I caught a glance at a blog post from Serene Jones, the president of Union Theological Seminary, and was struck yet again at how little surprises me, but I never cease to be amazed.

The post is titled “Why Attend Seminary?” and somehow my curiosity was roused and I glanced through her musings. It was a pretty straightforward article, leaning a bit towards what I’m certain she thought was a positive spin on the possibility of a seminary education. But as I read, I was disappointed at how little has changed since my seminary days.

For instance, she writes, “Today’s students, both bleary-eyed and overly-caffeinated, wear hipster sneakers, or bow ties, or industrial earrings. Their conversations range from the ethics of organic vegetables, to the religious roots of 12-step programs.” Not unlike conversations I overheard back in the day, though the topics ranged more on the ethics of marketing and the religious roots of women in ministry. I’m guessing that little has changed and any conversations about contextual evangelism and leadership development would still be met with a puzzled stare followed by an abrupt subject change.

In any event, the coup de grace of her post, in my opinion, is symptomatic of the prime reason many, if not most, seminary graduates are ill-equipped to lead a congregation from the brink of their own demise:

A seminary education centers on thinking about the “why” of existence …

– Serene Jones
President, Union Theological Seminary

I’ve heard all the arguments that seminaries “are not trade schools” and that they exist to teach women and men to think “theologically.” And I also know that many judicatory leaders have been trying to nudge seminaries a little bit in the vocational preparation direction, but so far, in general, there has been little movement.

Perhaps the solution isn’t to get the seminaries to change. That may be the wrong path to reviving Christianity and the Church in North America. Maybe it’s time for those denominations that require ordination candidates to have an MDiv from an accredited seminary to rethink their requirements – presuming they’re committed to having enough churches twenty-five years from now to warrant having a denomination. Instead of requiring a “theological seminary” eduction, church leaders need a degree in something like vocational entrepreneurial practical theology.

Today, when someone tells me they are considering a seminary education, I do ask why.

If they tell me they want to reach people for Jesus Christ, see lives change through vital relationships with God, and lead a church to do great things for the Kingdom of God, I recommend they steer clear from most seminaries and instead find the kind of church they want to lead someday and sign on for a three year apprenticeship with the lead pastor or in whatever area they want to specialize in.

On the other hand, if they tell me they want to be a deep thinker and scholar who wants to engage in theological conversations that explore the boundless goodness of God, then I nod and point them to one of our great pillars of thought. And apparently I don’t have to worry about them coming back to lead in the church anyway because, according Dr. Jones, “Most of these students aren’t headed towards traditional pulpits.” And I have to wonder … is that a good thing or a tragic thing?

Question: Did you attend seminary? Why? (Or why not?) How did it influence your ministry as a pastor? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.