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Theological Education

February 26, 2010

Yesterday afternoon, I filled out an evaluation for a friend in ACU’s Graduate School of Theology consisting of 100 plus items in which I was asked to remark (through a Likert scale) on this friend’s skills in different ministry-related activities, such as preaching, youth work, and counseling. This survey was provided by the Association of Theological Schools, the accrediting commission for the Graduate School of Theology (I assume). The ATS provides guidelines for the educational and ethical standards of these institutions, such as academic freedom, gender equality, and teaching procedures. For students, the ATS (according to what I can tell from the website) requires students to undergo two profiles of ministry; the website gives sample case studies and interviews.

There were two conversations going on in my head while completing this inventory. There was a voice telling stories of when this person did or did not meet the criterion involved in the particular item. There was also a voice asking the question, “What do these items say about the ATS’ expectations of the ministerial skills of graduate-level students?”

It’s like I’m a therapist or something–I can’t turn it off. After I completed the inventory, I went back and made some notes. I couldn’t find any documents on the ATS website concerning ministerial expectations of graduate students, but I made some assumptions based off of the inventory items.

The ATS seems to place an enormous value on teaching; of the so-called “spiritual gifts”, teaching/orating seemed to receive more attention than administration and counseling, to name a few. Interestingly, there were more items devoted to the clarity and concision of knowledge passed than the depth of knowledge understood. Items that inquired about Biblical knowledge seemed to take a holistic approach (taking a variety of factors into consideration, such as tradition, linguistic scholarship, and contemporary cultural interactions with faith) rather than rote memorization of text. There also seems to be value placed on the ability to relate Biblical principles to the unexpected situations of life, especially social, political, and economic injustice.

The inventory asked questions about conflict resolution, which makes sense considering a) much of ministry involves relationships, and b) ministers usually work in groups of people (offices, committees, ministry teams, etc.) as well as individually. It suggested an awareness of the temptation to confront passively or through triangling church members, and also asked me to consider my friend in situations when others disagreed with his/her ideas.

I wasn’t asked much about character traits, but there were several questions that seemed to hint on the value of humility, especially in the sharing of ideas and working with those with less power (the lay population and socially-described outsiders). Obviously, there were a couple of questions about study habits and discipline. The inventory seemed to want ministers to be open-minded and willing to involve others in their ministry. There was a question that asked about the extroversion (it did use that word) of my friend–I assumed (perhaps/hopefully incorrectly) that the ATS prefers extroverted ministers over introverted ministers.

The survey placed an enormous emphasis on social justice and gender equality; there were multiple questions that asked about the role of women in church and familial politics. I was very grateful for these particular questions.

The most peculiar topic was the importance of the role of the Holy Spirit. I won’t let you know where I stand on this (in this post anyway), but I perceive a disconnect between theological academia and the experiential aspect of the Holy Spirit. The inventory asked about seeking the guidance and leadership of the Holy Spirit in several questions; there was one particular question that asked about whether or not the subject talked openly about his/her calling to be in ministry. The usage of the word “calling” in this context threw me off a bit. Obviously, it suggested that acknowledging the presence of the Holy Spirit was vital, but after that, I couldn’t determine what side of this issue the inventory determined to be “the correct side”.

I feel like my evaluation of the ATS’ expectations of ministry and ministerial skills is somewhat objective; I mean, I know which questions really bothered me and allowed more subjectivity to enter the second voice, such as the one about frequently incorporating Scripture into counseling. (I’ll explain this more in a longer post sometime, but I feel that this approach perpetuates proof-texting and inappropriate interpretations of Scripture in order to create immediate-gratifying peace/loss of anxiety.)

