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Are Seminaries Putting Their Blue Days Behind Them?
The American Interest ^ | March 30. 2013 | Walter Russell Mead

Posted on 04/01/2013 9:23:05 AM PDT by JerseyanExile


America’s mainline Protestant seminaries are in crisis, but so far they seem to be spending more energy dodging tough choices than preparing for the future. A recent article at Inside Higher Ed describes the enrollment collapse at Luther Seminary in St. Paul. Luther is one of the most important Lutheran seminaries in the country, but its status wasn’t enough to insulate it from the forces upending seminaries everywhere. Enrollment fell off sharply, and the institution ”was running multimillion-dollar deficits, spending down its endowment and relying on loans.”

The seminary’s response? It’s making some painful cuts, letting go of some staff and reducing the number of degree programs it offers. Luther isn’t alone; seminaries all over the country are facing tough choices.

In many cases, survival has required selling off property or losing independence. More seminarians enroll later in life than in the past, meaning that seminaries often don’t need buildings filled with dorms and apartments. Others have worked to develop online programs, requiring less of a physical footprint, and selling or leasing their additional facilities.

These may be steps in the right direction, but they are baby steps at the beginning of a very long march. Higher ed is in trouble in every branch of learning, but the crisis facing seminaries is worse than that facing any other professional degree program. Seminaries, and especially those serving mainline Protestant denominations, have to change faster than law school or PhD programs if they want to survive. And selling some property or firing some staff, though sadly necessary in many cases, is just the start to a wrenching period of transformative change.

In effect, these churches are clinging to the ministry model that dominated mainline churches in the 20th century. Seminary leaders act as if the average seminary grad will still earn an average salary in an average church, that that salary can still support the loan payments that keep tuition levels high enough to support a traditional seminary, and that denominations or rich believers can and will make up the difference between tuition and cost. These assumptions are almost certainly false.

As noted before, the modern American church, especially among mainline Protestants, but also to some degree among Catholics and evangelicals, got mixed up in the blue social model. The clergy became a ‘profession’ like the others. People pursued careers in the ministry, complete with grievance procedures and pension programs. Denominations built up regional and national organizations that were staffed with professional staff. Progress was seen as replacing volunteers with certified, graduate educated professionals: Directors of Sacred Music and Directors of Christian Education. People built lots of buildings they couldn’t afford to maintain. From an organization perspective, denominational bureaucracies were like GM and IBM in the 1950s and 1960: hierarchical, growing every year, and offering employees jobs for life.

Neither Jesus nor any of the twelve apostles could get a job in any self-respecting mainline church in America today; none of them had a degree from an accredited seminary.

So part of America’s contemporary religious crisis has to do with the decline and fall of this blue model church, and any solutions to that crisis need to involve creative ways of transitioning to a post-blue era. More and more mainline Protestant ministers can expect to be part time or volunteer. The traditional denominations (each with a network of expensive seminaries and bureaucracies) will have to consolidate. Church bureaucrats will largely need to disappear.

This means that seminaries will have to change much more fundamentally than firing a few professors or selling off some dorms. Christianity is going to have to be more of a mission and less of a profession in the future. It may be that future ministers will learn the trade the way Peter learned from Jesus and Timothy from Paul: they watch the masters at work, and start their own pastoring careers under the supervision of someone they respect.

It’s not surprising that most seminaries and denominational bureaucracies would rather think about anything than the collapse of their business models. But rethinking the way the churches work is an essential part of the mission of Christian leaders today, and their failure to engage bespeaks a much broader failure to grasp the challenges of our times.

Pivoting off of the Inside Higher Ed piece, Rod Dreher asks about possible solutions to the wider troubles facing US seminaries. He writes:

What liberal Christians will say is, “Be more liberal!” What conservative Christians will say is, “Be more conservative!” Neither strategy seems suited to the nature of this crisis.

Dreher is completely right that the problems facing seminaries aren’t just theological. And it’s more than a question of budgets; penny-pinching won’t see them through the storm. It’s time for new leaders with vision and imagination to take the church beyond the blue. Since the colonial era, the genius of American Christianity has lain in the ability of new generations of Christian leaders to reinvent institutions, find an authentic theological stance and voice that appeals to each new generation, and put Christianity in the forefront of individual lives and social challenges from age to age.

