Tweets v. Tweaks: Financing Seminary Education (Part III)

By LeAnn Snow Flesher 8-18-2014
Sergey Nivens /
Sergey Nivens /

Editor's Note: This is the final piece in a three-part series on Financing Seminary Education. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here

“The higher education industry is facing a multi-pronged and existential threat composed of successive waves of disruptive innovation” (Butler, “Tottering Ivory Towers,” American Interest (Sept/Oct). It seems higher education, including seminary education, is going the way of the music and media industries! Our 2,000-year-old business model of “sage on stage” could be truly doomed. The appearance of “massive open online courses” (MOOCs) over the past few years has thrown many higher education institutions for a loop, and more innovations are on the way.

In response to these new innovations higher-ed institutions, including seminaries, have tweaked their business models with a few technological modifications such as PowerPoint, email, electronic research, and online courses. But, will it be enough? Butler says “no” and so do the trends. The reality is graduates of today’s higher-ed institutions are not evidencing the competencies expected and/or hoped for by their future employers. Consequently, accreditation standards, at an all-time high in complexity, are now beginning to be challenged. Simultaneously, tuitions are costly, the economy is tough, and the job market is even tougher. The end result is that students are graduating with large amounts of student loan debt and potential students are opting out of the education market.

We began the 21st century with denominations and churches that no longer fit the needs of a shifting society, a Congress that votes against the poor and the middle class, and seminaries that face multi-pronged threats to their existence. It’s time for an overhaul!

No amount of tweaking will get us out of this set of circumstances. Hierarchies, structures, and business plans must be deconstructed at every level. We all need to start thinking outside the box — and I mean waaaaay outside the box.

In former generations the church was in the lead when it came to significant moments of societal change, e.g., the civil rights movement. Let’s do it again! It’s time for a revolution (non-violent of course).

Pastors, denominational leaders, under-employed seminary grads, active laity, Nones, seminary professors, and administrators: let’s get moving! Let’s organize a viable movement that challenges Congress to work for the people, i.e., to work for our most important family values: life-sustaining incomes and affordable education.

According to the “social gospel” the church is called to “love God and neighbor,” not capitalism and free markets. Capitalism and Democracy are systems to be used by the people for the people. They are not gods or religions (cf., No Rising Tide by Rieger) to be worshiped. Let’s get our heads out of the capitalistic-free market sand and back into our neighborhoods.

The political elite have turned the ship toward oligarchic rule and the result has been disastrous. It’s time to exercise our democratic muscles and turn the ship back toward the people. No more tweaks, no more patches, no more Band-Aids. Time for the church to become relevant to society once again as she tweets her way into a non-violent revolution; the rest will follow.

LeAnn Snow Flesher, PhD, is Academic Dean/CAO and Professor of Old Testament at the American Baptist Seminary of the West at the Graduate Theological union in Berkley, Calif.

Image: Sergey Nivens /

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