Learning Together (c)

Recently I found myself participating in a fascinating discussion at the United School of Theology Board meeting in Dayton, Ohio. As we wrestled with the rapidly changing landscape of theological education, strategic issues and questions dominated our discussions. Increasingly it appears that there is an abundance of United Methodist Seminaries (13 are a part of the denomination and a number of others have very close ties). The focus of various seminaries differs widely; for instance one has no Masters of Divinity students (the basic degree for pastors) but focuses extensively on producing Ph. D. level scholars. Most other seminaries are some kind of a mix. (I am told the average is something like 54% of seminary enrollees go into local church pastorates; however, I am not sure how accurate that statistic is.) A few - United Theological Seminary is one - are intensely focused on producing local church pastors. (United’s current enrollment reflects something like 84% reporting an intention to become pastors of local churches.) Virtually every seminary (there are a few notable exceptions) is seeking a growth in enrollment and is under great pressure from the high cost of educating a new generation of clergy. An instructive book written by a noted Professor from Candler School of Theology, Emory University and published by the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry entitled Formation for Ministry in American Methodism: Twenty-first Century Challenges and Two Centuries of Problem-Solving presents both the evolving history of theological education & training for ordained ministry and challenges our assumptions for the future. All in all it is a fascinating subject and reflects the creative chaos currently taking place in the church’s theological training and higher education. Together we are struggling for a new way of thinking and understanding. We are learning together. At the United Board meeting, one of the presenters challenged us with a concise way of thinking. She asked us to reflect on the following:
  1. The What?                Comprised of what the data (information and metrics) tell us along with the antidotal stories (what we call the narrative).
  2. The So What?           Which asks the question “what does this mean?” and requires interpretation.
  3. The Now What?       Which challenges us to engage in strategic thinking, planning and deep level application, and mapping out next steps.
As I reflected on this way of thinking, the obvious parallels for local churches and conferences in strategic planning flooded across my mind. There can be little doubt that we are engaged in a trying and exciting time of learning together. Mike Ford, our Conference Lay Leader, has impressed again upon me an old lesson I need to constantly be relearning. Rarely will a church’s future be fully engaged for the Kingdom of God without both lay leaders and clergy leaders learning together! Two other divergent pieces of learning have also clamored for my recent attention. I have reported before that the South Central Bishops Conclave has recently re-read The Spider and the Starfish. The book challenges overly hierarchal organizations and especially organizations that our bound up by rules (think the UMC Book of Discipline). I noted for elements for my special attention; four points of application or emphasis:
  • Ideology -->  culture --> theology rules!
  • Decentralizes as much as possible; think Hybrid (both connected and flexible; avoid either or thinking)
  • Network is a new form of the Community
  • The Power of Chaos --> we must risk experimentation in learning together
The other piece of learning that I have recently run through my thinking comes from Chip and Dan Health’s book Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. I contend the book is less about being decisive and more about “how to make better choices.” The four key lessons have helped guide me in our recent Cabinet Inventory Retreat: 1. Widen your options 2. Reality test your assumptions 3. Attain distance before deciding 4. Prepare to be wrong. There is much to learn together, and part of the excitement and great adventure of these challenging times lies in learning together!