Do we need seminaries?
April 1, 2011
In Trust NOW email has an article this week on the future of seminaries. It starts out with a pretty pessimistic and cynical viewpoint; it ends with a more hopeful voice.
People don't tend to ask me as a seminary president why we exist. They may ask whether we have a future, if they are courageous, know me well, or are ornery persons wanting to bait a sensitive person. The answers to both questions may be the same if looked at correctly.
Seminaries have not always existed. But the biblical examples of people in ministry point to some kind of preparation. It may have come through mentoring, like Elijah with Elisha or Moses with Joshua or Jesus with his disciples. It could be time in the desert, like Paul for three years with a ten year initial ministry in Antioch afterwards before the missionary journeys and all the writing that forms the backbone of our New Testament.
Church history also reveals preparation through various means ? mentoring, desert solitude, monastic life, church "schools," Bible institutes and colleges, seminaries. The common denominator appears to be the idea of "preparation." The methods or modes of learning have differed over time. In a sense, every method has always existed with one mode taking a predominant position at any given time.
So yes, I think preparation of people for ministry will persist until the Lord returns. The how may change over time. For that reason I have been a voice saying we need to find a way to make sure we are helping prepare people for what God is doing. If we do not meet the needs of the church, God will find another method to do so. The church will look somewhere else, too.
Another way to answer derives from the biblical discipline called "study." We are to study "to show ourselves approved." The Lord tells Joshua to "meditate" on the instructions of the Lord. The psalmist opens up the Psalter with the same focus. As Dan Aleshire says, "The Church will always need to lift up the 'study' discipline. She will be healthy because of it."
To study. To prepare. If we are responsible for these two elements, we are necessary and will continue to meet the will of the Lord and the needs to the church. Thus we will exist into the future.