Are Educated Clergy an Endangered Species?

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A clergy friend of mine posted this article on her Facebook:
Is It Time to Write the Eulogy?: The Future of Seminary Education


(Image courtesy of general-history.com)


There is an age old debate about the education of clergy.  Should we, as Christians, require those who pastor our congregations and administer our churches to receive higher education, specifically a Masters of Divinity?  The United Methodist Church, and many other mainline Protestant denominations, have kept the tradition begun in the Catholic Church of educated clergy who are not only trained in the pragmatics of church leadership, but in the scholastic realm of scripture, doctrine, polity, and church history. 

No one would be surprised to find that I support an educated clergy, myself being one.  Perhaps my reasons are my own, or perhaps they are a reflection of my interaction, once as a lay person and now as clergy, with others where my formal education has been a blessing.  For many pastors, we are the resident Bible scholar, the theologian in residence, and the authority on the Church in the local church.  We are the ones who speak with authority, not just from the pulpit while preaching, but in the classrooms while teaching, and in the hallways when we are asked about any myriad of topics by a parishioner.  How can I begin to speak truthfully if I do not know the answer?  There are certainly times when, even as educated as I am, I do not know the answer right off hand, but I know where I can go to find it.  My higher education has been an investment, not just by the United Methodist Church at large, but by every local church I serve who receive the information I have in sermons, Bible studies, devotions, prayers, liturgy, the way in which I weave together a worship service, how lead a committee, and how I handle myself on a visit.  My ministry is a product of my education, both formal and informal, and my training both within seminary and in the church.  And you deserve the best I have to offer.

My response to the Rev. Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. is that we need seminary because otherwise I’m giving my congregation more of me and less of Christ.  This is not about me; it’s about our Lord Jesus Christ, revealed to us through scripture, tradition, experience, and reason.  My education has enabled and empowered me to speak with wisdom on these facets of our Church.  But, like many things, successful education is about what you put into it.  I received my Bachelors in Religious Studies so that I could have a background for my seminary education.  There I learned the language of religion and how to think theologically.  When I arrived at seminary, I made sure that, regardless of minimum degree requirements, I had substantial classes in Bible, higher level theology classes in Methodist theology, and practical classes on leading the local church.  I had the power to shape my formal education to strengthen my knowledge as a pastor and I did just that.  We have to hold our seminarians accountable for what they do with their time in seminary.  We can take what we want, what interests us as people, or we can keep our eye focused on those for whom we attend seminary in the first place: the congregations we will serve.  We must ask ourselves before registering for a class, “How will this help my congregation and grow me as a pastor?”  If the answer is that it won’t or it’s all about me, then we have a problem.

I pray that educated clergy do not become an endangered species, mostly because you deserve an educated pastor.  You deserve to receive the very best clergy have to offer in their presence, their intellect, their spirituality, their leadership, and their teaching.  You have the right to expect that those who lead you know that they’re talking about, and not only speak with authority, but with truth.  You have the right to hold us accountable for using our knowledge for the good of the Church.  Scripture says:

“Moses convened all Israel, and said to them: Hear, O Israel, the statutes and ordinances that I am addressing to you today; you shall learn them and observe them diligently” (Deuteronomy 5:1 NRS).

We need to learn, not just for ourselves, but for one another.  May you demand the very best of your clergy, just as God demands the best of you.  May all clergy teach God’s people the statutes and ordinances that we are commanded to know and obey so that nothing prevents us from doing our utmost as disciples of Jesus Christ.  May it be so, for the glory of God.

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