Church] launched a one-year “Pastor’s School” as part of a residency where potential church planters attend intensive classes and serve as ministry leaders. Pastor’s School meets weekly, and the primary teacher is always a Sojourn pastor. The other training components focus on service in the local church. Each student must volunteer at least 5 hours a week in church ministry. The program will soon become a fully accredited, church-based theological education. Until then, Sojourn has negotiated with nearby Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY for 30 hours of Master of Divinity credits to be completed while serving in the church.

The church believes that this initiative can provide greater theological integrity among those called to plant church as well as pastor existing congregations. Says the pastor, Daniel Montgomery,

Too many pastors and church planters practice a ‘mutt theology’ of gleaning here and there—a bit of Tim Keller, of Francis Chan, of David Platt, of Mark Driscoll…. We recognized that one of the things missing in training church leaders is a community of practical and intellectual virtue. Sure there’s a place for the classroom, but learning is best done in residence in the church.

There is much to applaud about a project like this. Many para-church organizations (like InterVarsity, CRU, YoungLife) provide experience-based training in ministry that is complemented by classroom instruction during the summer. It seems to me that this model serves us reasonably well. By way of confession, my theological training took place full-time in a residential Master of Divinity program rather than a church- or ministry-based experience.

There are some things that concern me about this model as well. Chief among them is the risk of provincialism. A program like this could well lead to pastors with a stunted vision and philosophy of ministry overly limited to a single school of thought. It’s one thing to be rooted in a theological tradition, it’s another to be largely ignorant of anything beyond your own branch of the church.

Seminary isn’t a trade school. Instead it is a community in which we learn to think and live theologically, to practice ministry and deepen in the life of Christ. It is a specific, time-limited experience that forms the basis of a life devoted to theological reflection and practice now experienced in the context of parish rather than seminary. 

What do you think?

Neuhaus on the church

It’s always a pleasure to read something (a book, article, blog post) that gives words to thoughts I’ve been having or an idea I’ve been wrestling with. At one and the same time it assures me that I’m not alone and that there is some hope of finding a way forward in the midst of a struggle. The person who recommends such a resource is an invaluable friend to whom a great debt it owed.

Recently Allan Poole (Pastor of Blacknall Memorial Presbyterian Church) recommended the late Richard John Neuhaus’s Freedom for Ministry.

I’m less than a fourth of the way through the book so I’ll refrain from a sweeping endorsement. However, I will tell you that the first chapter of the book is a gem. In “The Thus and So-Ness of the Church,” Neuhaus reflects on the tension we ministers experience when we hold together the “church of faith” with the “church of fact.” There is a gulf between the Church as it is and as it ought to be.

Ministry takes place firmly in the church as it is. Recognizing this is one of the keys, I am sure, to faithful ministry over the long haul. Writes Neuhaus, “But, you say, you cannot love the real church [the church of fact] because it is so unspeakably unlovable [petty, self-absorbed, sometimes heretical, etc.]. But what is the “real” Church? It is a great error, I believe, to think that only what now exists is real. To view the Church in terms of possibility and promise is not to depart from reality but to encompass the greater reality” (14).

What a breath of fresh air like for an idealist like me! The church is rent asunder and distressed by heresies. It can be petty, tyrannical, apathetic, and cruel. It is an institution, an organization, and prone to all the problems that beset such as this. However, it is also the bride of Christ:

What is the Church of which we are called to be ministers and for which we are to have love unbounded? It is the Church that “Christ loved…[he] gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27). That is the real Church. And that real Church is in continuity with, inseparable from, this empirical, existing Church with which we are so deeply and so rightly satisfied. (15)

Neuhaus powerfully names the tension I have been living. He continues: “To love the Church, then, is to help it become what it is” (15). The central element of the pastoral calling, then, is to help the church live into its identity as the bride of Christ and to do this in the way of love. What a calling!


A brief hiatus

I’m back from a brief blogging hiatus prompted by several things:

  • The death of my 90 year old grandmother and a family trip to Quarryville, Pennsylvania for her funeral.
  • A scheduled vacation for some home improvement projects, which included hanging three new light fixtures (replacing some very dated original lights from 1941) and painting three rooms. I also threw in seeding the front yard–we know how to have fun around here!
  • My general sense of malaise about the current state and future of the Presbyterian Church USA. It is possible to read too much. I reached information overload just prior to my vacation and unplugging from things Presbyterian was good medicine for a season.

I’ll be posting some thoughts about some of these things in the coming days. At the moment, I am enjoying the Lenten season and seeking to grow in being present to those around me (and to God) by fasting from Facebook. I will be blogging here regularly and automatically posting to Facebook, but I won’t log in. So…if you comment on a post in Facebook, I won’t see your comment.