What are some of your expectations of ministers? What do you expect them to know? Who do you expect them to be?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Josh permalink
    February 26, 2010 10:02 pm


    That’s a good question, and I’m not sure I’ve thought about it long enough to have a good answer, but here are my immediate thoughts. You’d probably know better than I whether or not having specific types of ministers is a good idea (e.g., children’s ministers, worship ministers, involvement ministers, Twitter ministers, etc.), but I suppose my main thought is that, by going to the trouble of creating these specific positions, we’ve set up a problem for ourselves. For instance, if a large church is going to hire a children’s minister, they’re probably going to look for someone who has a degree in child development or early childhood education as well as several years’ experience in that field. The problem (as I see it) is that we’re running into the question of whether a person is a minister FIRST or an expert in their field FIRST. If they’re not an expert in their field first, we may feel that they’re not professionally qualified to work with children. If they’re not a minister first, we might accuse them of having limited theological/ministerial training. I think I’ve seen both sides happen in church, and it’s pretty painful to watch. We want someone who is both proficient in their field AND trained in ministry. I wonder how possible this is.

    I’ve been tossing around an idea for a while. I’ve been thinking that it might be beneficial to the church to have most of the ministers be volunteers, rather than paid staff. I think it’s probably safe to have a few key ministers be paid (such as the pulpit minister, who needs time to prepare lessons each week and visit and counsel with people, and who we expect to be very learned; also, administrative ministers probably need to work full-time in order to deal with financial issues), but having volunteer ministers offers several benefits. Firstly, people who work a separate job are more likely (I think) to be in touch with real people with real problems. Not that paid staff ministers are not caring, but that they seem to me to be less capable of empathizing with regular people because they don’t have a job where they work with non-Christians, they’re probably not insecure about the stability of their job, and they’ve already developed spiritual disciplines which the average person may not even begin to conceive (maybe that’s an unfair assessment; it’s just a personal observation, and is probably unfairly biased). Secondly, it gives the church the option of plausible deniability while allowing a professional to do their job. In other words, if something goes wrong with the children’s minister, the church can claim that the person wasn’t ministerially-trained. If things go well, the church can pin it on the fact that the person is already a professional in their field, and are just volunteering their time (a very political view of the situation, I’ll admit, and probably not the best one)! Lastly, it saves the church a considerable amount of money while giving the ministers a greater sense of enthusiasm and ownership (not so much that they “own” the church, but that they are giving back to God). It’s been shown in psychological studies that volunteers (for, say, a grassroots political campaign) feel more attached to their work than someone who is paid to work for the same cause.


    I feel sorry for pulpit ministers. They work so hard to prepare messages, they have to deal with the pressure of being the “face” of the congregation, and they probably spend a good deal of time visiting and counseling with people only to find that people want “simpler” lessons (“Less Greek, please!”) or “more passionate” sermons or whatever. People spend all of Sunday lunch negatively picking apart everything the minister said or didn’t say.

    I get the feeling that pulpit ministers are not afraid to broach a difficult subject with their congregation if there is some sort of church-wide problem happening. But it seems that they sometimes back down when the issue is the church’s biblical education. Why? When a third-grader claims that a math concept is too difficult, does the teacher simply stop teaching math? Or does he/she focus on explaining it as many ways as possible until the child learns it? I believe that the same process should be applied to Sunday sermons and Bible classes. For a congregation to claim that messages are too dense or difficult is really just a way for them to say that they don’t want to work very hard to think about God; they’d rather just leave church with a good feeling. I guess what I’m saying is that people often say that they want a pulpit minister to have a deep, broad understanding of the Bible, but then beat him down when he uses it. I think pulpit ministers ought to take the church’s education to task by treating them as adults and covering difficult, controversial, dense philosophical and theological problems (like we do in college in our own respective subjects).

    Phew! Sorry for the long comment! Like I said, I didn’t think about this for very long, so I hope I didn’t say anything too unbalanced or too off-topic. Also, although I didn’t comment on them, I really enjoyed reading your posts about Sing Song, which allowed me to reminisce a little about my own experiences. Well, I hope you’re doing well! Talk to you later!


    • February 27, 2010 10:59 pm

      Josh, I loved your second to last paragraph (not to say that I didn’t like the rest of it). That really resonated with me. I am teaching a class on 1 and 2 Timothy and what you said about pushing education in the Church is really informing my preparation. Thanks!

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