Certain professions, doctors, lawyers, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, auto mechanics require a certain level of education and competence. One would not consider hiring a lawyer or going to a doctor that was not adequately trained and licensed. When building a house we employ licensed contractors who use skilled and licensed tradespeople to do the work necessary, so it boggles my mind that people would attend a church with a pastor and teacher that has little or no education. What we need today is an educated and professional clergy, and we only harm message and ministry of the church when we think otherwise.
A friend came to me one day and told me that he felt called by God to go into the ministry. We sat and talked about his call, and I discussed that pathway toward ordination, and that included some time in school namely seminary. He told me that he was not able to attend seminary nor could he afford it. I mentioned that is my belief that if he were indeed called a way would be found for him to attend. He ended up not going to seminary, and I am not sure if he pursued his call or not. The point is seminary or some professional theological training in important in ministry.
When I step into the pulpit each Sunday, I face an educated congregation. The level of education of the average person today is much different than it was 50 or a hundred years ago. The preacher was often the most educated person in the community, and it was their responsibility to understand how to convey the message of God to the people. But ministry is much more than preaching, and that is where the training come in.
Now I will admit, the modern seminary education does not prepare students, well, for the practical arts of ministry. Seminary does not leach leadership, accounting, plumbing, website and bulletin design or any of the other myriad of tasks that the 21st-century ministry is called upon to perform. What it does is give one a solid foundation in theology and religious studies and some programs will give one the skills necessary to preach and teach. But the church of the 21st century is a very complicated thing and the minister today needs to be a multi-disciplined person.
The Gold Standard of seminary education is the Master of Divinity Degree. This terminal degree is the professional degree that gives one the educational qualifications, educational only, for ordination. A student needs more than “book learning” to be a minister and those skills are learned in the field. Most programs balance “book learning” with field education.
A recent article featured on the webpage of the Religion News Service points to a recent study by the Association of Theological Schools, find that more and more students are opting for a Master of Theology rather than the traditional Master of Divinity. One reason, the Master of Religion, can be completed in two years where the traditional Master of Divinity takes three years of study. The study found that one of the main reasons for this was cost, that is understandable. But another reason was that the Master of Religion allowed a broader study of religious topics where the curriculum of the Master of Divinity is usually a set sequence of courses.
The bottom line is the church needs an educated clergy and needs to find a way to make that happen. The church and her people deserve clergy that has the best training possible, and the congregations need to realize the cost of this and come to grips with salaries to cover those costs.
Read the entire Religion News Service piece here.