Barrett Owen works in the admissions office at the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University. He’s 29 years old, has two master’s degrees, and has been working as a bivocational pastor for six years.

If you know anything about today’s seminarian, you know that Barrett is not alone. Thousands of theological school students are like him – working full time, but not at high-paying jobs. Taking classes part time. Serving small churches on weekends. Juggling family commitments and personal time.

Barrett thinks that the traditional model of theological education is passé, because few seminarians these days are packing their suitcases and moving to a far-off theological college for three years of full-time study. He also knows that learning-by-doing is nothing new.

Barrett puts his finger on a few things worth considering. For example, he says that students come to seminaries for one of three purposes:

  1. Some are young professionals with a few years of experience who want to advance in the nonprofit world rather than shifting to the traditional pastorate.
  2. Others are working adults -- older, with years of experience in their careers, and also often with family responsibilities, mortgages, working spouses who cannot relocate, and other complications.
  3. Some are younger, often straight out of college, and are passionate about serving local congregations.

I don’t know if Barrett’s three categories are exactly right. But I do like his conclusion: Seminaries are launching pads rather than ivory towers, he says. They're no longer places that are primarily about deep study in the library, but rather they are the hubs of connectivity that enable students, churches, and other organizations to strengthen old networks and establish new ones.

If seminaries are going to continue serving students who fall into these various categories, then schools themselves have to recognize and reinforce their roles as launching pads -- not only maintaining their established connections with denominations, dioceses, and congregations, but also building new relationships with nonprofits, parachurch organizations, missionary agencies, and alumni who can provide graduates with jobs and service opportunities.

Seminaries are becoming more valuable as facilitators of networks. Can they do this while retaining their traditional teaching functions?

I guess they must. There’s no other choice.

Read Barrett Owen’s article here

Photo courtesy NASA Goddard Space Flight Center