seminary

Cultivating Call

By Rev. Mindi

When I was thirteen, I felt the call to ministry. I was sitting in my grandfather’s church, listening to him preach, and I felt something in me say “This will be you someday.” And I never looked back.

When I told my pastor about my call a few months later, my pastor made sure to include me in worship leadership.  At first it was simply reading Scripture, but by the time I was fifteen I was preaching a sermon at least once or twice a year. I helped with Communion, I led liturgy and prayers.  After I was baptized, I was made a member of our Deacon Board (this happens when you are in a small church startup with about twenty members!) When I was in college, the pastor of the church I attended invited me to preach. The first time he was present; after that, he invited me as pulpit supply on occasion.

These experiences helped build me up and prepare me for ministry long before I attended seminary. And when I was serving in my first church as an associate minister, we established our first Youth Sunday in a long, long time. But I knew that Youth Sunday wasn’t going to cut it. Only once a year? Only one time for the youth to share their gifts for ministry? So I began to establish, with the help of the senior minister, a training program for youth starting in middle school to help in the worship service. And we began by reading Scripture to the congregation, and worked our way into other areas of the service. 

At my second church, where I served as Senior Pastor, I did the same—but I also invited youth to preach and not just on Youth Sunday. And when she turned sixteen, I invited her to come on pastoral visits with me (but I always received permission first from the homebound member). She also eventually was invited to serve on the church board.

In both churches, there was one youth who began to feel a call to ministry and felt uplifted, supported and encouraged in that call, just as I had felt many years ago.

What are we doing in our churches to support young people in the call to ministry? What are we doing to help laity of all ages feel supported in their call to ministry?

All too often, worship is led by the pastor, and even if laity are involved, it is simply for things such as taking the offering or serving Communion, or maybe reading Scripture. The number one complaint I hear from pastors when I ask them how laity participate in worship is that the laity are not trained to read Scripture or to lead in worship. But that is our job. If we are not involving the laity in our worship services (and of course I am speaking from a Free Church congregation with no set liturgy other than what was created by tradition within this particular congregation), we are failing to raise up the next generation of leaders.

In my current congregation, no one has come forward to me to express an interest in professional ministry—yet. But that does not mean I do not provide those opportunities, as much as possible, by inviting others to participate and serve. I also provide training, once a year, on reading Scripture out loud, what the Prayer of Invocation is and what it means to call people into worship. An 85-year-old woman in my church, who attended the training but had no interest in actually leading it, said to me “I never knew what the word Invocation really meant until now. Now I know what it is we are doing.” Sometimes, in the Free Church tradition, we have done a poor job of educating within our communities on what it is worship means, what is liturgy, and what it is we are doing.

We need to do better. Think of ways you can involve others in leadership, and ways we can educate our congregations on what worship is, but we also need to find ways of encouraging and lifting up those within our congregations who may be gifted for ministry. It is not enough to bless them and send them on their way to seminary; we must begin cultivating that call now.

Messages on the Bathroom Wall

By Rev. Mindi

I’ve not had a great week, let’s just say that. Balancing parenting a special needs child and ministry is difficult. Ministry is difficult. There are demands every which way and you can never satisfy everyone’s demand.

People call on a daily basis looking for assistance and nine times out of ten, I can’t help them. The resources aren’t there. We are a very small church, but we do what we can and we’ve narrowed our assistance to food and refer everyone else on to social services. But that, of course, does not make most people happy.  Many times people hang up on me. Sometimes they even accuse me of not being helpful, or worse, not being a Christian. They tell me no one will help them. Maybe that’s all true. Maybe I am a lousy Christian because I don’t help every person who comes to me and often I turn them away. Once in a while, I can help with either a food donation or a gift card, but that’s it.

I am the pastor of a small church, but even so, it seems like I never have the time to visit everyone who could use a visit. Because my child is young, he is home with me or at the office with me a lot, making it difficult to go out and visit like I feel I should. I always seem to be a step or two behind on paperwork, on worship planning, on visioning with the church.

My energy is often low, especially on days when my son has been up since 2 a.m. There are days where I simply cannot focus on ministry. I would call them sick days, but really it’s “I’m-just-so-tired-I-need-a-break” days. They often are combined after a week of meetings and church events and therapies for my son and then a night where he doesn’t sleep.

Sometimes I wonder what the heck I’m doing with my life.

