Theological training -what is the standard we are looking for?

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I’ve heard all kinds of analogies for theological training.  The one that sticks in my mind from those arguing for seminary training is the comparison to airline pilots. You wouldn’t want to be a passenger if the pilot had never been trained, had done the bare minimum or was learning on the job.

Recently as we have talked a little bit more about vocational training, the comparison has been made to apprenticeships and also to teacher training.  I’ve also seen people in response make comparisons with the Law and the benefits of a formal law degree prior to vocational training with a solicitor’s firm.

Historically, the comparison was made with doctors. If a physician had responsibility for the cure of the body then the clergyman’s concern was the cure of souls (hence “curate”).  So, I wonder if it would be helpful just to make that comparison.  Think about what training your GP has had. Think about the preparation that your consultant or his registrar have gone through to enable them to see you, make a diagnosis and oversee treatment. 

They will have been through 7 years of medical school. During that time they will have attended lectures and seminars, they will have prepared papers, sat exams and they will have also been tested by being placed in a room and having to work through a number of scenarios. They will have also done the rounds of the wards, been placed at different hospitals and been out to GP surgeries. They will have been lectured to by academics from the University but also from practising senior consultants and surgeons. We take the cure of the body seriously.

Why do I say this? Well I want to clear up one potential area of confusion and misunderstanding when talking about vocational training for pastoral ministry.  What I think people sometimes hear is the following.

  • Academic Theology is the gold standard for training pastors. 
  • However, some people just aren’t up to it academically
  • But we need more pastors and would like some of these people to have a go
  • So is there a way we can excuse a few people from the high standards we should set.

The result is that the mindset becomes one of offering a shortened, dumbed down option with regards to training.  The gold standard is 3 or even 4 years at one of the two or three evangelical seminaries here in the UK or else off to America or Australia. However, if you are not able to do that, then we give you 2 years part time.

So whilst those who care for the  body are persisting with 7 years (probably a full decade when you include the Junior Doctor cycles) of rigorous, intense training that brings together theory, observation and practice, we are quibbling over whether someone gets 3 years or whether they get 2 which in fact is the equivalent of one.  That can’t be right.

So, to be 100% clear, my personal concern is to see all who look to go into pastoral ministry to receive in depth, long term rigorous training and to be properly tested in line with what Scripture requires if they are to take pastoral and leadership responsibility in the church.

The question is “How do we achieve that”?