Monday, July 28, 2008

What I needed to learn at the Sem

Pastor Dahling has requested a post on what Seminary didn't quite prepare me for as regards life in the parish. So here I go.

Because my father went through the Sem and was a pastor, because all through High School I hung out and talked with Pastors - I knew, or at least saw, the frustrations of the parish. I don't think the Seminary prepares people for that well - it's mentioned in passing - we are warned that people won't be that great theologians - Scaer will tell us that our congregations will probably be methodist - but you'll handle and deal with it.

It's that dealing with it that is hard. It's that dealing with it that results in so many pastors leaving the parish after a few years. And here is the root of the problem.

At the Seminary, we are trained to be theologians. We are trained to think and approach things from a theological angle. We see things as theological, spiritual problems, and we are trained to give theological and spiritual answers. This is good and right - it's what we should be doing.

The problem is. . . nine times out of ten that's not what people want. Yes, you can teach a fine bible study - but what do you do when 90% of your congregation could care less? Yes, we know that we walk by faith - but what do you do when the majority of the people are looking simply at the bottom line?

What do we need more of at the Seminary? How about this - how to teach and instruct people on the importance of theology - how to teach people to think theologically. That's the hardest thing, I find - trying to get people to look at problems not from a worldly perspective but from a theological perspective.

Don't just tell me about the joys of preaching - the joys of being in God's Word. It is joyful - just as people not caring about that is painful. How do I teach, what are the apologetics I need to use, not for unbelievers, but for people who need to grow in the faith?

That's I think the great weakness of the Sem - that is what gets summed up in the times when it is called an "ivory tower" where the profs forget what it is like out there. How do we handle indifference? What do we do with those who are neither hot or cold but lukewarm?

That's the discussion I'd love to have had for a good week in a class at the Seminary.

8 comments:

Dan @ Necessary Roughness said...

Pr. Brown, great post. I'm finding my congregation has been quasi-Methodist as well. It seems time for a post on why theology is important.

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

My husband and I were discussing this one, and he pretty much agrees with you...but what he says along these lines needs to be more frequently emphasized is this:

You have to love the congregation you get. If you get a congregation that believes in Jesus and wants to be faithful to Him, you have a good congregation. After that, you have to get to know your flock and respect them. Once they know you are committed to them, you can teach them and guide them toward better practice, often slowly, but you want them to be with you when these changes are made...even if they are changes that you have a "right" to make because you are in charge of the Word and Sacrament Ministry.

Too many guys come out of sem believing that they don't have a good congregation if they aren't doing the liturgy out of the hymnal, if they aren't practicing closed communion, aren't open to individual confession and absolution, etc. Those are steps that they can be brought to...but if you go in with the attitude of "how quickly can I get you where you need to be" they are not going to respond.

What he would like to see taught more strongly is "What does good closed communion practice really look like?" He was taught enough that it should be there, but not what steps are good to take to make sure that it happens.

Scott Diekmann said...

And all this time I'd been thinking what we needed more of in the Seminary was the teaching of leadership skills!

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Oh no - we can get leadership skills afterwards >=o)

As for the rest - we do need to remember what the call is - you are called. . . HERE. NOW. To THESE PEOPLE. We can't look over the fence - but how do I appeal to the people where I am at?

Pastor D said...

Thank you Eric,

Great Post!

Having been here at Zion for now 21 years your post is right on. Might I add that you need not be a teacher per se but rather a "coach". Pastor's need to embrace the people and understand their traditions and over time create some of your own...in a word we are called to be faithful...faithful to the Lord, faithful to the Word, love and care for them. I've now come to the point where I have baptized, confirmed and married at least half the congregation. In just a few years I'll be baptizing and confirming the second generation, and if I "cash in" at 65 I have just baptized the last infant I will confirm as the cut off for starting school here in Indiana is June 1...

Where has the time gone?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I think coaching is a great image - the only problem the coach I see in my head is "Bobby Knight" - and I just don't know how well that would fly in the parish. >=o)

Pastor D said...

The good news...at last we hired a coach who came from a Jesuit University. The "Cellvin Sanction" era show yosu what happens when the president and a few rouge trustees get entangled into the mix.

Pastor D said...

With "Bob Knigh Theater" people would want to come to Voters' meetings!