And then I remember.

*****

I was sitting on the darkwood pew, doodling on the bulletin. I put the little half-pencil with hardly any lead down, picking up the hymnal as I stood up to sing along with the congregation. This church was a little weird, in that they sang all the “Amens” at the end of hymns. I wondered if other churches sang the “Amens” and if my home church was the only one who didn’t. It seemed to make the hymn dreadfully longer than it needed to be. I looked out over the mass of silver haired heads in front of me. My mother sang perfect alto harmony as we neared the “Amen.” It echoed in my ears after we had put our hymnals back and sat down.  Then my grandfather went up to the pulpit.

I don’t remember what the Scripture reading was. I don’t really remember much of the sermon, except the part where my grandfather talked about two men who had come out as gay and loved each other. I don’t know why that is the only part of the sermon I remember, I guess it is because in 1990 it seemed a little shocking to vocalize support for GLBTQ people from the pulpit. But more importantly, what I remember is this:

“That will be you someday.”

It wasn’t a voice, it was more like a feeling—no, more like a push inside my gut and heart saying this is who you are. A minister. It’s in your blood. My grandfather, his twin brother and younger brother, their father and grandfather—all Baptist ministers. And suddenly, I knew who I was and who I was going to be. I was sure of it, certain of it, and that certainty stayed with me a long time.

Throughout high school, that certainty remained silently inside while I listened to my good Christian friends tell me how women couldn’t be ministers.

Throughout college, when at times I questioned my call, thought about going to graduate school for creative writing instead, that certainty kept me from filling out the applications for Master of Arts programs and instead requesting information for Master of Divinity degrees.

Throughout seminary, when I questioned the Bible, even Jesus sometimes, and wondered what the heck I was doing and why my dating life was suffering, that certainty melded into my identity. I began to see myself as a minister, as a church pastor, as leading a congregation. And when I became a little afraid and applied for a few non-ministry positions while in seminary as “backup,” the certainty was there in the relief I felt when those positions fell through.  Indeed, by the time I graduated I had already been called to be a Christian Education minister that later grew into a full Associate position.

*****

The certainty is still there—when I doubt it all after a hard board meeting, when I have had little sleep trying to balance parenthood and ministry, when I am pulled in every direction—my heart and my gut say, “This is you.”

God says, “This is you.”

Because a long time ago, even before I sat in that pew at my grandfather’s church, I was at my home church in Alaska which rented space from an Episcopal church. One of those funny Episcopalians—I have no idea if it was a layperson or the rector—had printed a little card and had taped it to the bottom of the restroom mirrors.

That card read, “You are looking at a minister.”

So whenever I go to the bathroom, I look at myself. I look at a minister. I look at the one called by God.

My gut and my heart say, “This is you.”

THE SECOND COMING - RECLAIMED

Regarding the future of the church,we have made a mistake.

It is not about Reformation II (or III or IV or V or...) It is about the Second Coming of Jesus

It is not about the coming death of the church. It is about the coming transformation of the church.

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The Second Coming is an inside joke.... ...To those who do not "get it" - The Second Coming is an apocalyptic view that awaits the arrival of a militant Jesus who will violently eliminate evil from the world. It makes for best-selling religious literary fiction, great cinematic special effects, and lousy-abusive-useless theology. ...To those who do "get it" - the joke is that Jesus is already here, peacefully present. Jesus "returns" for each person as they discover and embark on the life-path that Jesus walked. The "Second Coming" is personal - it is neither an apocalyptic nor a global event. The epiphany by the women on Easter morning was that, even though Jesus was executed and buried, the path walked by Jesus still exists - and by walking that same path, the message and example of Jesus is resurrected. Many find this epiphany to be transformative, their old self dies and a new transformed person is resurrected from a dead and buried former life. By walking the path - living The Way of Jesus - they continue and extend the path and message and life of Jesus. In doing so, our lives proclaim:

Jesus is arisen! Jesus is here! Jesus appears to us! Jesus walks with us! Jesus breaks bread with us! Jesus lives! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

The church must go the same way as Jesus. The church must die and be buried - and be reborn through an epiphanic resurrection and transformation. The church cannot be rescued. The church cannot be reformed. The church cannot evolve. At some point, the current church structure, structures, hierarchy, and institutions must be abandoned and demolished and replaced - existing only in our memory as a history lesson of how not to be church.

