Thursday, January 3, 2008

Will You Send Your Children to Bible School?

Anthony asked some good questions, “[1] how do we attract the best people for seminary training?” This arises from our previous discussion on seminaries producing active or contemplative graduates. He adds, “[2] are Christian parents themselves holding back their best sons and daughters? [3] Are the youths themselves not interested in full-time pastoral ministry? Can the Christian vocation of pastoral ministry be presented as a viable vocation like any other secular vocation? And [4] is the trend in Malaysia going to be people who have worked a considerable number of years in the secular world and then opt to take optional retirement to come into seminary for training and serve their remaining years in the full-time ministry before they officially retire at 65 years?"

I believe questions [1] is related to questions [2] and [3]. From observation, I believe that many parents are not encouraging their children in taking up studies in local seminaries, and that the youth themselves do not see going ‘full-time’ as a viable vocation. There are a few reasons for this. First, there has been a gradual theological shift from understanding Christian service as ‘sacrifice and burning up for the Lord’ to ‘seeking my self-fulfilment in the Lord.’ The former was William Carey willing to give up his ambitions, his wife and family, his health and finally his life in the service of God. The latter is a pastor candidate asking about health benefits, child support, career advancement, and retirement plan. There is also the need to address the issue of women leadership in the church.

Second, ‘full-time’ service has lost its prestige and respect it once had. This erosion was gradual as pastors give up their role as soul carers and spiritual leaders to their congregation, and take up roles as administrators and fad-chasers. Christians are leaving institutional churches in large numbers because their spiritual needs are not being met. The youth have become so sceptical of the churches that they prefer not to have anything to do with it.

Third, the culture of consumerism, pragmaticism and individualism has influenced our churches. Parents are not willing to release their children and their children are not willing to enter a vocation where there is poor financial reward and security, where you are at the beck and call of everybody, abused by the lay leaders or members of the congregation, no career development plan, and at the end of the day, no significant retirement benefits.

Four, the increase in the number of gifted, trained and talented lay leaders in the church has changed the perception of the role of the pastor. The rise of marketplace ministries have reinforce the idea that one do not have to be ‘full-time’ to serve the Lord.

Finally, with the ecumenical movement and the loss of loyalty to denominations, many people sees local seminaries as irrelevant or even worst, sub-standard. Only certain churches expect their pastors to be theologically trained. Others prefer in-house training or Spirit-led pastors.

Therefore, I believe that we shall see the continuing decline of enrolment of young people in seminaries worldwide. However, I do see an increasing trend of matured people enrolling into seminaries and graduating to serve in churches. The demographic change has been building up for some time but has escalated recently. I do see this as a positive trend as these people from the marketplace with their lived experience has a lot more to offer to the church. ‘Full-time’ service as a second or third career may be the wave of the future.


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