Hack Seminary?

In an article at Fast Company, Alice Truong reveals the Truth About Hack Schools, those for-profit coding camps that, for $10,000 or so offer an intensive immersion in programming for 8 -12 weeks with the promise of financial success (a high paying job). Those making it through the grueling process are often (but very unevenly) rewarded with a tech job, often depending on all sorts of other factors (such as previous experience, salary expectation, willingness to move, etc).

As I thought of ministry training – do we, who teach in seminaries, bible colleges, or in leadership training offer the equivalent? For 8-10 weeks and $10,000, could someone get going in ministry — at least enough to get started in a church or start a faith community on their own? What would a seminary need to teach for those ten weeks? More daunting yet– with the coders, 10% of their education focuses on theory and 90% on practice. In higher education, we often do the reverse, 90% theory and 10% practice, and that might be generous on the practice side — in reality, we often don’t even hit the 10%.

Some initial thoughts — the practitioners would need to be competent in the core practices of worship, community life and mission (my seminary just re-oriented their four master’s degrees around these competencies for 2014-2015). To be sure, these graduates would need to be disciples — those whose lives have been shaped by these practices. But that is just the beginning — they would need to lead others in these three practices as well, so competencies in leadership would need to be in the mix. The graduate would need to be able to thrive in any environment — be it the startup — i.e. church plant, or in an existing organization, creating renewal and new activities for growth. In either case, the ability to practice and lead in these arenas would need to be the base from which to build. We would need, as a seminary, to flip how we do things, so that the theory is embodied in practice (getting closer to the 10/90 pattern of the tech world).

Beyond theĀ  complex issues of creating a flexible, intensive educational experience, more daunting still is the financing. These tech students were willing to plunk down $10,000 because they might have a $100,000 job waiting for them on the other side. Not such an easy proposition in the gift economy of the church. Coders are in short supply and so demand a good salary in a growing part of the economy. In contrast, churches are in decline and those with three years of training (and $50,000 of student debt or more) struggle to find jobs, let alone those with ten weeks of training.

The world of technology and the world of the church seem to have nothing in common. But that is the problem. The technological revolution is very much a spiritual revolution. It comes with its own ways of worship, forming community life, and engagement with the world. It satisfies a hunger that is deep in the heart of our culture. It makes money because what is offered satisfies, to a certain extent, and people spend willingly for that experience.

The next revolution of the church will need to thrive in technological culture. The training of our future leaders must not only use technology for teaching, but it must teach these students to be techno-spiritual masters — those who embody and teach others to thrive in a technological culture. These students must be trained to practice, think, and lead in theological and technological ways. Just as with any culture, the church in tech culture will prophetically critique some aspects of culture while embracing God’s fingerprints in other aspects.

Might it be possible that if churches express a compelling way of life within technological culture that its financial woes may begin to dissipate as well? Might seminaries then be ideal resource centers for the raising up of the spiritual-technological leaders of 2020 and beyond?


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