data from the Fact2000 study
Education for religious leaders provides a unique challenge. Higher education, and particularly seminary Master’s and post-Master’s education, seems to have a noticeable effect on the style of sermon presentation. The references such pastors use in their sermon are more likely to be drawn from literature and news events. At the same time, seminary graduates are more likely to engage in ecumenical worship and community social ministries.
However, broad educational experience in the congregation, and perhaps even seminary education, seems to have a negative impact on many basic religious values.
Churches served by seminary graduates are less likely to maintain traditional religious-moral values and also are less likely to be committed
to preserving denominational heritage.
Further, clergy with a seminary education are no more likely than other clergy to be in congregations that have a strong social justice orientation and are very much less likely to be in congregations that deal openly with conflict and disagreement.
Seminary graduates are more likely to serve congregations with implicit rather than clear values and are no more likely (and if anything slightly less likely) than non-seminary graduates to be located in congregations that are:
- Vital and alive
- Growing in members
- Well organized
- Using contemporary worship
- Clear about purpose and mission
To appropriately understand these responses, we must recognize that they have been most frequently provided by the pivotal, paid religious leader — in many cases the clergy themselves.
It is possible that seminary graduates have used different standards than non-seminary graduates throughout these and other responses in the survey.
Or it may be the congregation’s structure or denominational culture rather than the leader’s education that makes for the differences. More and careful study is needed.
But the fact remains that, according to the survey, congregations with leaders who have a seminary education are, as a group, far more likely to report that in their congregations they perceive less clarity of purpose; more and different kinds of conflict; less person-to-person communication; less confidence in the future and more threat from changes in worship.
In the denominations most directly affected and most directly responsible for theological education, these findings would suggest the need for a careful review of the educational process of leadership preparation.