Monday, May 20, 2013

The Church That Doesn't Teach

A front page piece in the Washington Post last week highlighted Wesley Theological Seminary, where I spent seven years snagging my Masters of Divinity, and where I'm currently trundling towards a Doctorate.

It's a fine institution, and being there deeply enriched both my understanding of the Christian journey but also my faith.

The article, though, was about the transition of seminaries away from being places to train pastors.  The individuals interviewed for this story were getting their degrees in theology, but had absolutely no intention of using them for full-time pastoral ministry.

This trend goes deep, as the article noted that while 90% of seminary attendees a generation ago intended to lead a congregation, only forty one percent have that as their goal today.   Instead, their stated intent was to have seminary be the place that strengthened their faith, so that they could better apply it in their day-to-day lives.

From experience, I know that seminary does this.  I understand why people would seek it out.

But what struck me was this:

Isn't that what the church is for?

I mean, really.  Maybe it's just me with my teaching elder hat on, but how is it that local congregations aren't meeting this need?   That's kind of the point of what we do when we gather as disciples.

Oh, sure, there are other things that church does...worship and service and fellowship.  But if you come into encounter with a faith community that leaves you with no idea how to apply faith in the day-to-day, what use is it?

The article places much of the blame for this on the tendency of the institutional church to focus on structure and politics, turf wars, and arguing over the modern theological equivalents of iotas or how many angels dance on the head of a pin.

That may be so.   And I understand, as the part-time pastor of a small community, that there are limitations to what one can do.  But our gatherings do need to both model and teach what it means to be a follower of Jesus, no matter what our vocation or calling.

Feels like a baseline, to me, at least.