Future of Theological Education

Theological education and Pastoral Training will change

The future of theological training is discussed all over the world. The traditional seminary training has always been accused of somewhat separated from the reality. 

I am convinced the future of theological training will move to a distance learning model with a heavy focus on the guidance and coaching by the local structures. It will require cost-effective and structured use of technology while imparting knowledge and know-how to the prospective pastor.
I will reference the following:

1. Historical info.
2. My personal experience
3. Practical on the job experience.

1- Historical information:
Historically the emphasis was placed on theoretical knowledge and academics. Al though necessary it was somewhat disproportionate to the role of leadership and mentorship required to be taught. The young pastor would come out of seminary all fired and motivated, but with virtually zero practical knowhow. It will then require some time to learn the ropes – and often – the wrong things (less Biblical and more denominational) are learned.

Let’s discuss the practicality of the historical example. I will do it while referring to a discussion by Philip Bethancourt, JT English, Albert Mohler, Danny Akin, and Matt Hall at the Pre-Conference of the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas Texas on June 9, 2018. During the discussion it was mentioned by one of the participants that he became a Christian during outreach by Campus Crusade for Christ and then realized the Lord was calling him to ministry. He eventually had to attend 2 seminaries and at great expense had to move twice while growing in his training however only really learned to do ministry when being mentored by an older pastor. The statement was then made several times that in the future the most effective way to train for ministry will be through association and directly under the supervision of the local church.

The days when a prospective pastor could go to a seminary and complete his training without any practical exposure to the actual ministry and the related coaching by a more knowledgeable pastor are literally gone.  The expectations expressed or not by the average church member or church board are so vast that very few will be able to accept the challenge directly.  The other factor is that the change in focus that is required in modern ministry is not taught in seminary.  I will reference my own experience as it relates to many of my peers as discussed with them.

2- My personal experience
I went to university in 1984 did my BA with Greek, Hebrew, and biblical studies and a little bit of psychology.  It was wonderful days and it helped me get a love for the original text of the Bible.  Then I went to seminary as we had to have had a BA to get into seminary. A further 3 years of heavy theoretical training.  I can still remember my heart bleeding for a lost world and a lot of vision in my mind to go change the world. 

On completion I had to discover I had to pay my student debt and it was only possible if I had a “real” job while the opportunities within our denomination were few and far between at the time.  After more than 2 and a half years I eventually received the opportunity to join a church as full time pastor.  I have to say in the time I was active in an internship at another church.  It was at this internship that I learned what I needed to know about ministry – yet not as a pastor but as a sidekick?  

At the first church I served it took all of 6 years to get my student debt sorted. By this time I was suffering internally as all the dreams and vision of the ministry were replaced with day to day activities of keeping the saints happy.  As I then realized that I was somehow missing my dreams and calling to missions, I was yearning to get to a point where I could express that dream and vision that the Lord instilled in my life when I was called and that was literally suppressed by the circumstances. At some point I got involved with Steven Loots and the birth of Harvesters Ministries literally offered me the opportunity to get involved with the vision and dream.  Then the Lord opened doors for me to move to another church and I got involved in the process of training indigenous church leaders in Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique.

3- Practical on the job experience in Africa
It was during the time in Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique that through my contact with Steven Loots, I realized that the process of taking the future pastor out of his home setting and taking him to a college or seminary somewhere else was flawed in several ways.  We heard the story repeatedly from the indigenous churches:  They would get a young man that is sent to seminary and the commitment would then that he will go serve a church somewhere in the rural districts – and by the time he completed his Seminary training he will be called to a city church…  (In itself it is not always bad – but the rural church will usually be the one that suffer.  This has often lead to problematic situations developing.  One of the ways they devised was to start a program often referred to preaching points where the rural churches will become preaching points and often those will not be managed and operated as churches but become outposts that literally were left without real training and teaching except for the odd visit by the preacher once a month or sometimes once every 2 months.  Those leaderless communities experienced no spiritual growth and church or evangelism was an event rather than a lifestyle of discipleship.  They answered the following when asked why it happened:

– Seminary training is expensive and the cost makes it prohibitive for most churches in the developing (or third) world to embark on the process of training a pastor at a seminary.
– The effect of the process even with sponsorship is in many ways demotivating for churches (even if those sponsorship were from the first world countries). The pastor will often outgrow the local church and eventually get a calling to a big city church – this is obviously positive for a kingdom vision perspective but problematic for the typical rural church.
– The other issue is that the distance sometimes has a close relation to the amenities available in the city compared to the rural area as well. Things like running water and electricity could be seen as essentials in the city while in the rural area it is non-existent.

– By contrast and to the rural church it is much more advantageous to have a leader in training in their midst – and for that trainee to be mentored by an experienced pastor to fulfill the task of being a shepherd of God’s flock where he/she lives.

– The basic model of this approach that will become more and more prevalent in the years to come is what we have seen described in the Bible as Discipleship and the clearest reference is in Mathew 28:16-20.

When Jesus said to the disciples : (Mat 28:16-20 NIV16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

In verse 19 the command is “make disciples” – Therefore it is important that the church will do exactly that and that the church leadership are involved in that purpose.  If the focus of the church are on keeping the saints happy and attending the odd church service at somewhat regular or irregular intervals, church is missing its purpose.  For the church to get back in line it will need pastoral leadership that focus on discipleship or the process of making people disciples.  Unfortunately through some of the extensive academic work and the pressure in the academic world where it is often an unspoken ultimatum to the teacher to “publish or perish” there are far too many academic papers out there trying to move the focus of the church to all sorts of other focus areas and what some view as a purposeful attempt to reduce the amount of focus that should be placed on discipleship.

In the years to come the focus and movement to a church based, localized and distance learning model for pastoral training is very high on the agenda.  With the increased availability of technology the systems exist to use either internet web browser or Phone App facilitate the theoretical training.  A method of structured mentoring by an approved and experienced pastor in a program where the new pastor is being guided, while doing the pastoral work, to be a pastor.

This is the personal opinion of Hannes Enslin.

Reference Southern Baptist Convention Dallas Texas  link to discussion https://erlc.com/resource-library/erlc-podcast-episodes/the-gospel-and-the-future-of-theological-education