Preparing for a modern church in a post-modern world, part 3

I’m almost done, I swear. Just one more thing: curriculum. This comment has some post modern underpinnings, but it is not explicitly so. I am not an educator, that is not what I do. At least not on the graduate, career prep level (but I am really good at helping kids with their AP US History prep). Here’s what I am required to take in order to be an ordained minister in my denomination (this does not include the stuff the church body asks me to do). A full class is 3 credits:

18 credits of Bible (Old Testament, Gospels, Paul, Prophets, and electives)

6 credits of history

6 credits of denominational stuff

6 credits of cross cultural stuff

One class each of Word and Sacrament (worship), Pastoral Care, Christian Ed, Preaching, Leadership and Public Ministry

Plus two semesters of teaching parish (10 hours a week in a local congregation), Clinical Pastoral Experience (chaplaincy intensive), and an internship. And 18 credits of electives.

Now, as I type it out, it actually looks pretty reasonable. It’s four years of training to be a minister. It’s hard to know what I would get rid of in order to add the things I see as missing. I’d like to see more than one pastoral care class, considering the amount of pastoral care ministers do and that the main class (which I have taken at two different seminaries) focuses entirely on meeting people in crisis. I’d also like to see a class in evangelism and mission, as I firmly believe that we are all missionaries. But there is an overarching problem: how we got to this curriculum in the first place.

A few years ago, some people from my seminary (staff, faculty, board) went to congregations and asked them what they wanted of seminary graduates. The seminary was revamping curriculum and wanted to include congregations in their effort. For the longest time, when staff and faculty talked about it, it left me feeling discouraged, but I couldn’t figure out why. The other day, I finally got it. The seminary asked the people who are already there what they wanted. This is not a bad thing. It is good to know what the congregations who will be calling us want. However, there was no input from the people who aren’t there, from the people who have left the church, about what they might want in a leader of a faith community. How are we supposed to know how to meet the needs of God’s people if we only talk to a portion of them? How do we grow a community (that, in theory, has an outward focus) if we only ask those inside our borders what they want?

Could we have had a focus group of people who had let the church? Kids of active members who haven’t come back, despite having children (if you didn’t know, that is supposed to be the re-entry time for those who leave as young adults. It ain’t happenin’). Could we have reached out in some way and asked people why they have left and then used that information to shape our curriculum, at least a little? I bet we could have, but we didn’t. Because, hard as we try to be missional, we are still focused on our members, not on God’s people as a whole. This effort parallels quite well with the way many congregations try to do mission. They sit around their tables in the church and decide what the community wants and needs. I just finished reading a book that repeatedly mentioned serving the community, but never mentioned actually talking to the community. It talked about demographics and charts and church leadership meetings. This is, apparently, how we do. And it starts in seminary.

Now I am learning how to be a minister to the people who remain. The people who like church the way it is. The people who will probably stay in the church because it is what they do and who they are. I’m learning how to fish from a stocked pond, when most of the fish are in the ocean.

This is how we do it.


About Elizabeth Rawlings

Lutheran. Feminist. Child of God. Thinking about how to be a leader in a church that is trying to rediscover itself and what it means to live simply so that others may simply live in tandem with what exactly is the fast God asks of us. Chronic alliterator. Generally silly person. View all posts by Elizabeth Rawlings

3 responses to “Preparing for a modern church in a post-modern world, part 3

  • Tripp Hudgins

    So…This is the thing that I want to talk to you about. I don’t want to write too much about it here because my thoughts needs a certain nuancing. The short of it is that like another of my favorite Lutherans, Nadi Bolz-Webber, has stated: The congregation may no longer be the normative institutional form for Christianity in the United States. I say this with the utmost of compassion. I am serving a congregation right now. Still, I think that the reason seminaries ask congregations is because we aren’t prepared to meet the needs of those not in the pews every Sunday. We have no idea where to begin or even if we would want to. It’s not just that the curriculum is focused on congregations and their present members, but the lifetime of learning and training by your faculty is similarly focused. We’re wrangling with such expectations all the time here in the PhD program. People are not blind to the problem, but it takes a long time to retool…especially when you spend 12 years in school to train to do something that suddenly has no place…or not enough of a place.

    You rock.

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