Things aren’t the same for everyone. Things aren’t the same everywhere. Somehow, this is part of the “postmodern” condition.
I’m spiritually in touch with how things aren’t well for many in the church. Many congregations I work with really struggle. I serve a few congregations in which their youngest member is in their 50’s. One or two, their youngest is in their 60’s and 70’s. These are usually wonderful loving people who secretly struggle with feeling absolutely abandoned by their children, grand-children, even God, church, or society. Deep down, they often wonder what happened to their beloved church.
Other congregations I work with are surviving the 21st century. But they, too, struggle. They struggle with cohesion in their congregations. They struggle with clarity in their faith. They struggle with getting outside their walls, feeling deeply spiritually fed, and engaging in mission.
There is hope.
I’m deeply committed to theological education. For me, it is not an issue of relevance or professional development. Theological education is a matter of discipleship. It’s a matter of spiritual discipline. It’s a pro-life stance toward the religious life: pro-life-of-the-mind, pro-life-within-the-wellspring-of-our-hearts, and pro-relationship-with-Christ as a way of life.
Spending time with God in prayer and study:
- Brings one closer to oneself by taking refuge from the world
- Brings one closer to community by entering into regular communion with another’s thoughts, reflections, and testimony. When we study the scriptures, in particular, it brings us into communion with both the living and the dead.
- Brings one closer to God by drawing nigh to the Spirit that meets us in solitude & study.
But, in our world, economic and personal demands creep in and literally suffocate the Spirit’s breath in our lives. It steals away this way to God from us. Powerful spirits of achievement, false-promises, even our own personal quest for meaning leads us into the fury of an undisciplined life – a life without rhythm. A life where time somehow gets out of sync with God & solitude, communion & meaning.
For this reason and others, seminaries are struggling. Many of them are having to drastically rethink theological education to meet the needs of busy lives. They are having to adjust to an economy that renders theological study unnecessary in people’s lives…at best, a luxury. Seminaries have to adjust to this disposition with new students, who struggle with the spiritual, emotional, and mental adjustments of learning a discipline. All this is straining what was once standard approaches for long-standing institutions. The economic world is forcing another spiritual adjustment.
There is Hope.
Amidst these challenges, the future isn’t clear….for churches or seminaries I love. But, there is hope. Real hope.
It’s hard, sometimes, to see the opportunities that lurk amidst the challenges. It’s even easy to lose sight of the eternal source of the church. It’s easy to lose touch with the Spirit that truely funds the spiritual discipline of theology and theological education.
There’s speculation that the prophetic words of Isaiah 61, which Jesus claims as his mission in Luke 4:16-20, were spoken in complete ruin. Israel had fallen to the Assyrians generations before, Judah to the Babylonians. The Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. The learned, the wealthy, and the strong, had been sent into exile. All that remained were the poor, the indigent, and undesireable. It was amidst this crisis that the prophet Isaiah proclaims his vision of the Messiah.
“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news…”
Through Isaiah and Luke, I remember that Christian faith is a messianic faith. It is faith in the one who comes. In such faith, hope springs eternal.