How Seminaries Fail 2: “this time it’s personal”

Recently, pastor, author, and professor Brett Younger penned a thought provoking essay outlining a few of the ways in which seminaries fail.

Aside from listing the more obvious shortcomings of any institution attempting to convince well-intentioned and impassioned twenty-somethings to invest thousands of dollars in preparation for a profession that ends up – for most of us without up to date head shots and websites bearing our names and most recent publications – not being all that lucrative.

(But luckily, Dave Ramsey’s prosperity envelopes filled with divinely-ordained lake houses and holiday cruises are there waiting for all us White Evangelicals after a job well done!)

Now, I bring up Younger’s article if only to say that in the midst of my amens and head-nods to his depiction of the ultimate seminarian stodgily parsing obscure passages from 1 Thessalonians and braided-belting* his (this person is ALWAYS male) way through yet another business meeting argument about the theological under-pinnings of projector screens in the sanctuary and 15-year-old Matt Redmond covers punctuating the worship service…

I wondered if maybe we could spread the blame around a bit more?

(*NOTE: “braided-belting” is a verb used to describe the process of how a professional Christian can, sweater vest in tow, make a 25 minute presentation on any subject, and say nothing meaningful or offensive in the process. It’s a gift, really.) 

If there’s anything I’ve learned in the debt-riddled, angst-ridden, over-educated, under-employed hellscape of post-grad school existence, it’s that it doesn’t so much matter what you’ve read, where you’ve been, how many blog hits you’ve got, or with whom you’ve worked.

No, usually the only questions awaiting a freshly-minted seminarian at the end of their education are a loose amalgamation of the following:

“So, tell me about your experience with ‘the youth’.” 

“Would you say you ‘like’ or ‘love’ dodgeball?”

“Why are you not dressed like my tax attorney?” 

“Also, would you say that Obamacare or gay marriage is the 4th horseman of the apocalypse?”

“Finally, a follow up: What is a ‘meme’ and could you please use it in a sentence?” 

Or, if you’re a woman:

“Our last children’s minister had her first child and never returned, are you pregnant now?” 

“Speaking of children’s ministry, I see you have an MDiv, that must’ve been hard for your husband.” 

“Yes, we affirm women in ministry, that’s why the last 15 part-time children’s directors have been ladies.” 

“Okay, so all joking aside, you’re pregnant now, right?”

To assume the issues facing Christianity in America can be rectified by having students read a little more Phyllis Trible and Gustavo Gutierrez and a little less John C. Maxwell is to ignore the rather gigantic piece of spinach caught in our collective teeth.

That of course being the fact that we’re currently in the throws of the worst recession facing our country since the Great Depression. Not to mention a crumbling national psyche undergoing the destruction of a worldview rooted in American exceptionalism, manifest destiny, and unflinching capitalism, while coupled, of course, with ever-rising levels of socio-religious-economic-ethnic-sexual-political unrest.

“IT’S A RELIGIOUS BEAR MARKET!!! EVERYONE PANIC AND BUY GOLD!!!”

-Jim Cramer

In the wake of these terrifying realities, religious institutions aren’t necessarily in the market for “outliers, nonconformists, mavericks, eccentrics and dissenters.”

BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT PART-TIME RETAIL JOBS WITHOUT BENEFITS ARE FOR!

-Someone’s Dad

Instead, ever-dwindling congregations turn to their priests and pastors as those who, instead of endlessly deconstructing the nature of faith and organizational viability in light of current trends, can provide a steady hand, a strong sense of security (both eternal and otherwise), and an obvious track-record of noticeable success in “growing”* churches.

(*NOTE: If any church ever uses the term “successful,” “growing,” or “effective” they ALWAYS mean more people are showing up on Sunday mornings at 10:30am. This is the ONLY measure of your job performance: website, tweet, market, and grandstand accordingly) 

This friends, is not a job for a 25 year old who knows who Shane Claiborne is, likes the Arcade Fire, has more than one gay friend, and is forced to list “Starbucks” twice in the “work history” portion of their résumé.

In short: until communities of faith are willing to open their hands and their minds and their hearts to the “other” applying for jobs as their pastors, shepherding their 2-20 year olds to the notice of no one, and leaving their churches in droves when they graduate from high school and college, then they will continue to struggle in a world filled with these “others”.

Because, sadly, there are only going to continue to be more of us and less of you. 

The crisis facing the Christian faith in America isn’t a lack of qualified or interesting or prophetic or creative or generous or educated or militantly hopeful women and men. Instead, I would argue, it’s the inability of institutions to exit the proverbial bomb shelters and basements of unrealistic, nostalgic recollections 0f a fictitious past and fearfully uncertain future. These fears have catastrophically crippled our collective ability to embrace the way of Jesus faithfully in 2013, and if we ever hope to recover, we might be well served by doing less of the same things we’ve always done.

Maybe.

But, then again, what do I know? I’m just a youth pastor in my late twenties with a thin résumé who talks too fast about something called a “Kanye West”?

Eric Minton

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About the Author
Eric is a writer, pastor, pug enthusiast, and chief curator of the sacred at www.newheresies.com. He lives with his wife Lindsay and their pug Penny in Knoxville, TN. You can follow him on twitter @ericminton or connect with him on Facebook.

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  • Scott Shaver

    Liberation theology as a constructive model ala Gutierrez? …. really?

    • Eric Minton

      really.

  • Eric Minton

    Also, I have no idea who that is in the picture, but I like that he seems concerned.

  • KateHanch

    Eric, what I connected to your post is a rethinking of ecclesiology that accompanies prophetic acts that pastors (and teachers). There is a difference between assigning blame and constructively critiquing which seems to be the tension that you and Dr. Younger seem to point to. The key to constructively critiquing is the “constructive” portion. How do seminaries, churches, and students work together to discern the Holy Spirit’s presence and calling?

    • Eric Minton

      Thanks for the feedback Kate! A couple of thoughts in response: 1) my main issue isn’t that there aren’t constructive options for talking about integrating newer voices into the life of the church, my struggle is with established churches being unwilling to invite young pastors and theologians to the table at all. What point does it serve to have an answer (or at least an alternative) if no one invites you to share it? 2) Having folks tell you to “start your own thing” constantly with little to no investment on their part in your success or failure is equally unhelpful. Thus resulting in the above article. Obviously, something like this is an attempt to start conversations, not end them. Hopefully it will do just that!

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