Lee Hinson-Hasty, coordinator for Theological Education and Seminary Relations for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), recently spoke with the Outlook’s Leslie Scanlon about trends he sees in theological education.
Oon the horizon: a possible change in accreditation standards for seminaries. The Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada will vote on proposed changes in degree program standards at its biennial meeting, set for June 20-22 in Minneapolis.
The accreditation commission, led by David Esterline, director of the Institute for Cross-Cultural Theological Education at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, is recommending a number of changes. Among them:
» Expanding options for distance education, that could include seminaries to offer a complete master of divinity program online.
» A strengthening of language involving learning outcomes based on the context for ministry. In other words, seminaries would be expected to help prepare students to work in a variety of contexts — recognizing that their ministry might vary significantly based on the particular context in which they are working.
“They are preparing students to do ministry and have public leadership in the cultural context in which they will find themselves,” Hinson-Hasty said. “That’s important — there’s not just one way.” And seminaries need to prepare people who “aren’t just scholars — they are leaders,” expected to demonstrate growth in spiritual depth, moral integrity and in their capacity to be public leaders.
The proposed standards would challenge seminaries to provide opportunities for students to develop a critical understanding of and creative engagement with those cultural realities — for working in multicultural settings, for example, or with families in an economically-challenged rural area or with a transient urban population.
Other trends that Hinson-Hasty sees:
» Finances. The prospect of repaying loans limits the kinds of calls students feel free to take. Overall, students rank the sources of education funding as, first, what the seminaries provide, second, government loans, third, what the students and spouses contribute through jobs and saving, fourth, parents’ contributions and — frightening to Hinson-Hasty — credit cards and, last, assistance from denominations. So the big question for Presbyterians is: how much are you willing to fund theological education, and why?
» Leadership. Hinson-Hasty hears what he calls a “chorus” of voices talking about the importance of developing “transformational leaders” — those who can adapt to ministry in a culture of change. He hears strains of that conversation in the priorities of the General Assembly Mission Council; in the report from the General Assembly Special Committee on the Nature of the Church in the 21st Century; in leadership initiatives of the Committee on Theological Education; in the PC(USA) initiative to start 1,001 new worshipping communities by 2020.
“We think transformational leadership really does matter,” Hinson-Hasty said. “We may be in one of the most complex times we’ve ever seen, and we need people who can think through those complexities.”
The pace of how information travels instantaneously requires spiritual leaders “who can think on their feet, preach on their feet, think theologically on their feet,” he said.
While “the chorus is rising” about the importance of transformational leadership, people are still searching for a common language to describe what they mean by those words, Hinson-Hasty said.
Needed qualities might include entrepreneurship, resiliency, commitment to spiritual growth and the ability to network, ask the right questions and integrate ideas.
Many students currently in seminary are “really ready to lead in some new ways,” Hinson-Hasty said. “… They’re not in this for the money. They are in this because they felt like they were called.”