The affirmation culture of pop psychology has made its way into the theological academy, at least at mainline Protestant seminaries. We are told that we can be the leaders who will fix the church and that all of our snazzy ideas are totally going to work, indeed, that they are “prophetic” (please stop using that word to describe anyone you know).
Of course, the problem with this system is that then our seminaries send these “prophetic” newly ordained people into actual churches with actual lay people. And the ability of lay people to spot bad ideas is very strong. This combination usually makes for a painful, short marriage. One need only glance at the numbers of clergy who last less than five years in parish ministry to know that perhaps that professor was right. Maybe we are all idiots for wanting to do ministry in churches; the smart ones got out ahead of time.
Or maybe our seminaries could do better by the people they are training. Why are we not telling people in seminary that if they do not want serve in churches then they should not be pursuing ordination? I understand the practical reasons (mostly money), but I am astonished that we do not see the negative endgame for the church, not to mention the damage it does to the individual paying for an education: Paying student loans for a ministerial education that proved worthless is a sure and certain path to embitterment.
When I was in seminary, I remember having an endless number of conversations with people in their 20s who wanted to be ordained but classified themselves as “just not sure” about the church. Most of them were interested in academics. I wonder how many professors of systematic theology or biblical studies we will need in the future. According to the flood of people in our seminaries, I am guessing 4 million.
I would suggest that our seminaries are inadvertently devastating our churches. Most people who are ordained do end up in some kind of ordained ministry at some point in their career. However, if they have been encouraged and you are so special-ed through seminary, then it seems perfectly logical to them that they can make their living being an urban garden planter who occasionally talks about Jesus.’