Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Riffing on spam, seminary, off-site education, and the future

This is a sort of spin-off from my post today at Pyro about seminary education.

Commenter Charles Whisnant was first up with this, in part:
I am sure you would agree, learning the Bible and learning theology and learning Greek does not necessary make one ready to pastor a church. Just ask me.
Of course I agree, and it sparked some thoughts.

Have you ever noticed how spam seems to come in cycles, or waves? My Yahoo! email has a spam filter that catches most spam (and some legit emails, so I don't let it be automatic). For awhile, I'll get a flood of spam offering helpfully to enhance some physical aspect of my person that the spammers assume is unsatisfactory. Or a wave will offer to get me a "date," or show me pictures. Then there is the flow of "Dear one" letters from wealthy widows in Kenya, or whatever. I love the "Colon cleanse" letters, that offer to help me lose weight by blowing everything right out of my intestines, overnight. Yeah, that should do 'er. What a fun night that would be, eh?

Recently there has been a wave of "Become a psychologist online" and "Become a nurse online" spam. That makes me chuckle. I envision someone in counseling getting some really stupid advice, or looking up from his hospital bed at this person in white looking at a bottle with complete bafflement, and asking, "Er -- where did you get your degree, again?"

And of course what's sadder (and scarier) is the thought that evidently there are dim bulbs out there who will get these emails and exclaim, "Margie! Lookiethere! I can get that doctorate what I always wanted!"

So surely it's only a matter of time before I get "Become a pastor online" spam.

Except you and I know already that you can "buy" any degree you want. And I'm of two minds on that.

First, of course you can't really get pastoral training online, if that's all you get. Read my Pyro post; I won't repeat it all.

But second, I think established seminaries/institutions are properly having to deal with the fact that distance education is a real trend, and a good one — within limitations. the cost of moving, travel, and all that is placing on-campus education out of the reach of good men who just aren't rich. But with today's technology, there is no good reason why a lot of work can't be done offsite, with on-site supplementation.

Seminaries need to be ramping up for this, and figuring out how to get credible proctoring and all to prevent cheating and ensure that the actual work is done.

But that can only check the academic boxes. That is, in itself, valuable. However, there simply is no substitute for in-person apprenticeship.

So perhaps what a savvy seminary would do is partner with local-church pastors. They would contract with such pastors to do a certain range of on-the-job training, perhaps even channeling some of the tuition to that pastor. Get periodic progress reports. Make that part of the overall curriculum.

HSAT, I close with this:
Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future. You are interested in the unknown... the mysterious. The unexplainable. That is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing to you, the full story of what happened on that fateful day. We are bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony, of the miserable souls, who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, the places. My friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent. My friend, can your heart stand the shocking facts of grave robbers from outer space?
But, I digress.


Mark Patton said...


As a young shepherd, I have minimal language studies. I have been increasingly burdened (not using the burden word lightly) that my church will not grow through expository preaching as much as they could unless I remedy this through self study. What are your "have to haves" in self study to help really learn Hebrew and Greek? What are your suggestions to help my sermon prep while I am in the midst of growing towards greater knowledge in these languages? I know you are busy and don't expect a reply, although, you would be my best buddy if you did.

mikepettengill said...

Hey Dan:

I love the idea of distance learning, always have. And, I have no problem with someone getting an academic masters or doctorate via distance. Knowledge is good. I do have to say that I would not be a big fan of a Preacher and/or Teacher within the church being “qualified” to fill the pulpit via distance education. Something about learning to work with people when no people are around doesn’t sit well with me. Being a preacherpastorelderleader in a church means you must get dirty and work with those messy humans.

You can learn to exegete and go through Scripture by reading a book. But, the whole personal contact thing needs…well…personal contact.

DJP said...

Good points. Except "exegete" is not a verb, no matter how many people use it that way. But good points.


Staci at Writing and Living said...

Good thoughts. Our church has done it both ways. We've hired men with the degree from the outside, and we've hired men from the body who are gifted for the pastoral position that needs filled. Some have worked out, some have not, but we seem to have a slightly better track record someone from the body has stepped in.

David S said...


I would like to hear what you think about TNARS.net.

It's a Free Seminary that works with Local Churches.

I came across it about a month ago.

jmb said...

"This man's been murdered. And one thing's for sure. Somebody's responsible." (BTW, "Glen or Glenda" makes "Plan 9" look like a masterpiece.)

DJP said...

One of the ALL-TIME GREAT film lines.

Charles E. Whisnant said...


(I thought I had left this comment last night)

I grew up in a independent Baptist church, where my father pastored. He had a ministry to minister to pastors and those who had been knocked out by pastoring churches.

I grew up seeing a pastor train men for ministry. Then my dad passed away and I went to seminary. I had some good training as a fundamentalist but little training learning how to be a pastor like my dad.

There is no substitute for on hands apprenticeship: pastor to student.

Having all the knowledge of the Word does not qualify a man for ministry in a local church. But having the knowledge, then wisdom, of ministry of a local church is a must.

How one receives that wisdom, is the question at hand.

One should never go into the pastorate without first having been trained by a seasoned pastor who knows ministry. Seminary starts in the local church and them moves to a Seminary. Or even some good off campus education training.

I see a blog coming over at my blog.

Thanks Dan. You are a seasoned preacher I am sure you will do great. Its those who have just received the called to preach that I have concerned with.