UPDATE (05/27/14): All links to Theocademy now point to the new website and project.
I’ve started an experiment, and I wonder if you’d like to help.
No lie, I was keynoting a conference last weekend, struggling with getting to sleep as I often do my first night away from home an a trip, and decided to read Seth Godin’s new (free) book STOP STEALING DREAMS: What is school for? (the all caps are his, not mine, btw). That was a bad idea.
Seth Godin is one of my “People you’d want to have lunch with” (Malcolm Gladwell being the other), and I find anything he writes to be perfect. He has an uncanny ability to cut through the bullshit of a given topic and lock onto the aspect that needs considering/questioning/improving/reforming/etc. In his new book, he turns his sights on education, specifically higher education. Here’s the blurb:
The economy has changed, probably forever.
School was invented to create a constant stream of compliant factory workers to the growing businesses of the 1900s. It continues to do an excellent job at achieving this goal, but it’s not a goal we need to achieve any longer.
In this 30,000 word manifesto, I imagine a different set of goals and start (I hope) a discussion about how we can reach them. One thing is certain: if we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’re going to keep getting what we’ve been getting.
Our kids are too important to sacrifice to the status quo.
Reading this book did not help me go to sleep. Quite the opposite. Given my professed love of in depth theological education, I automatically thought of seminary as I read.
I thought about the countless seminary graduates who bemoan that “seminary did not prepare them for this” or “I didn’t learn to be a pastor in seminary. I learned to quote Calvin/Luther/Wesley/[theologian of choice].”
I thought about the crisis (yes, crisis) we are currently having around seminarian debt load.
I thought about the fact that the pilgrimage model of obtaining a residential seminary education is no longer desirable or tenable for many would be pastors (I, also, don’t happen to think it is a necessary model). Even if a person graduates with no educational debt, they often incur significant consumer debt in order to live.
I thought about the fact that, even if we can get young adults to enter ministry, a disturbing number of them are gone after 5 years. My own denomination released a study in 2005 that indicated that the number of “ministry drop outs” has quadrupled from a similar study in the 1970s.
I thought about the increasingly powerful tools of digital, online collaboration.
I thought about Wikipedia.
I thought about YouTube.
I thought about TED.
I thought about Khan Academy.
After all of this, at around 2am, I had an idea. I don’t want to be hyperbolic, but it was the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to a Divine Download. I was jazzed, and didn’t go to sleep until after 4am, and the idea I’m calling Theocademy was born.
Before I go too much farther, let me make a few things clear.
I love seminaries. Specifically, I love the seminaries of my own denomination (I serve on the national committee which seeks to serve these 10 amazing institutions). This is not about sticking it to seminaries. I know that a lot of people think that what’s wrong with the Mainline church today is our seminaries. I could not disagree more. These seminaries know what the Church is facing and they are working to respond. Cut them some slack that the change isn’t happening as fast as you want. Most of us can barely get our 100 member, $200K budget churches to change. Try turning the ship that is a seminary. It’s not easy or quick.
Yet, while the current slate of seminaries are working to address the coming future of the Church, we have an opportunity to dream new dreams and take advantage of the tools and ethos at our disposal. So, while this isn’t about hurting seminaries, it is about experimenting to see if there is a new and different way forward than the one we’ve assumed.
This is also not about trying to replace the process by which we form pastors. In fact, if I was being honest, I would say that denominations have wrongly abdicated their responsibility to form pastors to the seminaries. If the folks at the Learning Pastoral Imagination Project are to be believed (and I think they are), the only way to be formed as a pastor is to “practice pastoring.” Yes, we need a bit of information, but the way you become a pastor is by actually pastoring. And yet, we expect fully seasoned pastors once we hand them an MDiv. Sorry. That ain’t gonna happen.
And so, if the purpose of seminary can’t be – shouldn’t be – to “form pastors” then what are we left with? Learning theology, biblical interpretation, etc.
And here is where we have a problem. With the countless resources available to me online, what is to stop me from getting a theological education by taking advantage of those resources and working through them with my pastor? What? They aren’t qualified to reflect on that material deep enough to help someone reach a level of competence? Then why are they a pastor? We need to get those folks out of congregations quick before they screw up the people in Sunday School! 🙂
Here’s what I want to try: Can we figure out a way to generate a body of theological, biblical, and pastoral knowledge and make sure that everyone who wants it has access to it?
Yes, I’m proposing a theological Wikipedia of sorts. Yes, I’m asking if what has worked for Khan Academy can work for the Church.
We used to train pastors in apprenticeship situations all the time. For thousands of years, one pastor trained another. The centralized theological academy is not the end all and be all of theological education. When I have access to the teachings of Richard Rohr at my digital fingertips, why do I need to travel half way across the country to learn it from you? Why can’t I reflect on it with my pastor? Isn’t she equipped for that?
To that end, the experiment known as Theocademy.
I want to see if we can become our own instructors again. I want to see if the Church is able to reclaim its responsibility to train the leaders that she will need for the next phase of the Church’s life. I can give you a dozen names right now that already are stellar instructors and that I hope participate in this experiment. And that’s just from my Twitter following list. I know there are people out there that I don’t know that will blow our socks off. Would you come over and be a part of it?