Those of us who are Baby Boomers or older - and regardless of whether we participate, oppose, or sit on the sidelines - the church we know, have worked so hard to grow and maintain, has been so important to us, and indeed which we love so much - that church is about to disappear, must disappear - and there is nothing we can do about it or should be able to do about it. As a statement of objective emotionless fact - the generations that come after us will re-create church in ways that will have little to do with church as it has existed since the end of WWII and even less with church as it has existed since the early 19th-century "Great Awakening" revival that birthed the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and other denominations. Do not be surprised when the future church finds it can exist only by abandoning and demolishing the structure, structures, hierarchy, and institutions of the 200-year-old American church in all its denominational and independent expressions, colors, sounds, textures, architecture, rituals, liturgies, and self-righteous self-assuredness. Do not be surprised when this abandonment and demolition is completed with no sense of sadness and no sense of loss. The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. has been completed just in time to be abandoned.

There is no pleasure in being the last of your kind, a breed on the verge of extinction. However, the WWII "Greatest Generation" and their "Baby Boomer" kids will not leave quietly and not without generating rippling resonating repercussions as they pass into memory. We have been faithful generous tithers and - most dangerously and in a final fit of useless spite and exasperation - we will continue to support the church after we are gone. We are wealthy generations who have retained lawyers to write wills that are specific and enforceable. The problem for future lawyers, judges, CPAs, and juries will be how to allocate funds for a church that is closed, abandoned, or demolished. They will have few or no options for diverting those funds to a living congregation or a worthwhile project. Already, we can see that the generations who follow us do not tithe to churches. They support specific projects and missions. Unlike us, they do not want their giving to be for slogans and annual reports and push pins on a map. They want projects and missions that are tangible, immediate, and - most important - participatory. Where we gave strictly of our wealth, these next generations will give of themselves - of their time, talent, labor, and presence - as well as their treasure.

At the forefront of the church demolition will be recent college graduates, college students and the high school students that will follow them. They will abandon (are abandoning) Sunday morning worship, Sunday School, and congregational events as well as mainstream campus ministries, Campus Crusade, Youth for Christ, and any Christian organization that values exclusion over inclusion or has any hint of structural rigidity, hierarchical authority, membership requirements, or dogmatic rejection of or does not live the theology of universal justice and compassion infused with divine love and grace.

Expensive specific-purpose church structures will be replaced with the use of former stores, abandoned theatres, rented warehouses, and individual homes. The traditional Sunday morning worship will diminish and be replaced by conversations in food courts and bars and coffee shops, studies in quiet places inside and outdoors, meditational Taize gatherings, loud Praise concerts, other worship experiences yet to be created - all arranged through social media and sometimes occurring more as a flash mob experience than a scheduled service. Future church will occur while flowing with the stream of life, not alongside or outside of it as a stationary event.

The seminary/ordination track as well as clergy as a profession and calling will be vastly different from what it is now, if it exists at all. There is no justification for ministerial candidates having to bear the crushing burden of a 5-digit (6-digit?) school loan to earn the formal label/prefix "Rev." and to be eligible for employment in a shrinking system and a disappearing paradigm. The concept of clergy will not be reformed, it will be so revolutionized as to be re-created. Future clergy will see themselves as scholars and counselors and project/mission managers and will reject calls to be church/congregational CEOs or mega-entrepreneurs. Clergy will find that their calling includes a responsibility to freely and openly share their formal studies. Denominations that currently have multiple seminaries will collapse them into one. Some denominations will find it necessary to join together to form a cooperative organization to support a single ecumenical seminary. Many seminaries will disappear. One possibility is that ministerial candidates, from the beginning of their education, will serve a sponsoring and supportive congregation. Seminary scholars representing the various necessary ministerial disciplines will hold regional classes or, when the technology becomes inexpensively ubiquitous, hold synchronous video conferences.

A major contributing factor to the clerical revolution will be public access to church knowledge. In an age of Wiki sites, there is no justification for the Catholic church or any denomination or any church institution to have secret archives or to have historical documents or ancient biblical texts hidden from public view. Every document, every scroll, every parchment fragment must be scanned, indexed, hyperlinked, and its high-resolution digital image placed on-line within a single web site. The biblical texts, both Jewish and Christian and regardless of whether they are currently considered canonical, must be on-line and referenced to a source document or source documents as well as being referenced to differing source documents. What will be paperless is not the office, it will be knowledge.

