A Religion News Service article by Jeffrey MacDonald has popped up in a number of outlets lately, including the Christian Centuryʼ. Citing changes at several seminaries and an interview with Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), MacDonald notes that some schools are shifting from a traditional approach to biblical and theological studies, and seeking to integrate seminary studies into the real-world challenges pastors will face in an increasingly pluralistic and technology-driven society.
Curriculum revisions are under way at about a quarter of the 262 ATS member schools, Aleshire said.
That shouldn’t be considered unusual. Responsible schools are constantly re-examining their approach and tweaking the curriculum in order to provide practical as well as theoretical training for ministers.
What the article does not mention is that some schools are reducing the number of hours required for the basic Master of Divinity Degree, dropping from the traditional 90 hours into the 70s. Nor does it mention a trend toward the creation of other, less-demanding two-year degrees requiring less than 50 credit hours.
This makes it more difficult for schools that hold to the higher number of hours to continue attracting students who figure they could get the same accredited degree in less time and with less work at another seminary.
Another concern for seminaries and divinity schools, one beyond the purview of MacDonald’s article, is that fewer incoming students express any desire to become a pastor: most want to be chaplains or staff ministers rather than sole or senior pastors. Whether this has to do with negative feelings about the way they’ve seen pastors treated, or the way they’ve seen pastors behave, or some other factors, I don’t know.
What I do know is that sooner or later the economy is going to improve and a growing number of boomer pastors will finally retire and we’re going to need a new crop of pastors who are not only appropriately trained, but interested in the job. That, for now, may be the bigger challenge.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.