January 25, 2016—I recently received a surprise call from a former professor of mine. He was gracious and kind to call me to congratulate me on the new job. A former dean himself, I accepted his condolences, as well. It was one of those tender conversations of a teacher expressing gratification (if not relief) for a former student’s success. And it was an opportunity for a former student to express gratitude to a mentor and teacher who opened up future possibilities. Those are tender moments, and they happen too infrequently.
At one point in our conversation my former teacher, long retired now, asked, “So, what are seminarians like these days?”
Tellingly, my first response was, “They’re very young.” But that’s probably more about me than about them. I was happy to report that I was most hopeful in my experience with our seminarians. I find them to be optimistic, eager learners (if not always as academically disciplined or consistently scholarly as we would want), and very much committed to their Christian calling. They struggle appropriately with the Church as it exists today, critical of her shortcomings but committed to her mission and to her welfare. As a matter of course they shed their naiveté about churches while growing in their commitment to serve the Church in its varied forms, including, amazingly, congregations. And while at times they may voice suspicion and frustrations about religious institutionalism they are not hesitant to commit time, energy and talent to those causes, movements, and churches they perceive as authentic and relevant.
While they remain products of their generational epoch they nevertheless show an amazing capacity to appreciate Tradition (that with a capital “T”). Often they show a capacity to shed faddish and uninformed practices and beliefs as they grow in discernment. Many are in a twilight period between protracted adolescence and a foreshadowing of their maturity. In this they reveal a delightful playfulness in their approach to both studies and ministry. One can only hope they never lose that.
I think there is much to hope in today’s seminarians. I think they will accomplish amazing things in the Church emergent—in whatever manifestations it will take. Partly, perhaps, because they do not yet know their limitations. Thanks be to God for that.
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning and Director of Online Education at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.
His books on Christian education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and A Christian Educator’s Book of Lists (S&H), and Theories of Learning for Christian Educators and Theological Faculty.