One of the identifying marks of living The Way is fearlessness. In this context, it means not being afraid to die and not being afraid to live. This article is neither a vision nor a prediction, neither a warning nor an advocating. It is a call to the church to move confidently into the future and to fearlessly embrace and enable its coming death and resurrection and transformation and new life.

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Technology Postscript: As on-line conferencing and smart-phone/tablet technologies improve and take advantage of increasing transmission rates and bandwidth, virtual worship and gatherings will be normal, common, and expected. As the virtual world is populated and utilized, the realization will slowly sink in that while virtual connections are immediate and easy and global, virtual connections are better at enhancing human disconnectedness than creating human presence and are better at amplifying loneliness than creating community. At some point, it will be generally recognized that virtual connections are an inadequate and invalid replacement for the connections we form when we are in the presence of each other. No matter how much we tweet, text, Facebook, email, YouTube, or Skype - at some point we have to see each other in the same physical space, face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball. We relate best when our mutual presence is tangible and accessible. Personally and communally as well as psychologically and technologically, at some point the virtual connection will be deemed unacceptable and generally harmful and best reserved for situations that are emergencies or physically remote or both. We will have to discover that pixels and bits are always inferior to hugs and prayer circles.

...and that will be the next transformation.

RECLAIMING EDUCATION

an expanded and updated version of an article that first appeared inEncounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice

The Good News has 3 inseparable messages: 1) The universal accessibility of 1)..the personal and persistent unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God; and 2) The feeding quenching clothing healing visiting welcoming compassion and 2)..the reparative rehabilitating restorative justice of the Community; and 3) The inclusive hospitality and joyous generosity and healthy service of the Individual. ......................................................................RECLAIMING CHURCH - REDUX

The Good News is about being the Kingdom of God here and now. The Good News does not oppose the Empire. The Good News is constantly engaged in non-violently replacing the Empire with the Kingdom of God. To that end, having only a well-defined theology of love, grace, compassion, justice, hospitality, generosity, and service is not enough. The true measure is how that theology is lived and shared and how it imbues and informs the life of the disciple. The Good News is not about yearning for or being promised a future and distant post-mortal eternal reward as payment for a temporary existence marked by guilt-ridden culturally-acceptable behavior and tightly-held xenophobic beliefs. The Good News is about being and proclaiming and provoking the Kingdom of God here and now in all aspects of our lives. One such aspect is education, especially public K-12 education.

THE PURPOSE OF EDUCATION

What Is Not Education? Education is not for the betterment of the local economy, the gross national product, or the global society. Education is not about transforming, unifying, or homogenizing society. Education is not a solution for the problems of society – neither problems that are persistent and universal nor problems that are uniquely contemporary. Education is not about providing competent trained workers for future employment. Education does not transform students into either an intellectual natural resource or a pool of human capital – these concepts have no basis or existence in reality. Education is not the means by which we can gain a national economic competitive edge over other nations. Education is not about preparing students for college. It is not an event in some imaginary ongoing international academic competition. Acquiring an education from a public school system is not an act of consumerism (Bracey 2008) because public education is not a product, not a business, not a manufacturing process, and not an industry. Neither competence in passing a specific test nor receiving narrowly focused training qualifies as an education (Houston 2007).

Such purposes and goals are wrong. Such purposes and goals cause a destructive mutation of the education process. Such purposes and goals subject children to treatment that must be labeled and rejected for what it is – criminally coercive and abusive.

The Six Purposes and Obligations of Education First, the most important obligation of any education system is to recognize that each child is a unique individual – there is no such thing as a standard child (Rakow 2008). Any system that has any other primary obligation is neither about nor providing education. The uniqueness of each child requires unique accommodations. Instead of forcing a child into a predetermined or standardized schedule and set of expectations, we have an obligation to adapt to each child’s unique set of capabilities, boundaries, and rate of development. To do otherwise is counter-productive, if not harmful. Children are who they uniquely are. Children are not who we want them to be or who we think they are. Children are not indistinguishable widgets on an education assembly line (Johnson 2006).

