As I read this NYTimes article - Divinity Schools Take On the Challenge of Keeping Students on a Path to the Pulpit -, I realized that the transitions that I'm seeing in churches have not yet reach the point where a major transition in the nature of the pastorate has begun to emerge.
I can't really tell you want will come in the role and experience of being a pastor. However, i do know that one of the things that needs to happen is a great deal more clarity about the boundaries that form the role pastors play in the church.
I think the principal issue is the inability to state with certainty precisely what the pastor's role is and isn't . As a result, the role is measured by the expectations that each member has, rather than some more objective criteria.
Part of the dilemma is that what often happens is that the pastor ends up take responsibility for work that members should be doing, yet don't because it is easier to just pass it off on to the pastor.
For example, every pastor position comes with the expectation of visitation. Precisely what does this mean? Who should be visited? How often should they be visited? And what should be done when a visit is made?
What is missing is the responsibility of elders and members to care for one another. If this role is being fulfilled, then it changes the social context of the church. If the responsibility is fully on the pastor's shoulders, then the social environment is built around one individual. That is not a healthy arrangement. The core problem with this is that their a complicity of silence between those who desire to be visited and those who ignore the responsibility. As a result, it gets dumped on the pastor.
The options for men and women who earn ministerial degrees have grown. Being a parish minister is not the most easy nor attractive ministerial calling.
From my perspective, the training for parish ministry needs to broaden out from the traditional course work and field work. Merely tweaking the curriculum won't do it. It requires broadening exposure to fields outside of the traditional biblical, theological and ecclesiastical intellectual box.
Two areas that I can see are training in organizational development and transformation and instruction in social networking and word-of-mouth marketing. Developing the first requires the church to more clearly understand the similarities and differences between traditional businesses and the church. Developing the second is the recognition that the focal point of church is shifting from the Sunday morning worship service to the social formation of the church as a collaborative community of servant leaders.
What this means for pastoral ministry is a shift from a pastor-centric to a member-servant centric church life. This means that part of what pastors need to learn through their seminary training are the skills that enable members to take responsibility for the full life of the church. The pastor serves as an enabler of growth and development rather than the measure of it. It is this that I have always seen in Paul's description of the church in Ephesians 4.
So, if seminaries are having a difficult time recruiting people to parish ministry, then we need to ask the question about whether the way we function as an institutional church makes sense. I know there are changes happening. I see them and want to encourage their spread. But one church changing here or there isn't sufficient. Ultimately, this change will have to be reflected both in the seminary and in the governing bodies that validate a person's call to ministry.