What If Seminaries Were Like Tech Startups?

I have some awesome news! I only have one more class period left in my time in seminary. I know. Super exciting. After a 3-hour block on March 28th, I’ll be done. Yes, I still have an online class and that whole “12-month internship” thing, but still. Exciting. But I have to tell you something… After 3 years of school, I feel like 87% of the stuff I’ve learned, I’ll never need again.

Now there are really two ways to look at the educational process of seminary. There’s either the reference book way which is education gives you the information to look back on and discern how to incorporate it into ministry. Then there’s the eyeglasses way (the term isn’t perfect, but follow me anyway) which gives you a set of lenses through which you can see the world and articulate ways to lead the church.

I can’t help but feel that most of my seminary education has given me a reference book. Which gives me all kinds of information to look back on, but not keen enough sight to see. Is that model really preparing anyone to take part in ministry with and for a world that, for the most part, doesn’t see the point in going to church? I don’t think so. But it forces me to ask the question…

What if church was more like a tech startup? What is it in startup culture that seems to bring out the most creative and innovative ideas? When we look at some of the most successful tech companies (Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon), we see some of the best innovation in the communications world today. And these companies are thriving. Ahead of everyone else in their field.

And then there’s the church. The morality police. The out-of-touch place where people go to get married and buried.

The essence of a startup is that you create new solutions to new problems. It means being creative enough to come up with new ways to fix old, broken processes. The church had a problem in the late 90’s when church membership (hardly a barometer of religiosity, but still) began declining. So, as all good seminarians would, pastors racked their brains to find answers. But you know what was one question I bet they didn’t ask? “What did I learn in seminary that would help here?”

Creativity and innovation come up nowhere in the seminary curriculum, and yet I can’t help but think that those are the traits necessary to be successful when you’re trying to help form communities. I’m not saying that church history and all the stuff we learn now doesn’t have it’s place… But what would it look like if one class for one semester simply asked us to go find something in the church that isn’t working well and come up with a better way to do it?

I’m not trying to say that we should all have this kind of education. I’m just saying there are some people, like me, who don’t do well in the simple transfer of information style of education.  I think there are some students who would absolutely love seminary if they were allowed to be innovative. They would at least be more passionate about what they’re doing.

And in my 3 years of classes, I can count on one hand the times I’ve left a class feeling passionate.

Cheers,
Eric

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Comments

  1. I’m sure you wouldn’t be comfortable w/ the startup failure rate, which is the same reason many organizations do not adhere to startup mantras.

    I don’t have the experience to comment on this about seminary in particular, but education in general doesn’t do a great job with this particular area. But I agree w/ you about the necessity of innovation.

    I think generally we’re taught to conform, and it has it’s failures and its benefits.

    • I can’t edit that comment, but the blockquote didn’t work right. What I meant to say was:
      I’m sure you wouldn’t be comfortable w/ the startup failure rate, which is the same reason many organizations do not adhere to startup mantras.

      Creativity and innovation come up nowhere in the seminary curriculum, and yet I can’t help but think that those are the traits necessary to be successful when you’re trying to help form communities.

      I don’t have the experience to comment on this about seminary in particular, but education in general doesn’t do a great job with this particular area. But I agree w/ you about the necessity of innovation.

      I think generally we’re taught to conform, and it has it’s failures and its benefits.

  2. Hey Eric. Thanks for the comment. I think you’re right to bring the startup failure rate. It’s astronomical. However this may be where my comparison breaks down. People are not flocking to churches as they are to technology. I think if people stopped buying products from Apple, Microsoft, etc. We’d see a lot more willingness to take some risks.

    And I think the larger population stopped buying what churches were selling sometime around 1998. The analogy is certainly not perfect, but the need for innovation is absolutely present. So when we’re being asked to conform to a failing model, it’s hard to sit by and blindly follow.

  3. 1998? Doesn’t seem like an arbitrary point so I’m curious what it represents. I agree about the need for innovation, but most established organizations are risk adverse, which is just another hurdle.

  4. The early to mid 90’s had a boom in mega-church success, but have been, largely, in pretty rapid decline since the late 90’s (represented here by the year 1998). It was more to the point of, what we’re doing isn’t working so what is there to do? My next logical step is to innovation. Which isn’t necessarily where the church is as an institution. Then again, innovation isn’t known to happen at an institutional level. The rewards are most definitely uncertain, but if there is no encouragement for innovation in the educational process, there doesn’t stand much of a chance for it to materialize in practice.

  5. That is something I didn’t know but probably experienced. 1998 that is.

    Then again, innovation isn’t known to happen at an institutional level.

    Perhaps, perhaps not; depends on the institution. “The Church’s” hurddles are probably higher, but I think the analogy is fine. I’m really not trying to argue, I was just curious about where this is going.

    I just ready Poking the Box by Seth Godin, which was pretty good and somewhat on topic, although not in the religious context necessarily.

  6. I like Seth Godin a lot. I’ve followed his blog for awhile. I’ll have to grab the Kindle version and check it out.

    As far as the Church’s hurdles… It’s always easy to identify the problem, but infinitely harder to come up with practical solutions.

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