The quality of an industrial product can be measured. An industrial process begins with specified and consistent raw materials that meet the requirements of the process. Then, in accordance with a pre-designed detailed plan, the raw materials are incrementally transformed into a finished product. At each step of the transformation process, there are standards that must be met for the process to continue and, eventually, successfully produce the expected final product. The continuous process is constantly producing identical finished products. Each finished product, within very tight tolerances, must meet specifications or be rejected. A specific quantifiable result is expected and each finished product must meet all predetermined expectations with a high degree of measurable precision. The metrics and processes used in industry and business to measure and achieve and control quality cannot and must not be applied to education. Students are not a raw material. There are no rejects. There cannot be a pre-specified final product. Education is not an industrial process.

A successful education can not be measured collectively. It can be measured only individually and only independent of the results and achievements of others. The education process is not a series of assembly-line increments occurring at fixed intervals at controllable rates with repeated predictable results. Education does not yield a predetermined finished product. The success of an education is not measured by how well it matches blueprint specifications. The success of an education is not measured by how well an individual can recall and repeat what has been learned. The success of an education is measured by how well an individual extends and expands and enriches what has been learned and uses what has been learned to solve problems and create solutions, to create new knowledge and new art. The end result of education cannot be designed or mapped. Education cannot use an unchanging collective blueprint expecting to manufacture identical results. Indeed, the end results of education must not be identical or even uniform. The end result of education is controlled by the unique internal, changing and maturing qualities of the individual student and not by any external expectations, designs, or controls. Education is a process of assisting individual intellectual growth, the discovery of personal strengths and talents, and the maturation of the person as an individual and a social being – a process that does not end with graduation from high school or college. Education has no end result - there is no final product, there is no finished inventory.

Education is only a part of an ongoing life-long process. Training and regimentation and indoctrination are used to make people more nearly identical in some skill or behavior or response or thought. Education is about enriching the natural uniqueness of each person (Houston 2007). Education increases diversity, differentiation, and variability among individuals and decreases uniformity and conformity (Eisner 2001). The sole focus of an education system is the individual child – not parents, not colleges, not corporations, not government, not society, not the economy, and not the future of any other single or group entity. The future is always and inescapably unpredictable, indiscernible, and unknowable - the future does not yet exist. It is irresponsibly presumptuous for any adult to choose a future for a child or to preemptively limit the future of a child. The whole spectrum of future possibilities of each child belongs only and entirely to that child.

Second, an education system has an obligation to discover the talents and strengths of each child, then nurture each child’s confidence in and mastery of those talents and strengths, and provide the opportunities and resources necessary for each child to concentrate and focus on their talents and strengths, explore them in-depth (Eisner 2001) and nurture them to their fullest potential - as chosen and desired by the child.

Third, an education system has an obligation to allow, encourage, and protect generous amounts of unstructured time for a child to engage in child-initiated child-organized freely-chosen play, to explore, and to be creative in serious thought and fanciful imagination – both in solitude and in cooperation with other children. (Bergen & Frombert 2009) (Chmelynski 2006) (Elkind 2001 p. xvii) (Ginsburg 2007) (Jacobson 2008) (Satcher 2005) “Play is essential to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.” “Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development.” “Play is integral to the academic environment. It ensures that the school setting attends to the social and emotional development of children as well as their cognitive development.” (Ginsburg 2007 p. 183)

Fourth, an education system has an obligation to promote within each child a constant self-awareness and self-knowledge and an independent personality, intellect, voice, and initiative. Education encourages a questioning spirit and stifles blind acceptance. The goal of education is to facilitate the acquisition by each child the capability for logical reasoning and evaluation, and the skills for: locating and gathering information, problem-solving, making plans and setting priorities, cooperating with a group without being subservient to the group, sharing knowledge and skills, and being able to earn respect in other cultures while being respectful toward those other cultures (Berliner & Biddle 1995 p. 301).

Fifth, the purpose of an education is to provide each child with the widest exposure to the best of human knowledge in all disciplines; and the widest variety of the best artistic descriptions and expressions of humanity and the human experience; and to provide ample opportunity to experience, understand, and appreciate the natural environment and learn good stewardship of natural resources.

Sixth, a successful education assists each child in acquiring the intellectual and social tools to traverse the world, retaining at least a cautious, if not enthusiastic, curiosity and become a person who is open to, and even desires, continuous life-long learning. Education enables learning. At its best, education inspires a joy for learning (Rakow 2008). Education does not subvert learning to a test score, a hurdle, an obstacle to be conquered, or just another difficult life passage that just has to be endured (Eisner 2001).

