One in mission | Linda Valentine
Benefits of a broader focus
New approaches to theological education open doors for more ‘shepherd servants.’
Two years ago, I had the privilege of attending the inauguration of Frank Yamada as the 10th president of McCormick Theological Seminary. Swept up by the pageantry of the academic procession, I marveled at the gathering’s racial-ethnic diversity, beginning with Frank himself, the first Asian American president of a PC(USA) seminary. I was also struck by the generational diversity, including young adults all seeking to discern their God-given time and place to lead and shape the church.
While there’s a lot we don’t know about the future, we know that diversity—God’s intention for the church—will only increase across the United States in the coming years. In an ever-changing cultural, socioeconomic, and theological landscape, how we prepare diverse, transformational leaders for service to Christ’s church is a critical issue before the PC(USA).
“The denomination talks so much about diversity, but perhaps the most important diversity we need to maintain is theological diversity,” says Glen Snider, an elected member of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board who has just completed a two-year term as a liaison to the Committee on Theological Education (COTE). Among COTE’s primary responsibilities is strengthening our seminaries for their mission to the whole church.
“Although there is great diversity among the seminaries, there’s this wonderful joint passion for Christian education and a dedication to excellence,” Glen says. “COTE is important in that it models the kind of civil conversations and theological diversity that we want to have in the denomination as a whole. That same resource needs to be brought to bear on so many foundational theological issues that are confronting us as a denomination.”
A ruling elder at Shepherd of the Valley Presbyterian Church in Safford, Arizona, and director of institutional research at Eastern Arizona College, Glen has devoted his career to pastoral development and access to education. In 1979, he helped pioneer Theological Education by Extension (TEE) in Zambia, part of a global discipleship movement designed to provide theological education and practical ministry training not only to those seeking ordination as teaching elders but to all Christians.
Glen explains: “The basis of the TEE model is to go out into the community and hear the people’s questions and the issues they face in daily life, which changes the way we teach. We start with the shepherd servants that God is raising up and then come alongside of them and help them to develop their gifts for leadership.”
Glen says that one of the main challenges for today’s seminaries is that they are just starting to realize that they’ve given themselves too limited a job description, primarily producing MDiv graduates with high debt loads and limited experience with small churches.
“If a seminary considers that its only job is to produce teaching elders, it has really missed the point,” he says. “The point of a Christian education is to equip all members of the church for works of service. Some of our institutions are now recognizing that and are helping our people to rise to the challenge of integrating faith into their secular jobs as well as their church life. While some students will become full-time ministers, most will just become very effective Christian witnesses where they are. And besides that, they’ll become some of the greatest supporters of our seminaries in the future. That’s the direction we need to go.”
- Committee on Theological Education: pcusa.org/cote
- Funding your PC(USA) seminaries: pcusa.org/give-TE999999