Friday, July 22, 2011

More thoughts on theological education, sort of


In the 20th century, the height of denominationalism, and the height of Protestant Christianity, and the height of optimism for the future, and the height of our cultural Christendom (which wasn't really Christianity but was a fine imitation -- it was, along with "In God We Trust" on our currency and "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, simply a product of our fear of Communism in the Cold War years) all occurred about the same time, namely the early 1960's.

This apex of churchianity in America was fueled by a generation of young men who had the hell scared out of them in Europe or in the Pacific during World War Two. They returned en masse and thousands of them chose to attend seminary in record numbers. The mainline churches in North America benefited in the 1960's from a generation of pastors who largely grew up in churches, had a deep experience of war, then entered theological education to try to make the world a better place. I have the deepest respect for these men (almost all were men) as individuals. Their scholarship, their character, and their willingness to lead are beyond compare.

So follow my logic here. The 1960's sees a generation of skilled, well-trained professional pastors who have been trained in the late 40's and early 50's, and who by the early 1960's are really hitting their stride in church leadership. Coincidentally (or not) the baby boom happens at the same time, and our suburban churches are booming and building like crazy. Drive around the first tier suburbs of most American cities and you'll see brick church after brick church built in the early 1960's. Church membership in the 1960's soared. Youth ministry was practically invented in the early 1970's as churches scrambled to entertain, teach, and even disciple reams of children who were rapidly turning into teenagers. By the 1970's and early 80's the church leaders -- these post-WW2 pastors -- were in the prime years of their careers, when their seminary training, church experience, and accumulated wisdom should have been coming together to create a pinnacle of church life in America. If Protestant Christianity in America was ever to have a Golden Age, the 1970's and 80's should have been it.

Given that fact, why did we see the mainline churches in North America across the board begin to founder, decay, and die in the 1970's and 1980's???

Is it possible -- just possible -- that the health and well-being of the church is NOT tied to professionally trained, full-time, pension-earning, theologically astute pastors?

And if that's the case, what does the church actually depend on for health and well-being?


  1. The Holy Spirit. Parents bringing up children. People with faith in God, regardless of education, but ready to go beyond knowing to doing and being a Kingdom worker.

    We don't take much about the Holy Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit, nor the gifts of the Spirit. Odd, since Jesus told the twelve that He needed to return to God so that the Holy Spirit could come.

    Often we forget the importance of bringing up children in Godly homes. Homes where Christ is experienced every day. Again, this is something that Jesus modeled over and over again.

    Lastly, those of us (all of us) who are victims of the enlightenment but too much emphasis on head knowledge. Don't get me wrong, I'm an educator and a science major - I like and appreciate knowledge, but it is not the end or the purpose. We (Christ followers of all denoms) must allow the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts and minds and spirits into DOers of the Word. Into BEcoming mature and complete not lacking anything. (Sorry, James, I copied that from chapter one of your book).

    Ok, end of that thought....

    We will be viewing a short video in church tomorrow about prayer. The short (2 min) video contains quotes from Luther, Bonhoeffer, Abe Lincoln, CS Lewis, etc. Luther's short quote, "Pray, and let God worry," struck home with me. We don't need a seminary degree to pray. I think most of us would benefit from praying more and worrying less. Relating to God.

    We have been sold a lie since the 1970's. We have substituted program for relationship. Schools, churches, sports, and just about every other social organization I can think of has attempted to implement new programs instead of simply developing relationships.

  2. Bruce,

    I'm intrigued by your statement that we have substituted program for relationship. I think most people in ministry would say that programs are designed to allow for relationship, but I think you're exactly right -- we have made the programs the point and too often have forgotten about relationships, or at least taken them for granted while we measure our effectiveness by how many people participate in our programs. Thanks for pointing this out!