The current Ted Haggard scandal (please note, I am not commenting on that here, though I hope I get more grace than he’s getting if I slip up in a public way) surfaces a broader issue. It breaks my heart that the attacks are so great that many pastors stumble morally or burn out and leave the ministry. It begs the question, are we giving pastors what they need to succeed?
I read a paper recently that cited a couple of studies showing that seminaries may actually do more harm than good. This is not to discount the gift of teaching, nor to diminish the ministry of some institutions that have refined their model of teaching to better prepare spiritual leaders. There are a few. But the lion’s share of them pack their students’ heads with more information, inadvertently making them more risk-averse, while doing little to actually form them as disciples of Jesus Christ who walk by faith, daily taking risks.
Dr. Thomas Wolf, founder of Erwin McManus’ Mosaic church, one of the top missionary-sending churches in the country (one missionary for every 16 members) has studied the subject extensively. Dr. Wolf currently lives and teaches in India. I took the following quote from the intro to a paper he wrote in 1998.
“A key factor seemed to be an orientation toward cognitive skills. Students often felt they had been very well equipped in Biblical studies, languages, and related subjects, but they didn’t know how to do ministry. Emphasis was placed on interaction with character formation. This area has been found over time to be the nemesis and the great recurrent theme that brings ministries to a standstill, in the midst of personal disasters, or problems with the ministry them.”
“Dr. Wolf found this fascinating. He was strongly impressed by statistical evidence that shows training in a ministerial school and the ability to do ministry is related in inverse proportions. Which is a little bit disturbing, yet has remained constant. Research was released in early December by Christian Schwartz in Germany, again showing the inverse relationship between ministerial or seminary training and the ability to lead a growing church.”
Dr. Wolf is not only a Cassandra – he puts his money where his mouth is, offering a provocative forecast and educational alternative. He and Schwartz don’t just cast stones, they have seen excellent fruit using innovative models that better equip ministers to be successful. Let’s learn from them.