What is an Educator? There is no such thing as “teaching” or a “teacher.” There is no way any “teacher” can force knowledge into the mind of a student who is not present, willing, and engaged. There is no research that demonstrates a humane teaching method that is so universally efficient, effective, and largely and continuously successful that the teacher using the method can be held accountable for the results regardless of the participation and attitude of the student (Ediger 2007). In the way the word is commonly used, there is no such thing as “teaching.” There is only learning – a life-long, complex and multi-dimensional, internal individual process unique to each person (Crain 2008)(Driscoll 2005 p. 2)(Johnson 2006). No matter the education or years of experience, the hours of lesson preparation, the quality and intensity and creativity of the lesson presentation – nothing is learned until the student “gets it” (Driscoll 2005 p. 22) – a task and process over which the educator has no control and for which no educator and no school can be held accountable. There is no such thing as teaching that forcibly, controllably, and measurably inserts knowledge or skills into a student. There is only learning.

Well documented are the many ways in which children, starting at birth or earlier, learn on their own (Crain 2005, pp. 143-145) – for example: object permanence (even though mother is out of sight, mother still exists) (Crain 2005 pp. 120-121, 310-312), eye-hand coordination, vocabulary and grammar (Crain 2005 pp. 69-70, 349-359), walking – to name a few. There is no evidence that this internal ability to learn solitarily is ever replaced or largely supplanted by an external process. A normal healthy person never releases or loses the ability to learn. Learning is solely a capability and responsibility of the individual student. Learning is only in the internal cognitive domain of the individual student. It is the student who has to acquire, retain, and integrate new knowledge. It is the student who either assimilates the new knowledge within his or her existing knowledge set or it is the student who must accommodate the new knowledge by redefining or reorganizing his or her existing knowledge set (Crain 2005 p. 115)(Berliner & Biddle 1995 p. 303). Regardless of how the new knowledge is integrated, all of it happens only within the mind of the student – and only if the student is capable – and only if the student makes it happen.

Educators who are well-qualified, caring, and dedicated are critically important and absolutely necessary to the fulfillment of the purposes and obligations of education. Educators are knowledge experts and instructional presenters and trainers and facilitators and guides and mentors and motivators (Bartholomew 2007). An educator is the catalyst that makes learning easier (Merkle 2008) and “more intense and lasting” (Smyth 2005). The traditional concept that an educator can – somehow or in any way – shove knowledge into the mind of a student is false and invalid to the point of being knee-slapping gut-busting laughing-out-loud ludicrous. The true role of the educator is to be an astute observer of each student’s level of mastery, make note of what specific difficulties a student had in obtaining that level of mastery, assess the student’s preparedness and receptiveness for new knowledge, and choose the appropriate methodology for either reenforcement of knowledge currently being learned or progressing to learning new knowledge (Crain 2005 pp. 239-240)(Ediger 2007). A good educator is: a responsive coach, an enthusiastic cheerleader for student efforts and achievements, a servant-leader (Greenleaf 2008), an efficient and effective manager and provider of classroom assets, subject-knowledgeable, available, accessible, affirming, supportive, a gentle guide for the first learning step and for each transition to the next level of learning (Crain 2005 pp. 239-240), manages an age-appropriate richly-stimulating learning environment, and provides an atmosphere of joy (McReynolds 2008). It is not about teaching, it is about reaching.

Educators cannot be held accountable for what students learn. Educators can be held accountable for their professional behavior and use of best practices – just like any other licensed professional. Education is not a technical trade. As a profession, education is built upon personal expertise in concepts and rules and expertise in observing and analyzing how those concepts and rules can best be applied to each student. As a profession, education cannot be constrained to predefined sequences and timelines or inescapably bound by externally chosen tasks. As a professional, an educator must have the liberty to take advantage of new tools, new methods, spontaneous opportunities for object lessons or meaningful tangents, or to initiate a new activity – even on the spur of the moment. Professional accountability sets high standards for personal conduct and for the quality of the service delivered. As long as those standards are met, it is the personal expertise of the individual professional that determines which methods are to be used to fulfill their professional obligations. Implicit within professional accountability is trust and freedom, not blame and control. “While you can beat people into submission, you can’t beat them into greatness” (Houston, 2007, p. 747).

