If churches need leaders who have an abundance of knowledge, solid character, and a developed and refined ministry skill set, what should seminaries do to help produce such leaders? Recognizing that seminaries often have little difficulty in the knowledge sector, here are a few suggestions to enhance their emphasis on character and skills:
(1) Seminary professors and administrators must promote, promote, promote the local church. A seminary is not a church, and good seminaries will always distinguish themselves from churches and thereby communicate to students the importance of being deeply invested in a local church. Seminaries must make it abundantly clear to students that pursuit of a seminary degree apart from active involvement in a local church is simply not an option.
(2) Professors must teach their students, not only through classroom lectures and assignments, but through their lives. The shaping of character often occurs through the building of relationships and the sharing of aspects of one’s life with others. Professors must seek to build relationships with students outside the classroom. Some of my favorite memories of my days as a student at Southern Seminary were the times I shared meals with professors, either at the cafeteria, at a local restaurant, or in their homes with their families. These moments, and others like them, can become formative experiences, and they speak to the continued need for personal presence in an age when digital distance has become far more common.
(3) Deans and professors must labor to ensure that classroom experiences are not merely focused on the transfer of information. As one with a number of years of experience teaching in various classroom settings, I realize how easy it is to slip into the mentality that my goal in any given lesson is simply to “cover the material.” But that is actually not the case. My goal is not to teach a particular content, it is to teach students, with the goal of forming them into leaders. If my lesson plan for a particular day does not seem able to achieve that goal very well, I should change it. Professors must transfer content from their minds to students’ minds, but that is not the end of education; it is only the beginning. Students must be trained to think deeply about that content, to view it from various angles, to integrate it with prior knowledge, to apply it to various situations, to deduce its implications, to employ it in leading people to know and love God. In other words, educators must aim, not for the shallow knowledge of rote memorization, but the deep knowledge of integration, synthesis, and application, in their students.