The Future of Ministry, according to a Seminary President

As society and technology careen toward an uncertain future, what does the future hold for Christian ministry? I sat down with Dr. Randy Roberts, president of Western Seminary, for his insights on the next generation of pastors, how technology shapes ministry, and why his seminary is equipping its students with Logos Bible Software.

What are the biggest challenges that face the next generation of pastors? What can ministry leaders, seminaries, and churches do to serve and equip them?

I believe the greatest challenge will be doing God’s work in God’s way in an increasingly inhospitable environment. Because the ways of God tend to be both counter-intuitive and counter-cultural (illustrated well in Paul’s epistles to the Corinthians), it will require both discernment and courage to be the kind of shepherds he desires for his Church. At the heart of preparing people for this kind of role will be restoring their confidence in the uniquely transforming power of the gospel and enhancing their competence in applying its themes to all of life.

Pastoral training must also symmetrically balance the head, hands, and heart dimensions of formation, while recognizing that classroom learning can only address a portion of that task; field-based, contextualized learning under a small constellation of mentors will become increasingly important. We should also help leaders recognize that the Church can still flourish in challenging environments, as both historical and global perspectives amply illustrate.

How have you seen technology change ministry and biblical studies over the course of your career?

I am answering this from the perspective of someone who started seminary without having even a typewriter and whose first computer was a Kaypro! Beyond its obvious impact on tasks like word processing, technology today makes education from experts more widely accessible (only a mouse click or two away for most people). It also allows for more thorough and sophisticated research, as you can search through specialized databases (or similar resources) in mere seconds. Adaptive learning is also facilitated, as students can more freely customize the pace of their learning (as opposed to trying to keep up with others in a classroom) and exercise more control over its content as well, choosing both what they want to learn and when they want to learn it.

While “just in time”/self-directed learning can be attractive and helpful, a thoughtful curriculum that covers all of the traditional theological and ministry disciplines (and which requires interacting with a diversity of perspectives) is often lacking in those who pursue a “DIY” education. Seminaries still provide that balanced course of study, along with reputable recognition/credentialing of what has actually been learned. So theological schools can still have an important role to play today, but they need to incorporate wisely the tools of technology and make them a servant, but not a master (nor an adversary).

What led you to provide copies of Logos Bible Software to students at Western Seminary?

The catalyst was the benefits that I have personally experienced from using Logos. I had a personal hard copy library of over 30,000 volumes (yes, including a few volumes on the danger of being a biblioholic!) I futilely tried to catalog manually in the old Baker’s Textual and Topical Index System what might be otherwise hidden nuggets in my library so I could find them later. Being able to replace that cumbersome process with electronic searches in Logos, along with using many other features found in the software, convinced me that current and future seminarians would greatly benefit from its use as well (both during and after their time at seminary).

So we decided to become a partner with Faithlife to make carefully chosen Logos base packages available to our students at an attractive price. (By the way, I am now converting many of my print books to Logos titles, and currently over half of my library is digital. I only wish I could have started with electronic titles in the first place! Our students can start early in their own resource accumulation, however, which is another reason we offer them Logos base packages.)

How do digital tools like Logos help pastors fulfill their ministry goals?

Logos has put together an impressive (and expanding) set of resources into an integrated ecosystem that allows a pastor move from message prep to actual sermon delivery in a way that is optimized for both efficiency and effectiveness. Since time pressures are a source of stress for many pastors, and bring with them a temptation to take short-cuts that compromise the careful Bible study needed to be a faithful shepherd who provides the flock with a genuinely nutritious diet, tools that can save time while actually enhancing the quality of one’s study and preaching are very helpful. Digital tools are much more portable as well, so pastors need not be in their studies to be able to access information that might be needed quickly while out in the field.

What would you say to a pastor or ministry leader who is intimidated by Bible software’s learning curve?

Be patient, and recognize you only need to know a couple of simple commands to start profiting from what Logos can do. Furthermore, like the Bible itself, mastery will increase as you persevere in learning something new on a regular basis and put that knowledge to use so it becomes second-nature. I would also encourage people to recognize that they are probably already putting in significant effort to learn complex video games, smart phones, etc. so they can experience deepened benefits—if they just directed that same mindset and intentionality towards the progressive learning of Logos, that in turn would lead to even greater spiritual benefits. I would also encourage them to check out the various training resources available to help flatten that learning curve; I have found those to be well worth the investment (including those done from representatives of a different theological tradition).

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Comments

  1. Donald Randolph, M.Div. says:

    While my first computer was an Osborne 1, I am in agreement with Dr. Roberts that we are no longer in an environment where the relaxed environment of printed text resources will allow us to advance, or even keep up in the world of ministry. As excruciating as it is to shoulder the conversion to digital financially (I crossed the $15K mark last year), if there were a way to determine just how much time and effort it has saved me, I am relatively sure it would be a wash. The only caveat I would add is to choose resources wisely as each additional one will do two things 1) increase the index time (on average my library takes over an hour) and 2) increases the number of times you will receive the message “New updates are available”.