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.


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