Over the last few weeks I’ve been trying to think through the concept of something I’ve been calling the “local seminary.” In the first post, I talked about some of the essentials of pastoral training. Last week, I discussed some of the strengths and weaknesses of the main contemporary model of pastoral formation, the university-model seminary. This week, I want to give some flesh to the idea of a local seminary by laying it out in more detail.
Andrew wrote on Monday that central to the pastoral ministry is that the pastor be “deeply in touch with his place and his people.” This is at the heart of pastoral ministry. The pastor is a minister of Word and Sacrament in the midst of human lives and human communities that are at once good and bad, joyous and in mourning, flourishing and dying. Pastoral ministry happens, that is, in the context of that contradiction hauntingly captured in the funeral liturgy from the Book of Common prayer: “In the midst of life, we are in death.” To do this, and do it well, the pastor must be with his people. And if this is the essence of pastoral ministry, then the essence of pastoral training must be similar. The pastor for the local church must be trained, as much as possible, locally. This should happen in the local seminary.
The local seminary is a cooperative of local churches in a given area who band together for the training and formation of those called to serve the saints and equip them for the work of ministry. It is grounded in a sort of “thick ecumenism”--a shared confession of the historic creeds of the Christian faith, reformational doctrine, and the primary authority of scripture. The pastors of local churches serve in the local seminary as professors, teaching biblical and historical theology, biblical languages, pastoral care, preaching, and more. Seminarians studying at the local seminary live and worship in community, study together, and serve in the local churches of their various traditions.
In practice, the local seminary could take a number of forms, but the best way to sum them up might be to think of the local seminary as a semi-monastic community that serves the local church by training pastors for her. Seminarians in the local seminary would commit themselves to not only a course of rigorous academic study, but also to a rule of common life and common worship. As they attend the school of theological reflection between pulpit and font--learning theology, church history, and biblical languages from their own pastors--they will attend the school of practical ministry by learning the art of soul care with and from one another. As they prepare to lead their congregations in being formed by habits of community and worship, they will themselves be formed by the life-together of intensive, close community. And they will do this without leaving the week-in, week-out community of the churches where they will eventually serve.
This will require a mind-shift among local churches. We must think of the local seminary (or something like it) as the primary way that pastors are found and formed for local church ministry. We must rid ourselves of the idea that the normative way of getting a pastor is to form a committee or hire a church consultant and find one to fit our vision or take us in a new direction. We must set our hands to train our pastors locally, not to be professional purveyors of doctrine and low-cost therapy, but to be servants of the Word and ministers of the water, the bread, and the cup.