SUMMARY Education has an obligation to recognize at all times the unique state of developmental readiness of each individual child, the universal necessity for play, and to protect and enable the right of each child to have a life and future of their own choosing that aligns with their unique strengths, talents, and interests. The purpose of education is to enable the widest and most diverse possibilities for the future of each child. It is only the unique strengths, talents, and interests of the individual child that should limit possibilities or choose a specific path.

References Bartholomew, B. (2007 April). Why we can’t always get what we want. Phi Delta Kappan, 88(8), 593-598.

Bergen, D. & Frombert, D. P. (2009 February). Play and social interaction in middle childhood. Phi Delta Kappan, 426-430.

Berlinger, D. C., & Biddle, B. J. (1995). The Manufactured Crisis. New York: Basic Books.

Bracey, G. W. (2008 June). Research: Assessing NCLB. Phi Delta Kappan, 89(10),781-782.

Chmelynski, C. (2006 November). Play teaches what testing can’t touch: Humanity. The Education Digest, 10-13

Crain, W. (2005). Theories of Development: Concepts and Applications, 5th Ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Crain, W. (2008). Personal email, July 3, 2008.

Driscoll, M. P. (2005). Psychology of Learning for Instruction, 3rd. Ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Ediger, M. (2007 September). Teacher observation to assess student achievement. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 34(3), 137-139.

Eisner, E. W. (2001 January). What does it mean to say a school is doing well? Phi Delta Kappan, 82(5), 367-372.

Elkind, D. (2001). The hurried child: growing up too fast too soon, 3rd Ed. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Ginsburg, K. R. and the Committee on Communications and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. (2007 January). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics, 119(1), 182-191. Retrieved April 25, 2009 from www.pediatrics.org

Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership (2008). http://www.greenleaf.org/index.html

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Is it time to re-imagine theological education?

The following is an excerpt from Phil Snider's blog.

If mainline theological education is broken, it's not for lack of interest from prospective students.

In the book The Hyphenateds, which will be released next week, Nadia Bolz-Weber notes that in the seven-year history of Church of the Apostles (an emerging church in Seattle that is deeply rooted in both the Episcopal Church and the ELCA), nearly thirty participants have enrolled in seminary. Thirty participants in seven years.

Nadia is an ELCA pastor at House for All in Denver, Colorado, where in just seventeen months of weekly worship they have sent three young adults to seminary.

In the congregation where I pastor (Brentwood Christian Church in Springfield, MO, a Disciples of Christ congregation), we have sent seven participants to seminary since we started The Awakening in 2005, a worship gathering that combines progressive theology with alternative expressions of liturgical worship. (The number of participants that went to seminary in the previous 45 years of Brentwood's history? One).

The ratio of participants from emerging mainline communities who enroll in seminary is nothing less than astonishing, even as the number of established churches that are available to support traditional full-time ministers rapidly decrease.

What is it, I wonder, that draws so many participants from hyphenated congregations to ministry? What does this mean for the church as a whole? How do established mainline structures cultivate in-depth theological education and training in ways that constructively address the needs of hyphenateds who are likely to lead innovative ministries on the fringes of church life that will (ironically) result in even more seminary students drawn to ministry on the fringes? How do seminaries respond to the questions raised in Deacon Gus's thought provoking post "Does it make sense to go to seminary?"

By drawing on examples from United Methodist practices, Elaine Heath, professor of evangelism at Perkins School of Theology, writes the following in her contribution to The Hyphenateds:

One of the biggest obstacles at this time for United Methodists who participate in what the Holy Spirit is doing through emergence is an ordination system that no longer fits our missional context. That is, every person who is planning to be ordained as an elder and receive full membership in an annual conference (the level of ordination necessary to have full voting privileges and to enable one to rise to significant levels of leadership, including bishop) must also plan to receive his or her full-time income and benefits from the local church. People aspiring to be elders cannot plan to be bivocational, working as a pastor of small, possibly impoverished faith communities while earning a living doing something else. The only exception to this is for people like me who are already ordained as elders who, at some point after having served in local churches, are appointed beyond the local church to an extension ministry such as teaching at a seminary. Cases where persons are ordained as elders and immediately sent to extension ministries are extremely rare.

