Seminary of the Future

Beberapa hari lalu, seorang direktur eksekutif Fuller Theological Seminary memperkenalkan saya kepada sebuah proyek “Seminary of the Future“, sebuah percakapan yang bertujuan mendefinisikan bagaimana seminari-seminari harus beradaptasi dan seminari macam apa yang dibutuhkan dunia masa mendatang. Ia mengundang saya untuk membawa perspektif Timur ke dalam percakapan itu. Saya berupaya memberikan tanggapan yang saya tuliskan di bawah ini. Namun, perspektif saya sangatlah terbatas dan tentu mengandung bias-bias pribadi. Jika Anda hendak melengkapi dan berpartisipasi, silakan bergabung. Anda bisa menuliskan komentar Anda setelah membaca tanggapan saya di bawah tentang seminari macam apa yang kita butuhkan di Indonesia.

Some Notes on My Perspective
I’m writing from the perspective of a seminary graduate layperson. I took an M.Div. program for 3 years upon completing my first level university degrees. Until now I’ve been working for 9 years as a Christian educator, but never as a cleric. My involvement in church settings are as volunteer and preacher. Many of the observations made below are based on my encounters and interactions related to my profession during these years, not on some scientific research.

The Larger Indonesian Landscape
In my context in Jakarta, it is a rare case finding someone enroll oneself to a seminary. I have several friends who has seminary degrees, but most of them get M.Div. as their first seminary degree. The case is quite different in eastern Indonesia where there are Christian enclaves: in such cities, theology is the default major for many high school graduates. Both the bright students and the lazy ones who only need a bachelor’s certificate to get a decent job would enroll to theology program. One major university whose professor I met with last year told me that more than half of his student body is made of theology students. “Will they be preachers after graduation?” I asked him. Is astonishment he looked at me and said, “Well, of course no!” as though it’s a crystal clear fact. He then told the story that many of these theology graduates would eventually work as civil servants or any job that would pay them a decent salary – they (and their professors, apparently) don’t have a clear sense of vocation.

One information states that there are more than 500 seminaries in Indonesia – a lot of them are of slum quality, housed in sweatshops and held just to make sure some people would get their needed certificate, giving out degree certificates after a mere 3 months of study. The Eastern Indonesia context and the sweatshop context provide a larger background when we speak merely of “seminaries” in Indonesia. Apart from these two groups of seminaries, though, there are also a number of very respected seminaries here.

The Clerics’ Intellectual Capacity
Due to those factors above, there has been an impression that many – though not all – people who enroll to seminaries are those whose grades are so poor they don’t get accepted at other majors. “Being a pastor, you’ll have your income from offerings anyway, and churches don’t go bankrupt,” I have heard some people (and parents enrolling their children to seminaries!) saying. In some instances, I have also met scores of pastors with “bachelor or theology” degrees who, despite their sincere desire to serve the Lord in churches, plead me in my sessions to show them what the Greek and Hebrew alphabets look like; apparently for some reasons they don’t have access to any good seminary.

During those times I thought it would be nice if Internet access be made available to them and education channels such as iTunes U be provided for them. Some issues immediately arise then: they barely have any English skills, so such programs must be delivered in Indonesian. Worse still, I found out that for many of them, even daily news is a luxury. For many pastors in rural areas, the only reliable source of information they have is radio. Even newspapers would arrive 2-3 days late, priced at 3x the price tag due to the availability of transportation mode to reach them. And these pastors, often they’re the most educated person in their congregation. So, you can have a picture of how their congregation live.

What Kind of Seminary Education Do We Need?
Now one on hand we have numerous seminary students studying in large university settings who don’t have a single sense of calling, while on the other hand there are scores of pastors serving in communities so poor even reliable newspaper deliveries are denied from them. In efforts to answer the needs arising from these latter condition, there have been seminaries built in rural areas with curricula combining roughly 50% theology and 50% community development skills which may translate either to farming or agricultural skills, depending on the geographical context. By these curricula, there have been growing hope that pastors would really be agents of change for the communities they serve – promoting well-being both to the soul and to the body.

The immediate concerns may have been answered, but I believe this changing world necessitates that these pastors be equipped to answer the future as well, navigating change from within the communities they serve. The answer to this concern is what we need to figure out. How can they be professionally developed over time? How can they have access to spiritual support and renewal even for themselves?

The Unflat Parts of the World
Friedman’s “The World Is Flat” rings true for the affluent and the middle class, but it rings hollow to those at the lower end of social-economic status (SES) spectrum. I have witnessed with dread how unflat niches of our society have been unflattened to extreme steepness even the rest are getting flattened. In education science, there’s a learning skills disproportionate growth phenomenon called “the matthew effect”, referring to Matt. 25:29, “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” For the pastors who will serve low SES societies in Indonesia, I think it’s of the utmost importance that apart from the theological contents, they be educated to empower their congregation with life skills so as to increase their congregation’s life standard. Then, for the pastors themselves, they also need to master English and basic computer/Internet skills. It may sound very simple, but many pastors – even those living and serving in large cities – are exempt from the richness of resources available several clicks away because they don’t understand English and they barely use computers apart from Microsoft Word to type their sermon.

For many rural Christian communities, their pastors are easily the most educated person among them, the only one with bachelor’s degree. But even with their bachelor’s, these pastors often don’t fare well in this information age. No wonder there’s little they can do to bring significant progress to the community they supposedly lead, since they don’t understand the powers working around them and they can’t grasp the vast richness of resources available through the Internet. The seminary of the future for them don’t need to be sophisticated. They may get overdosed. What they need is empowerment to step into the present first.


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