Theological Education and the Future

The day prior to ABCNJ’s Annual Session we host a pastor’s academy which encourages pastors in their continuing education. I typically find a corner and go over my materials for the next day, and take some pictures for ABCNJ’s media arm 1. This isn’t because the academy sessions are bad, and certainly not because I know it all and don’t need continuing education. Rather, by the time the Friday prior to Annual Session arrives I’m so focused on the event that I can’t find room in my brain for anything else.

Then there was this year and the topic, “The Future of Theological Education.”

Representatives from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Eastern University/Palmer Seminary, New Brunswick Theological Seminary, and Princeton Seminary gathered with about sixty ABCNJ pastors 2 and conversed with us on this important topic. Each representative took 15 minutes 3 to address various topics. I couldn’t not pay attention.

I’m a sucker for a good lecture, and these were good lectures, followed with some insightful conversation. I loved the thought that pastors need to be both “carpenters and “architects” – having the ability to do practical tasks and dream about what is not but could be. I completely agreed with the notion that there are a great deal of things which are absolutely essential to ministry which simply cannot be taught in seminary – life and personal skills don’t fit in the academic world. The wonderful mess which is embraced in acknowledging that it’s God who calls people to ministry, but it’s the Church 4 who identifies people with that calling, is both intimidating and inspiring. The assertion that 70% of Christians in the world will live in the Southern Hemisphere by the year 2025, following it up with the question, “So why does our theological education look both Northern and Western?” is sobering.

These short talks and follow up discussion were followed up by a terrific panel of four American Baptist missionaries who responded with their peculiar perspective. They pointed out how the missionary movement of the multi-directional era 5 needs to inform both our churches and educational institutions. One posited the desperate need for churches and seminaries and pastors to be extremely intentional in teaching cross-cultural communication and awareness. Sometimes it’s not helpful to be constantly reinforced in things you already believe, but that notion had me nodding my head.

Finally, a group of ABCNJ pastors responded to the work of the panel, bringing yet another perspective. The pastors brought up the need to make space for different voices within the church, but also reminded us that we are about the Testimony of Jesus. That is, we don’t say, “It’s all the same thing,” because that wouldn’t be faithful to the calling of Christ. On the other hand, we are also reminded that this calling needs to exist outside the confines of the church building. God, it seems, often loves people outside the church walls a heck of a lot more than the folks inside the church do.

It was, in the end, an excellent way to spend an afternoon. As a bonus I got to to use Scapple as my notebook during the four individual talks, and if you’d like to see them in their full-resolution wonder follow this link. I can finally take notes on my computer the way I did back in college and seminary!

  1. Which is mostly me at this point. 
  2. And some others. 
  3. And they stayed on time. 
  4. That is, people. 
  5. The direction of travel is not simply from The West to “parts elsewhere.”