Since retiring from the ministry six years ago, I realize how inadequate I was as a young man of twenty-five to have the “wisdom” of the gospel needed to serve the church and follow Jesus.
I embraced the definition of “success” as defined by the culture in which I lived and so often “failed” to measure up within that competitive academic system with a need then to have the priority of proving myself by eventually excelling in the system.
Instead of understanding the significance of learning as a discipline leading to service, I remained a part of and victim to the underlying notion that my worth was determined by my academic achievements in relation to my classmates and in the eyes of my professors.
Instead of “throwing off the lustrous garments of the world” and embracing the teachings of Jesus as lived by those such as Francis of Assisi, I carried the notion of success into the ministry — how good a preacher I was, how good a counselor I was, how good an administrator I was, how good a fundraiser I was, and the perpetually nagging need to prove myself academically, etc.
In hind sight, I regret not being better at the complements of ministry, a contemplative spirit and a “community organizer” for Jesus, mobilizing the “resident aliens” as urged by such luminaries as Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon.
And so I humbly offer the follow suggestions regarding admissions
to denominational seminaries:
When screening applicants for seminaries (divinity schools being
a different matter by serving a different purpose, by and large),
these should be told “Sorry, Charlie or Charlene”:
— those having gone directly from high school to college to seminary
because they have been conditioned by an educational system to compete
for best grades and are taught by professors who, by and large, never left
that competitive environment and perpetuate it in the minds of young students;
— those who have sailed along in life without having experienced a
significant loss leading one to an understanding of powerlessness and helplessness;
— those who having experienced significant loss are so wrapped up in their own suffering they have been unable to move toward compassion for others who experience the vicissitudes of life;
— those who evidence a significant need for approval (as in looking
to crawl back in the womb of the church);
— those who are not immersed in the sayings of Jesus particularly
the Sermon on the Mount;
— those who majored in religion in college;
— those unfamiliar with the notion of “to follow” as vs. the notion
“to worship” which Jesus never asked of himself;
— those who do not get “the first shall be last and the last first”;
— those who have been immersed in “individual salvation in Jesus Christ,”
a particularly pernicious notion advanced in a Western individualistic culture;
— those who think of the congregations as “buildings, bodies and bucks to be built up,” rather than mission stations of service to the poor, oppressed, victimized by the power structure of the economic culture;
— those who don’t know the difference between metaphorical and literal;
Finally, not having followed the trends in seminary education, I may be offering advice that is nonsensical, outdated, anachronistic, impractical, silly or whatever to administrators and Boards of Trustees of denominational seminaries who will never read this blog anyway.
On a personal note, my remembrance of seminary is that of warmth and affirmation with patience and tolerance and prayer for the young, immature student in whom the professors saw some semblance, no matter how slight, of talent for ministry.