The Strange Lives of Seminarians: Working Fools
Many seminarians here in Louisville work at the local UPS shipping house. They get good benefits and a decent salary from UPS, and many are grateful to the company for its compensation. Yet one has to ask how ideal this situation is. I have observed several UPS employees falling asleep in class here at Southern. This is a sad situation. It is illustrative of the difficulties many seminarians have in making it through their programs. The need to work and provide costs nearly every seminarian something significant. Maybe it's family time, or study time, or a healthy life. Having observed this situation now for over three years, I've often thought that there must be a better way to train pastors.
It strikes me that it would be better if churches could support seminarians. It would be best if seminarians could get credit for a number of classes while working in a church--classes such as evangelism, preaching, counseling, and so on. Students could then fly in to seminaries to take classes in specific periods of time--say for a week or two weeks or a month. In this way, men who are heading off to the ministry could serve a church, gain the experience and teaching they need, and yet also complete a seminary course without undue hassle or harm. No one would be getting rich off this scheme, but that's not the object. Most of us would love a couple of years to work part-time in a church, live in church housing, and complete a reduced course load limited to the disciplines that only academic experts could teach--the languages, advanced theology, philosophy, and so on.
In my opinion, this option really improves the current seminary model. It requires churches to step up their giving and to view the housing and care of their in-house seminarians as an investment. Churches would not simply send seminarians off to study, but they would actually draw them into the life of the church, love them in very tangible ways, and take responsibility for their training in a way most churches do not currently do. Seminarians would have more time to serve the church--which is what they're training for, after all--spend time with their families, and be mentored as they prepare for a lifetime of ministry. Seminaries might shrink in size a bit, but that's okay. The model would work itself out in time. In general, seminary life as it is currently practiced is quite difficult and it exacts a heavy toll from seminary families. At the very time in their life at which they really need to focus on their studies and their vocational training, many students are worrying more about their schedules, their bills, and their suffering families. This is an unfortunate and needless situation. If churches could commit to financial provision for seminarians, if pastors would commit to mentoring their charges, and if seminarians would commit to a mere (but rich, spiritually speaking) lifestyle, it's my guess that you'd have alot less dozing seminarians--and alot more healthy churches.
(I will answer questions posed on this series tomorrow.)