Seminary presidents are generally wonderful Christian leaders. They are usually ministers, with a great deal of local church experience, who believe in the mission of their school and genuinely desire to equip good people to better serve the church. The problem comes when the president seeks to change a school that is in the grip of institutional paralysis, firmly set in long term ideological concrete. The job is often lonely and difficult. I was approached a few years ago about considering the presidency of a seminary. After I got over the shock (I was not qualified in my judgment) I quickly realized that the job was way beyond me and my abilities. My admiration for seminary presidents, ever since, is even higher as a result of this experience.
Dr. Nick Carter, the president of Andover-Newton Theological School (related to the extremely liberal United Church of Christ) apparently understands this challenge well. In a speech given shortly after his inauguration, Carter said:
The churches and denominations are crying out for new leadership. The assumptions of the past are no longer relevant; the old formulas are no longer working; countless ministers–by their own admission–are simply unprepared for the complexities of the 21st century. Dramatic, speedy, and lasting change has become a critical need. Without these changes the vast majority of our graduates will run the risk of being nothing more than institutional hospice workers to terminally ill churches . . . . Call me crazy, but I think Andover Newton is long overdue for a rebirth of our spiritual life.
I frankly doubt the need could be expressed better than Carter has said it. We are training "institutional hospice workers" for the ministry today, not dynamic pastoral leaders with missional vision for the kingdom of Jesus. This rebirth that Dr. Carter speaks about is also needed in the conservative schools as well. The tragedy is that most of them do not see this need, believing that enrollment numbers, and budgets met, are an indication of the Holy Spirit’s presence and blessing. I pray every day that we will see a sweeping move of the Holy Spirit in North American seminaries. It is profoundly needed. This institution too often drives the agenda rather than the Holy Spirit driving the school, faculty and student body. One does wonder if the wineskins need replacement in some rather profound ways. I believe in getting a good education, which includes serious academic preparation, but the system we now have is not equipping servant ministers in most cases.