Each month we ask a different person from the NEXT Church community to assemble a series of posts around a particular theme. This month, Lee Hinson-Hasty is curating a conversation around theological education. Have ideas or reflections to share? Offer your thoughts in comments, on our Facebook page, or contact us here.
By Kathy Wolf Reed
Week after week as I serve Christ’s church, I see theological education from some varied venues. As a pastor I see theological education playing out in Sunday school rooms and Bible studies, members of our church giving up free evenings to study Scripture together and vacation time to attend continuing education events. As a member of my seminary’s alumni council I am twice a year invited to come see what God is doing on the campus whose halls I once roamed – now complete with technological innovations I could not have imagined possible that first summer as I sat in the hallway on my laptop straining to find just the right spot where I could connect to the unreliable wifi. As a member of the PC(USA) Committee on Theological Education I am then privileged to take a broader view of theological education as I serve alongside seminary presidents and teaching and ruling elders from throughout the church to try, in as many different ways as we faithfully can, to keep our finger on the pulse of both church and academy and connect the two to create more seamless venues for training up leaders of faith, intelligence, and integrity in our churches.
However, all this aside, if you were to ask me where it is that I catch the most frequent glimpses of what is “coming and becoming” in theological education these days, I would have to turn to what has become one of my favorite tasks in ministry: serving on the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley’s Council on Preparation for Ministry.
Like many CPMs, at some point along the way we imposed upon ourselves a duty to inform Inquirers and Candidates of what exactly they are getting themselves into when they enter the ordination process in today’s PC(USA).
“It won’t be easy,” we say.
“There are many more candidates that positions,” we remind.
“You’ll have debt,” we grimace.
“You likely won’t be able to work fulltime/in a big city/at a large church,” we warn.
I entered the process at a very different time – what, in retrospect, seems to have been the tail end of an era where it was common to recruit bright young twenty-somethings with a passion for church and throw boatloads of money at them to go to seminary. The unspoken assumption as I was working on my MDiv was that each of us would graduate with our terms of call already worked out, head to large churches where we would serve an obligatory 3-5 years as associates, and then climb the proverbial ecclesial ladder to a solo pastorate, a bigger church, a “better” call.
Obviously, times have changed. But, here is the exciting part – the landscape of the denomination has changed, but these new Inquirers’ enthusiasm and sense of God’s calling have remained resolute. No jobs? No worries. Debt? They’ll figure it out. A need to take a creative approach to ministry? They are up to the challenge. What is coming and becoming in theological education, from my point of view, is a generation of leaders who understand that seminary is not a means to an end. As so many pilgrims before them: Moses, Abraham & Sarah, Jesus’ disciples, Paul and Barnabas – they are spending less time plotting out their five year plans and more time present in the moment that is their calling to pursue a theological education.
Their openness and courage is a call to us all. As I think about my own situation (ironically, an associate pastor at a large church) and where God might lead me next, I realize there is no ladder to be climbed, no checklist of demands I need be making, only a willingness to go where the Spirit is truly leading. Thank you to all of the upcoming leaders of the church who model for us what it means to be faithful to Christ’s call without a safety net. And thank you to all the saints of theological education upon whose shoulders we all stand.
Rev. Kathy Wolf Reed is the Associate Pastor for Young Adult and Family Ministry at First Presbyterian Church in Tuscaloosa, AL. She also currently serves as the Chairperson of the PC(USA) Committee on Theological Education and is the Chairperson-Elect of the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley Council on Preparation for Ministry. She is married to Rev. Nick Reed who also serves at First Presbyterian in Tuscaloosa, AL. They have a one-year-old daughter Hannah and are expecting their second child in February 2014. Read more about Kathy in a Dec. 12 Presbyterian News Service Story.
Image: shutterstock.com/Tom Gowanlock