How I'd change seminary education - Part 1

This is the beginning of a series of blog posts, that will eventually end up as a paper or article on the subject.  I'm laying these thoughts out here in bits and pieces, kinda like post it notes on the dining room table.  Later I'll rearrange the order and edit and such.

While enjoying a mocha frappucino (did I spell that right?) at Starbucks, after my doctor called and said my cholesterol numbers were good, I engaged in conversation with one of our pastors.  We were discussing the state of the Christian faith, the ELCA, frustrations with parish ministry.  Then he said, "I love the church, but seminary didn't really prepare me to lead the church.  I was told if I preached the gospel, loved the people and was faithful, I would succeed as a pastor. But that's not enough"  

I graduated from seminary 25 years ago, and said the same thing.  I have colleagues who graduated 35 years ago and said the same thing.  Now I'm hearing the same thing from pastors who graduated five or ten years ago.  What's going on here?

First off, the broad consensus of pastors I talk to is that seminary education is an excellent education in the areas of biblical studies, church history and theology/ethics.  I've not heard a single criticism of those fields of study, and many pastors have said to me, "that is my most treasured learning from seminary."   So, I want to begin with a strong heart, head and soul affirmation of that aspect of seminary.  Later I'll detail more on the positives, with ideas on how to take that strength and leverage it.

But, leading a congregation requires other gifts that need addressing.  Today, I'll speak to one area by way of a book review.

John Kotter's Buy In,  is the latest from the author in his Leading Change series of books.  Kotter taught at the Harvard Business School for years, and then discovered his research was in such demand he could run his own little institute, and probably make a ton of money consulting with corporations.  

While the whole Leading Change series is worth digesting, Buy In, represents a key component of leading a congregation.  This book describes the process whereby people come to hear of a new idea and move from suspicion to not only acceptance, but complete 'buy in' and ownership of the idea.

Kotter's method is soundly and honorable consistent with a Christ like approach to leadership.  It's not manipulative, and it honors the other with respect and dignity.

Much of what a parish pastor is called to do in this new emerging world of mission is to secure buy in from people for some new way of doing ministry.  That is not an easy thing to do.  It is also not an exclusively church related challenge, which is why Kotter is in demand by major corporations all over the world.  Almost every industry that I know is under going turmoil, and needs to move in new directions.  

Teaching the process for leading change in congregations should be the number two priority in a seminary education, right after the theological foundation.  Pastors are entering congregations that at best are aware of a need to practice ministry in a new way, or at worst are in complete denial about the reality of the situation around them.  There is a clear spectrum from one degree to another.  The major task of a pastor in today's congregations is to define reality, gather a group of motivated persons, collectively work with that group to seek a God infused next chapter, and then work to get as many as possible (you don't need everyone) to buy in and move toward that new chapter.

I'll be honest. This is extremely difficult work.  As I point out in the sermon below, parish ministry is one of the toughest jobs in America today.  But, we owe it to the next and maybe even the current generation of leaders to give them the tools to have a better shot at it.  Leading change can be taught.  Yes, it must also be learned while doing, but laying a foundation in seminary will provide resources for our congregations.

I should end this post with some clarifying points. 1) Seminary education is vital to our church, and I am an avid supporter.  2) The love of learning and exploring theology and faith is a gift from my own seminary education that I will forever treasure.  3) I want a robust seminary education to be a part of our pastors preparation for ministry.

I'll write more on this subject as the post it notes in my brain get going.