Theology can be debated; liberal, conservative, protestant, catholic, fundamentalist, modernist. There is much to be said for each of these positions, and the debates need to continue.

But there’s a much more critical difference: the difference between life and death. There is a lot of dead wood in American Christian institutions today, and the carters are coming to clear it away.

TOPICS: General Discusssion; Mainline Protestant; Ministry/Outreach
KEYWORDS: catholic; christianschools; elca; highereducation; lutherans; priesthood; religiousleft; seminary; trends
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1 posted on 04/01/2013 9:23:05 AM PDT by JerseyanExile
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To: netmilsmom; thefrankbaum; Tax-chick; GregB; saradippity; Berlin_Freeper; Litany; SumProVita; ...

Catholic ping.

2 posted on 04/01/2013 9:27:01 AM PDT by NYer (Beware the man of a single book - St. Thomas Aquinas)
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To: lightman


3 posted on 04/01/2013 9:27:21 AM PDT by NYer (Beware the man of a single book - St. Thomas Aquinas)
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To: JerseyanExile

They are going to make a lot more money from all the offerings the homosexuals are going to give them when they start going to church.

4 posted on 04/01/2013 9:28:28 AM PDT by blueunicorn6 ("A crack shot and a good dancer")
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To: JerseyanExile

dyslexia is not your friend;)

I swear I read the headline as ‘putting their blue dress days behind them’


5 posted on 04/01/2013 9:31:18 AM PDT by sodpoodle (Life is prickly - carry tweezers.)
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To: JerseyanExile

The problem is not liberal vs conservative. True Christianity is a force, philosophy and FAITH that cannot be pigeonholed.

The answer is to teach the truths of Christianity and that includes not only charity, but also living the life of a follower of Jesus Christ - which means a DAILY walk in conversion from sin into holiness.

Not an easy thing to do, but it is possible with humility and a strong prayer life and faith in God.

Churches which preach only social justice without the conversion process are no more that glorified social workers.

6 posted on 04/01/2013 9:32:13 AM PDT by Gumdrop
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To: JerseyanExile

With modern technology, you can teach seminary in a spare room of a church. Same for regular college classes.

7 posted on 04/01/2013 9:32:24 AM PDT by SeaHawkFan
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To: JerseyanExile
Christianity is going to have to be more of a mission and less of a profession in the future.


8 posted on 04/01/2013 9:54:21 AM PDT by marron
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To: JerseyanExile

Luther Seminary in St. Paul, mentioned in the article, is an ELCA seminary. Its problems are self imposed. It is hard to see how a believer in God and the Bible would choose to attend an ELCA seminary. It is also hard to see how someone who doesn’t believe in God and the Bible would wish to attend a seminary at all.

9 posted on 04/01/2013 10:12:14 AM PDT by jeannineinsd
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To: marron

Ahh, it makes me smile to see credentialism bite the dust.

10 posted on 04/01/2013 10:13:15 AM PDT by JCBreckenridge (Texas is a state of mind - Steinbeck)
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To: JerseyanExile

Too bad that these bureaucrats are often the ones pushing homosexuality and more subtly abortion against the will of the congregants. It would have been better if they downsized maybe 50 years ago. Someone once told me that entering seminary is the way some avoided the Vietnam draft. I have observed men and some women that appear to not even have the gift to be a pastor but probably not any other career either, graduates of seminary and shuffled off to small country churches. Never building, just maintaining or decreasing members. Many have been nice but wierd. ELCA is my reference. And yes this blue model put many requirements on the pay and benefits of pastors. When the money runs out, they are called somewhere else. Or worse.

11 posted on 04/01/2013 10:14:43 AM PDT by outinyellowdogcountry
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To: JerseyanExile; betty boop; marron; Alamo-Girl; little jeremiah; metmom; xzins; GodGunsGuts; ...
Are the problems confronting American seminaries merely theological? Or is the problem more systemic?


