I think that working for a sausage factory would be a lot like working for the church. There are some things you’re just better off not seeing behind the scenes.
One thing that I have been very disappointed to learn in the three years that I have been with the Foundation is the state of stewardship education in United Methodist seminaries. About a month ago I was part of a conversation with some of United Methodism’s best minds in stewardship. I assure you I just listened. I learned that there is currently not a single course in stewardship taught at any of the United Methodist seminaries in this country. Not one.
Is it any surprise that pastors are not comfortable talking about money? Or that a minority of our churches have an intentional stewardship campaign every year?
In conversation with some retired pastors it seems that seminaries see themselves as academic programs, not professional programs. They believe that it is more important to teach ancient greek than it is to talk about money.
I was also interested to learn that at seminary you don’t learn how to officiate at a wedding or funeral. You kind of have to feel your way through those things.
I must say that I appreciate the work of the seminaries and their work. But it seems to me that this approach would be like failing to teach MBA candidates anything about finance or surgeons how to wield a scalpel.
When you look at the current state of the church we need to insist that our seminaries spend more time in “vocational training” mode if we are to turn around the denomination. A strong foundation around stewardship (both spiritual and practical applications) evangelism, marketing, human resources and leadership must all be part of preparing pastors to truly lead churches in the future.
A generation ago graduate study in general was limited largely to those who taught at the advanced level or wanted to explore areas for their own satisfaction. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, the number of MBAs awarded each year grew 310 percent between 1975 and 2000.
Should we abandon the academic understanding of theology and ask our ministers to earn MBAs instead? Absolutely not. But our churches must learn the lesson that other employers figured out years ago, that if your leaders are not equipped to lead and manage, results will be disappointing.
At the East Ohio Foundation we are focused on improving the clergy leadership in our Conference. Next year we will spend nearly $20,000 teaching stewardship. And our Firebrand scholarship program will support a high-capacity leader in his theological studies.
If the direction of the church is to change, we must change the way our leaders are trained.