Playing Hookey from School
Under the intriguing title, "Clergy Play Hookey From School," Howard R. Kunkle, in the October (1937) Journal of the American Lutheran Conference, discusses the professional side of the ministry. He charges that with the better general education of the laity, as well as of the learned professions, ministers have failed to keep their rightful and necessary lead. He declares that trained minds in the other professions are, because of this, depreciating the intellectual leadership of the ministry. Unpalatable as this may be, it is nevertheless a fact—not excluding our own ranks. And we preachers have only ourselves to blame for it. It is not enough merely to say that the ministry is underrated because the world is growing more worldly and the devil more rampant. So asserts this writer, and we agree with him.
The cause of the general depreciating attitude toward ministerial leadership is not hard to find. Take, for example, the three learned professions of teaching, medicine, and the ministry. Trained, competent men in medicine or education must, to receive a doctorate, have two to four years of intensive training beyond the standard college graduation requirement. Other denominations often require a three-year theological seminary course for their ministry beyond the college degree, which is neither required nor offered in our movement. Moreover, the teacher and the doctor must continually improve by systematic supplementary study. On this point, Doctor Kunkle says:
"In one Middle Western State, teachers of all primary and secondary schools must take six weeks of study every three years at some accredited college or university. This must be done, or one loses his license. Since teaching is one of the three greatest professions, this is a good rule. Modern teaching does not allow its teacher to play hookey from school. Medicine, another one of the three great professions, is more lax, but what about the clergy?"
He then contrasts a typical group of 15o ministers from one large denomination which uniformly requires the three-year theological seminary course beyond the college equivalent. Note carefully these words:
"We have official figures for one section of a large Protestant body. The clergy in this section are above the average in academic training, and just average in their personalities. This section has 750 active men on its clerical roster-46 of them were ordained 25 or more years ago, 89 others 15 or more years ago. This is 735 who have been in the ministry 15 or more years. Of these, how many have done systematic study during these years? I mean at some accredited institution—or some seminary? Some of them have done so; more have not. In one general body, national in scope, there are 3,100 active clergymen. This same body conducts ten seminaries in various parts of the United States and Canada. Of this number, 45 were doing graduate study from a seminary by correspondence, and 126 were doing graduate study in residence in the same year. This compares badly with the teaching profession."
The writer then observes that the initial preacher training in that denomination is very high—higher than for the teaching profession —and suggests that that is perhaps why the clergy often feels that further training is unnecesary. But even so, he contends, it reflects upon clerical leadership. The doctor then discusses the means available to the ministry to keep abreast with an advancing world. He notes three:
"There are magazines, but few read them. There is also systematic study in one's own home. But only the unusual man does that, and most men are not unusual. Some seminaries offer graduate courses that can be taken by men living within a reasonable radius, and some offer correspondence courses. These are good, but few avail themselves of them."
Now what do we offer denominationally? First, we have, of course, the monthly magazine Ministry, provided for the betterment of all gospel workers. Secondly, we have our annual Ministerial Reading Course that has steadily grown in favor and registration. But even so, not yet half of our workers follow the Reading Course. And this half, interestingly and significantly enough, includes the most enterprising and competent men in our ranks—busy executives, Bible instructors and other teachers, evangelists, pastors, departmental secretaries, and Bible workers, as well as some physicians, nurses, and lay evangelists. But sad to record, many who most need help—those who have ceased to grow, and who are becoming a problem to committees, with respect to where they can fit in—often fail to enroll.
Thirdly, we have, in addition, occasional conventions, ministerial institutes, and conferences. But they come too infrequently, and are too brief and superficial to supply the need for serious advanced ministerial study. Their chief function is to unify and inspire. And we also have one field school of evangelism, but it is local and confined chiefly to field observation and participation.
Then fourthly, we have our Theological Seminary with both summer and winter quarters, offering excellent courses under well-qualified teachers. This is an indispensable potentiality. As yet, comparatively few avail themselves of its marked advantages. We are not yet seminary-conscious. We have not yet awakened, as a ministry and as a leadership throughout our conferences, to the imperative necessity of continual improvement by systematic study. And by that we mean not simply reading, but real study—supervised, intensive, taxing study—in order to retain our rightful lead as a ministry; to command the respect of other professional groups in our midst, as well as of the church and the world at large; and to serve our God and His cause to the greatest advantage.
A noble beginning has been made, and greater things are in store. Strong courses are being given in Bible, Church History, Near Eastern Antiquity, and Biblical languages. The knowledge obtained in these content courses is of the utmost importance to God's messengers. Such a background will save us from the imbalance and extremism which often afflict the superficially trained.
The seminary also offers practical courses in methods,—Homiletics, Speech, Bible Teaching, and Research. We rejoice to see that provision has been made for a course in evangelistic methods this coming summer. Such courses obviously have practical and immediate values. We believe the field will heartily respond to strong, comprehensive courses in evangelism, pastoral methods, and Bible work, —major classes and intensive, full-rounded study, taught by the most experienced and successful workers obtainable in these fields. Let these be added speedily.
Doctor Kunkle offers this sound counsel as to methods in advanced study for preachers:
"Churches cannot dictate to the clergy about study as the state does to its teachers. But should the clergy need such dictation? The churches could strongly urge and recommend systematic study along proper lines. If this were done, the seminaries of the church would have to provide an adequate and up-to-date curriculum for graduate study ; and this is not impossible. The acquiring of academic degrees should not be the end in view ; degrees are not the measure of efficiency or worth.
"Instead of degrees, the motive of graduate study should be to keep from becoming stodgy, provincial, and self-satisfied. The clergy are prone to think themselves very highly trained and exceedingly overworked—not to mention underpaid."
As to the cost, what he says applies equally to us:
"A ready objection raised would be that the pastor cannot afford such study. But most denominational seminaries give tuition free. Going away from home for six weeks every several years would not cost the pastor any more than it costs the teacher."
Surely with the liberal provisions recommended by the recent Autumn Council,—continuation of salary, transportation to and from the seminary, no matriculation fee, and free tuition,—every progressive preacher ought to be able to attend the seminary for at least one term or quarter. Some extra expenses? —Yes, but let the ambitious minister begin to lay aside some money for such self-improvement. It will be worth everything. Doctor Kunkle's concluding statement should keep ringing in our ears:
"Clergymen ought to be authorities in their fields. Whatever the reason, it seems that the clergy are playing hookey from school, once they receive a parochial assignment. What a pity, when the world needs so badly the keenest leadership of consecrated Christian men."
L. E. F.