12 posted on 04/01/2013 10:17:05 AM PDT by YHAOS
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To: JerseyanExile

If Truth is simply whatever is being promoted most vigorously by politicians and the media at the time, what need do I have to go to a seminary, or what need is there for a minister to preach it?

Just turn on the TV and sit back.

13 posted on 04/01/2013 10:31:39 AM PDT by PGR88
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To: jeannineinsd; JerseyanExile

The two Missouri Synod seminaries in the US have a combined enrollment of 951.

14 posted on 04/01/2013 10:33:07 AM PDT by Mr. Lucky
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Christianity is going to have to be more of a mission and less of a profession . . .

I'm way off topic here and do not mean to hijack the thread, but just how did muzzie mosques pop up by the hundreds these past ten years? Do they out-evangelize all of the Christian denominations combined? Why is stinkin' islam ascendant?

15 posted on 04/01/2013 11:08:14 AM PDT by Jacquerie ("How few were left who had seen the republic!" - Tacitus, The Annals)
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To: aberaussie; Aeronaut; aliquando; AlternateViewpoint; AnalogReigns; Archie Bunker on steroids; ...

Lutheran (EL C S*A) Ping!

* as of August 19, AD 2009, a liberal protestant SECT, not part of the holy, catholic and apostolic CHURCH.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

16 posted on 04/01/2013 11:17:24 AM PDT by lightman (If the Patriarchate of the East held a state like the Vatican I would apply for political asylum.)
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To: blueunicorn6

Those homosexual offerings you speak of are good for maybe a generation. Since gays do not reproduce, the homosexual “family” does not grow. No first communion, bible school, kids at church camp, youth ministries, etc.

There are significantly fewer activities, and therefore money in the embracing of the homosexual lifestyle for churches. Yet embrace they do. In the name of enlightenment and tolerance.

How many families exit the church when they see the elevation of lifestyles that even 15 years ago were considered perverse?

What parent wants their children in that environment? Moreover, who trusts their kids away at church camp for a week with flamers who, “just love kids?”

The ELCA has lost their ever loving minds. And they’ve lost hundreds of churches to prove it.

17 posted on 04/01/2013 11:32:33 AM PDT by Bshaw (A nefarious deceit is upon us all!)
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To: Gumdrop

In a post-Christian culture, why would someone attend a seminary to prepare to proclaim something neither he/she nor they think is anything more than a fable?

What is the advertisement? Attend our “Dupe the Masses” school? “Fables R Us”?

18 posted on 04/01/2013 11:44:07 AM PDT by xzins (Retired Army Chaplain and Proud of It! True supporters of our troops pray for their victory!)
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To: Jacquerie
just how did muzzie mosques pop up by the hundreds these past ten years? Do they out-evangelize all of the Christian denominations combined?

You have to remember that Christianity also has a phenomenal church growth in the US, much more so than Islam. The difference is that it is occurring in quasi-denominations ("Word of Faith," e.g.) and non-denominations, where the seminary experience is a few years all the way down to no years. Moreover, if all the people in all the storefront churches, online churches, and home churches were going to steeple churches, there would be no issue here--and once you add in all the megachurches, Islam doesn't have a chance here.

19 posted on 04/01/2013 12:10:20 PM PDT by chajin ("There is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved." Acts 4:12)
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To: Jacquerie
Hi Jacquerie! Good to hear from you again.

It’s how muzzie “outreach” works (for over 1400 years now) where outright conquest is not “practical.” They infiltrate an area, and expand it as their numbers grow. Then they demand that they be governed by Sharia law for their own little group, followed by a demand for local “autonomy” and eventually for their own enforcement mechanisms, with all “outside” influence eliminated (including no competing religions - no “proselytizing,” of course, with death the punishment for an infraction).

Progressive politics will not mix with Sharia, of course, but Sharia means the dismantling, and eventual destruction of the America you and I know and love. Because Progressivism means to destroy America, Progressives will tolerate the behavior of Islamic lunatics as long as it aids in the destruction of America, under the belief that they can eventually bring Sharia under their control. The inevitable conflict will be interesting.

I will probably miss the bloody outcome. I view that prospect with mixed emotions. ( ^8 }

20 posted on 04/01/2013 12:38:15 PM PDT by YHAOS
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