This Sunday is labeled “Theological Education/Seminary Sunday” on the PC(USA) planning calendar. It’s a day for recognizing the contributions our seminaries make to the life of the church and in turn considering their financial needs for our congregational budgets. We also remember the women and men studying in those schools for various theological vocations, including the pastorate.

I’m not doing much in my congregation this Lord’s Day to focus on this denominational emphasis, other than a prayer for seminaries and seminarians, but I wanted to say a word here about educating pastors. I was prompted to comment by some observations by Ed White I ran across the other day while going through some files.

White is a church consultant. He was writing in a 2006 issue of Congregations, the journal of the Alban Institute.  In an article entitled “The Shortage of Capable Clergy: Root Causes,” White complained that “Seminaries are engulfed in the academic model and they do a fine job of teaching Bible, theology, church history, polity, and ethics. They don’t, however, teach much about leadership!  Many seminary faculty are academics who have never had to exercise leadership.”

Dr. White goes on to talk about the concept of “emotional intelligence,” developed by Daniel Goleman. While IQ is a fixed figure, emotional intelligence can be cultivated and has to do with interpersonal relationships. White concludes: “Unfortunately our seminaries are not geared to help candidates for the ministry develop their emotional intelligence. The result is that we produce clergy who are often very smart and can preach good sermons but lack the competencies (emotional intelligence) to be fruitful leaders” (Fall 2006: 52).

To which I say, from hard personal experience, Amen! Over my almost 34 years in ministry, I have found that parishioners are hungry for knowledge about the Bible, and look to me to feed them. But they also want a pastor who knows what to say and how and when to say it, someone who remembers their names and the important details of their lives, and who is approachable and warm. I’ve come truly to believe what my old friend Harvey Jenkins once told me, citing an old proverb: “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Much of what I know and practice as a pastor now I actually learned from working in a law firm and from personal mentoring by an experienced pastor who took me under his wing. Seminary, at least the one I attended for my Masters of Divinity work, did not prepare me for being a pastor! Only real world experience and further education, especially by people in congregations, did that. And I’m still learning.

I have to confess ignorance about what seminaries are teaching these days. I don’t know if they are addressing White’s concerns about leadership or listening to the pleas of their graduates for more training in what they will face in the real world of the church. But I pray God will grant wisdom to presidents, boards, and faculty to tailor and refine their curricula to engage the needs of the church in the 21st century.

© 2011 Tom Cheatham