At a recent gathering of clergy, we were talking about how to encourage the development of more theologically trained leaders for our churches. I was, at first, skeptical of the effort to train more leaders, knowing there will be significantly fewer full time calls out there in the future. “Why do we need more leaders when there are going to be less pulpits?” I asked. But a colleague responded: “Because, while there will be less pulpits, there may be more opportunities to teach.”
What I think he meant was that, while the number of institutional churches with full time clergy may decline, there may be new settings emerging where people can receive faith formation and theological education. Not just the traditional “Sunday School” model that we once reserved for children, or seminary for the few who can afford it, but training for everyone who wants it in Christian basics, ethics, biblical interpretation and other areas of higher level learning . This kind of learning might happen in different settings, inside and outside the institutional church.
Here’s a story about how the Episcopal church is partnering four dioceses to bring seminary professors to the Midwest to provide theological education to lay people and those preparing for ordination, closer to where they live and work. (See also The Christian Century (10/16/13) for another story about the Episcopal Iona School for Ministry in Texas).
One of the project’s students was quoted as saying the local setting makes theological education accessible to people from “any social class, age group, level of financial influence, and cultural or ethnic background.”
It’s not really fun to think about “less pulpits” existing in the future. But it is fun to think about new ways of sharing the gospel and new settings emerging for faith enrichment and education.
What do you imagine?