Seminary. Let’s get one thing straight about seminary and I: I was a horrible student. I completed one of year of seminary and at the end of that year it became very clear to me that I wasn’t really cut out for it. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the people or the location, it’s that I really felt I wasn’t being prepared for the work ahead.
I was recently reminded of my seminary days when I read an article from Justin Wise about how seminaries and Bible colleges are missing out on training pastors for an online world. I think Justin nailed it.
However, I want to get a little more specific about what training pastors are missing in seminary. I want to focus on two areas that I don’t think seminaries or pastors have really thought about that they’ll be facing in the future. It’s not that I don’t think that seminaries aren’t capable of training in these areas, it’s that I don’t think they know how because to a lot of seminaries the online word is so new.
My plea here is for seminaries to embrace the online world and start preparing pastors for the world that is out that there now and the world that will exist and become more advanced in the future. Here are two immediate issues that I think seminaries should be training pastors in:
1. How to Deal with Online Sins
First, let me be clear, when I say “online sins” I’m not referring to porn or other online elicit activity; there are plenty of books and websites dedicated to those subjects. What I’m referring to here are the moments in our lives that have been captured and put online.
For example, let’s say you partied a lot in college. Now of course, you wanted to share those experiences with everyone (i.e. you posted photos of the parties on Facebook).
While you’re in college, you really don’t think a whole about the photos, however at a later point you come to know Christ and you’ve become a completely new person. However, the catch is that your past is now online for everyone to see (i.e. photos on Facebook).
You see, it’s one thing to tell people their past is forgiven when the only person who can recall that past is the person being forgiven. It’s a different situation when the person who’s been forgiven has their sinful past on display for the world to see.
Sure, in the past pastors may have dealt with people who past is on display in the form of tattoos (I’m not saying tattoos are evil), broken marriages or addictions, but a digital past is different especially since it can be discovered by using Google.
So here’s the challenge for seminaries: how do you help somebody work through their digital past and help them understand they’re a new creation in Christ? How do you help new Christians deal with people who confront them with their digital past?
2. How to Deal with Online Grieving
A few years ago, we had a student pass away in our church. While the grieving process is never an easy one, we noticed something different with this death. When we went to the student’s Facebook page months after his death, we saw that students were still posting on his Facebook wall as if he was still alive.
The messages on the Facebook wall were ones like, “Missed you today!” “Hung out with Brad and we we’re laughing about what you did at the last football game.”. Harmless messages from his friends that seemed almost like the student was still alive and could read them.
When most of us have experienced a death of a close loved one, we’ve typically had some sort of small recognition for that person. It could be a gravestone or maybe a photo on the fireplace mantle. This is usually accompanied by an annual visit to the graveside or maybe a moment of silence during the holidays.
However, when we grieve online we grieve in an interactive way. One in which we contribute and collaborate with others (i.e. posting on a Facebook wall). I’m not sure how we’re affected; I just know that this is a new kind of grieving that I don’t think we’ve seen before.
The challenge for seminaries is to train pastors on how to deal with online grieving. How do you deal with websites or social networks that let people interact with the deceased? How do you give people a sense of finality or peace in the grieving process when reminders of that deceased are only a click away?
I believe that both of the issues above stem from this fact, we were designed by God to forget. Yes, we want to remember the big things (our salvation experience, getting married, kids being born etc…), but we don’t remember every time we’ve sinned or made a mistake.
We’re quickly moving into a world that won’t let us forget the past. How do we remind people and communicate to people that we serve a God who does? That is the challenge for seminaries.