It is generally expected by conference executives that theological graduates from our colleges will have had a certain amount of field experience during their college work. Is this a reasonable expectation? Or should college training be entirely theoretical? If it is reasonable to expect candidates for the ministry to obtain evangelistic and pastoral experience during their four years in college, what plans should we adopt in order to make this field work as satisfactory as possible? If it is not reasonable to believe that the already overcrowded program of the average theological student can be arranged to include useful, practical training in ministerial activity, when and where should the ministerial aspirant obtain this vitally important part of his preparation for service?
The territory within a. reasonable radius of our senior colleges has been used year after year to provide laboratory facilities in practical homiletics. Naturally, such a procedure tends to produce an unfavorable attitude toward the truth on the part of the people who are practiced upon year after year by enthusiastic and eager, but inexperienced, prospective ministers.
Student evangelistic campaigns are usually not commenced until several weeks of the school year have elapsed. One, or possibly two, meetings are held each week, and it is difficult to present the entire message adequately before the school year closes. It is not always practical for the interest that has been aroused to be cared for after the end of the school year, and not only are opportunities for adding to the church membership lost, but there is the danger that people who have become partially acquainted with present truth will lose their interest and swell the numbers of those who are prejudiced against Seventh-day Adventists.
Some of our most experienced and successful evangelists would probably hesitate to embark upon a series of meetings in a town or a section of a city where the message had been partially presented repeatedly during the ten or fifteen years prior to a contemplated effort in that place. There is no need to enlarge upon this situation. Everyone connected with the Bible departments in our colleges is well aware of the difficulty of finding suitable territory for student evangelistic campaigns within a reasonable distance. We may well ask ourselves the question, Is it fair to call upon theological undergraduates to undertake responsibility that workers with many years of experience would hesitate to accept?
It is always possible to provide opportunities for the students to gain experience in literature distribution and house-to-house visitation, but even this form of practical training is handicapped by the attitude of people who have been invited to accept literature year after year by successive classes of theological students. A practical illustration of this situation was seen in the activities of a group of theological students at one of our senior colleges last year who engaged in systematic house-to-house literature distribution. All went well for the first week or two, and several openings were secured for Bible studies to be conducted in the homes. When the students made their second call to give studies, they were informed that the people did not wish them to call again, as they knew they were Adventists from the college. This was not an isolated occurrence. Two or three groups had the same experience, and to say the least, it is not encouraging for beginners.
Another phase of the problem is related to the student's overcrowded curriculum. It appears to be the generally accepted idea that theological students should be given a liberal arts training, plus professional preparation, in the regular four-year college course. Contact with and observations of the products of such a system leads to the conclusion that those who pass through it gain a smattering of knowledge concerning many widely separated fields and a thorough knowledge of none.
In addition to his struggle to meet the requirements of this twofold theoretical training, the average theological student finds himself obliged to engage in anywhere from ten to thirty-five hours of industrial labor a week in order to balance his financial budget. Being exceedingly anxious to avail himself of every opportunity to gain practical experience, the already overburdened student gladly accepts an assignment for field experience in evangelism and endeavors to adjust his program to make room for the several hours a week that he must spend in preparation for, and participation in, evangelistic activities. According to the instructions found in Counsels to Teachers, student programs should not be so arranged that there is no time for practical missionary activities.
"The teachers and students in our schools need the divine touch. God can do much more for them than He has done, because in the past His way has been restricted. If a missionary spirit is encouraged, even if it takes some hours from the program of regular study, much of heaven's blessing will be given, provided there is more faith and spiritual zeal, more of a realization of what God will do."—Counsels to Teachers, p. 546.
This instruction points directly to an adjustment of the study program to enable the student to find the necessary time for his practical field training. What, then, is the solution? Three practical plans suggest themselves to the writer:
1. Postpone field training until the student enters his ministerial internship. This plan would enable students to concentrate upon their theoretical studies during their days in college, without the anxiety of wondering whether they will be adequately prepared for the duties required of them when they enter the work. It would be recognized by conference administrators that part of the responsibility associated with the employment of ministerial interns would be the provision of opportunities to gain field experience under the tutelage of experienced ministers.
2. The theological course could be extended to permit the inclusion of field training. This procedure would lighten the student's load during his senior year, and also meet the desire on the part of the field for ministerial candidates to receive practical experience during their college course.
3. The third plan would call for the elimination of certain subjects from the present crowded curriculum in order to make way for field training.
Plan number one is that which commends itself as being the most satisfactory under present conditions. Students would be enabled to gain their initial contact with field work in areas that were not used as practice grounds by college students. It is to be hoped that serious consideration will be given to this very real problem and that a satisfactory solution will be arrived at in the not far distant future.