by Josh Packard
I am right in the middle of conference season. Last week I was in Chicago for the joint Association for the Sociology of Religion and American Sociological Association annual meetings, and next week I’ll be in San Diego at a conference for church planters. Then it’s off to Seattle, Colorado, Los Angeles, and Austin. I’m talking about Church Refugees at all of these events to a mixture of pastors and other church workers along with academics who study religion.
One of the most unexpected things I’m finding as I make these presentations has been a growing number of seminary students who either chat with me afterward or email me later, often for confidentiality reasons. They tell me amazing stories of disconnect between their training and the daily realities that pastors face (many of them are working their way through seminary in various church roles). What they are learning in the classroom, they tell me, is simply divorced from the reality of running a church or even being the church in the world. (Check out the Practical Stuff for Pastors series)
This saddens me for sure, because education can be so powerful when it combines deep theoretical or theological knowledge with good, pragmatic training. However, it doesn’t surprise me. I’ve been saying for a while now that if we think churches are somewhat behind in thinking about the forces driving people away from institutional church, they are still light years ahead of most seminaries.
You see, the reason these seminary students are talking to me in the first place is not to complain about their training. They’re coming to me to tell me that they are Almost Dones. They point out the massive gap between their motivations for entering seminary and what they ultimately experience once enrolled. The divorce between their desires and their actual classroom experiences echoes almost exactly the things we heard while researching Church Refugees.
They tell me that their training isn’t relevant to helping people live out Christ’s message in their daily lives. There’s too much focus on running the church as a business. There’s not much truly creative thinking about how to engage the world. To be sure, some places are better than others, but I think there is real cause for concern that the same patterns we’re seeing among congregants might be also going on with pastors.
Many of you who read this blog regularly are pastors or other church workers who have seminary or other professional ministry training. What do you think? Is seminary actually a catalyst for driving some people out of the institutional church? Did your training equip you to do the job you have today? If you could do it over again and design your own program, what would you add or take out?