Yesterday I posted about the need for Christians to take seriously their bodies: Embracing Our Bodies (Why Physical Training is Necessary for Christian Formation.
I wrote that:
Christian theology and ministerial formation has avoided the importance of our physicality, diminishing our understanding of what it means to be human and hindering the holistic healing our world needs.
Today, some further thoughts on embracing our bodies and how it relates to ministerial formation and theological education. Our current systems of training Christian leaders does not adequately prepare people to lead and minister to spirited bodies. The standard format for theological education is (1) read a book, (2) hear a lecture, and (3) write a paper. In other words, once you’ve read enough books, heard enough lectures, and written enough papers, you are now ready to be ordained and minister to a congregation. At least, that’s how I experienced my seminary training.
I loved my graduate program, and chose it largely because it had a strong academic focus on the core theological disciplines (history, systematics, biblical studies, ethics, etc.) and ancient languages of the Scriptures. But I don’t know that my seminary experience adequately equipped me with the experience needed to speak with wisdom into the full extent of the human experience. I don’t believe any formal training can fully do that, but I think there are a few ways that we could at least move in that direction.
Here’s a few guidelines I’d suggest for a holistic theological education designed to equip and train leaders/pastors for ministry to humans and not just ministry to minds.
Training for ministry should provoke strong emotions.
You should weep, laugh, and experience anger and frustration in seminary. We need to tap into the humanity of our emotions if we are to minister to the emotions of others. If we are to empathize with those who are grieving, we must not only read about grief but experience our grief. If we are to counsel others, we must allow ourselves to be counseled (pastorally and clinically).
Training for ministry should require immersive study on at least two different continents.
We live in an increasingly globalized world. Monocultural training does not produce the leaders the church needs now (and will increasingly need in the future).
Training for ministry should require study in at least one dead language and one non-native living language.
Studying Greek and Hebrew is really important for understanding the Christian Scriptures. But Spanish and Chinese and Armenian and Hindi are also essential to understanding the many cultures, languages, and people groups scattered across our globe (and increasingly scattered across our neighborhoods).
Training for ministry should involve physical exertion.
You should break a sweat at least once. You should know what it’s like to be hungry. You should experience pain. How can we speak of the injustices of global food inequity if we have no experience with the pangs of hunger? How can we minister to those who are sick, wounded, or dying without ever having allowed ourselves to be in situations where we face our the limits of our own bodies?
Training for ministry should bring you face-to-face with a wide range of diversity.
Physical diversity, ethnic diversity, developmental diversity. Understanding and recognizing the humanity of someone who is “other” than you provides a greater understanding, empathy, and ability to minister in a way that is truly human. Seminary training should take place in rural and suburban and urban contexts. It should take place in hospitals, assisted living facilities, and alongside hospice workers. It should take place in jails and mental institutions and prestigious universities.
Training for ministry should be a communal experience guided by a fellow traveler on the shared path of humanity.
We should learn in the shadow of those who have come before us and be led by those who are further along in the journey from us. Professors must be practitioners, disciples, pastors, life-long learners, wise sages, and themselves wounded humans aware of their brokenness and experienced in the redemption offered by God.