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Bending tradition for schools of theology

Bending tradition for schools of theology

There has been much conversation recently on the future of seminaries.

Katherine M Douglass and Jason Bruner, doctoral candidates at Princeton Theological Seminary, write in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

…there is a need for theological schools to rethink their role in theological training in order to remain financially self-sustaining and to train leaders for an increasingly global church. Their problem is not that they need to retain their place in the academy, but rather that they need to justify their existence to Christian churches, which are becoming more ethnically diverse.

The challenge for theological institutions is to be responsive, rather than reactive, to these trends—by giving greater attention to training in leadership, business practices (such as budgeting), and evangelism, as well as through interfaith dialogue and the inclusion of religious education for their students. Additionally, seminaries must make greater efforts to recruit local immigrant students. This regionally focused model has been a strength of African and Asian theological institutions that have pooled resources to provide local education, rather than send students abroad.

One potential approach is to emphasize a “best practices” solution. Sebastian notes that rather than send their prospective pastors to seminary for theological training, many successful churches have returned to an apprenticeship model that was popular in the 18th century. So instead of attempting only internal curricular changes, seminaries could cultivate apprenticeships, which offer more coaching and hands-on teaching than the internships already offer. This would provide students, and the congregations they would eventually serve, the benefits of both a traditional seminary education and a more deeply felt professional experience.

What are your thoughts? Would some model of apprenticeship help the church? How might the question of cost (to churches with the additional “staff” person and the very real question of debt facing clergy in training) be addressed?


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Pamela Shier

I wonder if a combined approach might work. I would suggest a merging of seminaries with undergraduate schools to provide a Bachelor of Divinity. It could include the regular 2 years of core curriculum studies and then focus on the traditional seminary courses for the last 2 years. Then there would be a 2 year diocesan sponsored apprenticeship. We do not want to lose the academic coursework but I see no real need to make these a graduate-only program. A pre-professional four year bachelor’s degree could work for the church’s needs.

Therese DeLisio

The problem with the apprenticeship model of theological education is that it does not actually provide “theological” education. Practical and pastoral skills are important and necessary, but they are no substitute for the kind of in depth biblical and theological studies needed to equip our clergy for informed leadership.

Therese B. DeLisio


Apprenticeships/internships and online education are the way to go. Considering how low paying most clergy positions are, it is morally wrong to saddle new priests with such a burden. There is also no reason why someone has to move halfway across the country to train to be in the clergy. They should stay with their own parish, learn practical matters from the clergy and receive theological training online.

Morris Post

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