There is one more piece to this troubling puzzle. We also have qualified, gifted, called, fruitful candidates whose elder ordination is delayed because there is nowhere to send them for the required, guaranteed, full-time appointment, because so many United Methodist churches are shrinking and closing. These candidates are rarely told that the reason for their deferment is that there is no room at the inn, but it seems clear that this is what is going on. Sadly, this is one of the big reasons that young candidates leave the denomination and go elsewhere, and that some young seminarians decide not to pursue ordination in the first place. The great frustration at this time is that the more innovative and socially entrepreneurial the candidate is, the more suited to generativity, the more at home working in the margins of society, the more interested in bivocational ministry, the less likely it is that she or he will ever make it through to ordination. Without ever having planned for this outcome, then, our ordination system and our guaranteed appointment system work hand in hand to actually prohibit some of our most gifted young adults from answering their call to missional, monastic, and generative ministry within the United Methodist Church. Small wonder that we are having a hard time attracting young adults to ordained ministry in the UMC these days, and keeping the ones who are focused on emerging, missional work!

So it is that across the nation our bishops, chairs of boards of ordained ministry, seminary deans, and clergy are wrestling with how to change the systems in order to accommodate necessary movement without compromising the sanctity of ordination to word, sacrament, and order. Meanwhile, under the radar, out on the margins, and right under our collective noses increasing numbers of Methodists are answering God’s call to create new faith communities that use nontraditional leadership structures, in order to go and make disciples. Most of them don’t care if they ever get ordained. What they do care about is living the gospel in the manner of the early Methodists: faithfully, holistically, as good news in a broken world.

How might mainline communities and structures respond to these concerns? This is just one of many subjects explored in The Hyphenateds, and I look forward to the conversations and possibilities that emerge as we reflect on the future of the church together.

Phil Snider is a pastor at Brentwood Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Springfield, MO. His books include Toward a Hopeful Future: Why the Emergent Church is Good News for Mainline Congregations (winner of the 2011 Mayflower Award for best book in church and society) and The Hyphenateds: How Emergence Christianity is Re-Traditioning Mainline Practices.

Theological Inbreeding

Recently I was sitting in one of my D.Min. cohorts when several of my colleagues were discussing our educational backgrounds and why we chose this particular school.  I’m attending a seminary affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA), and while most in the group are Presbys, not all are.  Most of the Presby’s did their MDiv there as well. Some even did their undergrad studies there, too.  But then there’s me (the lone Disciple), a UCC pastor, a Congregationalist, and an American Baptist to stir up some trouble. Most of us went to schools affiliated with our denomination somewhere along the way.  But I intentionally chose not to do my DMin at the same place I did my MDiv studies and not to stay within my denomination because I wanted to see a different religious landscape.  Another student said it better:  “Why would I want to go back to the same school or stay in my own denomination?  That’s inbreeding!”

Inbreeding it is.  But that seems to be the norm in theological education.  I see institutions hiring, sometimes exclusively, faculty that were educated at their institution or one identical in principle as theirs.  Or I see bios of people that have 2, 3, or more degrees all from the same school and I wonder how they could stand it.  I went to multiple schools for practical reasons, but I realize now subconsciously I may have done so in order to stay sane.  First, I tried a state university, then a private Mennonite College, then a Disciples seminary, and now a PC(USA) seminary.  I have found a unique voice in each experience.  Each has played a critical role in shaping my development, education, and pastoral vocation.  And in journeying from one landscape to another I realize how valuable having different perspectives is.

But sometimes Christians only want to hear what they already believe.  I remember being warned by some people about attending certain schools.  These same people would encourage me to attend another school that, of course, agreed with all of their ideas.  Sometimes our denominational systems strongly encourage us to stay within because when we venture off to other learning environments we might venture out of the realm of their control.  And sometimes we’re just lazy in our choices.  Whatever our vice, inbreeding is becoming the norm in our denominational theological institutions.  And the Church is suffering because of it.

It’s time to encourage some sowing of wild oats and encourage exploration of theological education beyond the shelter of our denominational systems.  We need to begin to hear the voices that are different from our own, and to explore ideas that may seem foreign to us.  And we need to trust that God will speak and form and equip for ministry in the unexpected places.  Some of the best gifts for Disciples ministry I have received came from Presbyterians and Mennonites.

By Dan Mayes

Dan Mayes is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  He currently serves as pastor of First Christian Church in Spencer, IA.  He has served congregations in Iowa, Kansas, and Oklahoma.  His own blog is located at danmayes.net