Friday, May 06, 2016

Rethinking Seminaries Part 6

The Apprentice Model of the Seminary has many advantages over an academic model.  First and foremost among them is that it returns training of ministers to the church. 

Today in the Academic model most Presbyterian and Reformed churches garner graduates from many independent seminaries around the country.  Independent seminaries like Reformed Theological Seminary (insert whichever city name here), Mid America Reformed Seminary, Westminster Seminary California, Westminster Theological Seminary, New Geneva, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and the list goes on.  In almost every instance the diploma serves as proof that the man is ready to at least sit for exams.  Most denominations have a program that oversees men pursuing the ministry, but it often is little more than checking up on studies at the seminary.  There a few denominations that have denominational seminaries, but they still have the problems of the academic model.  The CRC and Calvin Theological seminary exemplify the tail of the seminary wagging the dog because the academic institution was not so much under the church as over it.  The Canadian Reformed Church also has a seminary in Hamilton.  It too is on an academic model.  Even here the graduates are assumed to be ready for service in the church without really ever having been around serving the church.

The Apprentice Model gives a different kind of oversight for the denomination.  Each candidate would be intimately known, along with his family, and his gifts and abilities along with his spiritual temperament would have been assessed regularly, by both the pastor serving as the mentor, but also the elders.  The pastor would be able to train him theologically, and when he was ready, he would then begin to get his toe into ministry.  He would be able to do some guided teaching, maybe lead catechism, eventually give a sermon or two.  The elders would be able to give feedback and see all of it.  The apprentice would meet and sit in on Consistory or Session meetings and learn the value of elders up close and know how the system works.  The giftedness in teaching could actually be evaluated and not just his giftedness at writing a paper.  A paper and a sermon are not the same thing.  Being able to read Turretin and teach 1st graders are not the same thing.  This way the church has complete oversight over both the instruction and the student.  If the student is not cut out for the ministry, he can be gently told, and the apprenticeship can stop.

This is direct oversight by the church over every area of ministerial training.  It is not mediated through an independent contractor, who may have other motivations or not share your ideals. 

It is better for the student as well because he has not had to uproot his family, quit his job, and sink thousands of dollars into something that he may not be called to do or cut out for.  He would be able to see what ministry was first hand, and see if he still felt this was his calling.  He would be able to do so at low cost and low risk, so that if either he was not cut out for it or decided he was not called to do it, an easy exit would be painless for him and his family. 

The Presbytery and Classis could then proceed to a theological exam to see if he was knowledgable enough for the ministry.  Frankly, this is the part that most denominations do well.  The exams are great to discover knowledge.  Where they are weak is in character, calling, and commitment.  These are all addressed already by the church when the church is the one actually doing the teaching and overseeing.

Sure no method is fool proof.   But a church that has tried the student, taught the student, and lived with the student for years would be able to come before the Classis or Presbytery and give an honest and open account of the spiritual character and commitment of the individual, who himself would have a better understanding of his internal calling. 

Returning training to the church in the Apprentice Model gives the church back the ability to know the men they make into ministers. 


Gil G. said...

I totally agreed!