European Seminaries Finding New Ways to Train UM Pastors
The vast geographic distances in Russia, students who are already local pastors or have full-time jobs, coupled with the lack of full-time faculty at the Moscow Theological Seminary of the United Methodist Church have resulted in creative approaches to delivering theological education. Read more
Traditional residential seminary classes, intensive classes once a month, intensive weeklong classes, and the Methodist E-Academy are among the ways theological education and training of pastors for The United Methodist Church are being delivered in Europe.
Michael Nausner, officer for International Relations at Reutlingen School of Theology, said that theological educators participate not only in the Methodist connection, but in God’s own connectional work that goes beyond the boundaries of any church.
Educators gathered in Moscow learned about what is happening at Reutlingen, a traditional residential seminary, as well as different models of short, intensive classes being used at the Moscow Theological Seminary and the Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary. The conference on new trends in theological education held Oct. 2-4 also looked at the use of the Methodist E-Academy to deliver classes specific to the UMC.
Nausner said it seemed to him the approaches being used are “different but related ways to cater to an increasingly culturally diverse, geographically scattered, and socially differentiated constituency.” He said all three methods have electronically supported distance teaching with a certain amount of so-called “contact hours.”
The goal of the meeting was to consider new forms of theological education, said the Rev. Sergei Nikolaev, president of the Moscow Theological Seminary of The United Methodist Church.
The Moscow seminary, faced with great distances and students who are either already local pastors or have full-time jobs, has for two years used a modular curriculum in which students do their reading before they come to Moscow for one intensive week of classes and spiritual formation, then return home to complete term papers and other writing assignments.
Meeli Tankler, president of the Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary in Tallin, Estonia, talked about the experience of moving into a modular format of Thursday through Saturday classes with an extension program for international students who come to school twice a year for three weeks.
“I have come to the conclusion that in order to change the main model of educating people in the seminary, the whole paradigm about teaching and learning must somewhat change,” Tankler said. She offered four key concepts for that change:
- Thinking in terms of students acquiring their own knowledge rather than teachers passing on knowledge.
- Thinking consciously of facilitating learning by pointing out valuable resources, providing tools for evaluating different theological resources, and teaching problem-solving skills instead of offering ready-made solutions.
- Requiring students to read on different levels during different phases of the learning process.
- Using class discussions more willingly and wisely as tools for mutual reflection, and as means for internalization of the knowledge.
Both Nikolaev and Tankler said that spiritual formation continues to be a big area of concern when students are only meeting for brief, intensive periods of learning.
Tankler said even with an intentional focus on worship time and group fellowship, there is not enough time for students to experience and value both the worship and Christian fellowship as something crucial for their spiritual health and growth.
Bishop Hans Växby said students need faith, call, a home church experience, role models, basic knowledge in history, Bible, and theology. He said a seminary can offer a student knowledge, know-how and performance, professional formation, denominational insight, and ethos.
The church needs seminaries to provide well-equipped pastors and leaders, said Växby, who asked if modular education is an adequate answer to challenges such as the attractiveness of the role of the pastor.
The Rev. Rena Yocom, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s assistant general secretary of Ministry Discernment, Candidacy, and Theological Education, said it is clear that traditional seminary education does not meet the needs of the current culture in Eastern Europe. Even Reutlingen, a traditional residential seminary for The United Methodist Church in Germany, reports that it is changing its class schedule to accommodate new family and work commitments of students.
The Methodist E-Academy was also a response to the need for new ways to supplement the theological education of United Methodist students attending ecumenical seminaries.
Yocom said the most promising aspect of the conference was the willingness of the educators to work together to explore new models and to recognize the value of the work being done using a variety of methods.
And Bruce Birch, dean and professor of Biblical Theology at Wesley Theological Seminary who first brought up the modular format curriculum as a better model for the Moscow Theological Seminary, said the traditional model of study based on semesters and prerequisite and sequential classes originated with the assumptions of full time and residential study. That model, he said, is eroding in North America as well as Europe.
“The dirty little secret is that American seminaries and faculties have been moving into modular approaches in their own programs for years. Almost all Doctor of Ministry courses, summer school courses, and January term courses are taught in one week intensives—or at most two. Faculty adapt quite well in spite of complaints,” Birch said.
*Brown is associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.