The gathering of the Presbyterian Seminary Support Network Friday afternoon (Aug. 2) focused on quality of ministry, not mere mechanics of practice.

“In some ecclesiastical circles it has become common today to say that seminary education is unnecessary for the practice of ministry,” Michael Jinkins, president of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (LPTS) told the gathering at the seminary. Then he surprised the group by saying, “Well, I am here today to tell you that seminary education is unnecessary.”

“It is unnecessary to be biblically and theologically educated in order to carry out the basic ministerial functions. Rudimentary training is sufficient for most folks to get the right end of the baby wet, or to pour juice and serve crackers while saying the right words. “

That’s not the right question, Jinkins said. Rather, it is, “What quality of ministry best serves the gospel? And how do we best prepare persons for that quality of ministry?”

Calling our time an “axial moment,” Jinkins said, “There have been few moments in Christianity’s history when more was at stake than at this moment. There have been few moments in Christianity’s history when we needed more a thinking faith, a theologically reflective faith, a generous and critical, imaginative and deeply engaged faith.”

He cited Karl Jaspers in comparing the current era to the axial moment from 800 to 200 B.C.E. when Confucius and Buddha, Heraclitus and Plato, Zarathustrian thought and the Hebrew prophecy emerged on the scene. “This was a time of terror, an age of radical questioning, when settled orthodoxies were subjected to fresh examination and the basic ends of human existence were renegotiated.”

“We must argue convincingly today for an educated ministry if we care about the quality of preaching and worship of God, the quality of pastoral care and counseling, the quality of Christian teaching and nurture, the quality of mission and service and evangelism,” he said.

The Presbyterian Seminary Support Network is composed of representatives from every synod and presbytery in the PC(USA). They come together to learn about  the denomination’s 10 seminaries, then go out to the presbyteries and churches to convey their importance and raise money for the Theological Education Fund (TEF). The TEF is the only way the denomination supports the seminaries financially and it depends on contributions from congregations.

Big Tent, Aug. 1-3, is a celebration of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission and ministry organized around the theme “Putting God’s First Things First.” It’s composed of 10 national Presbyterian conferences, more than 160 workshops and special events to mark the 30th anniversary of the formation of the PC(USA) and the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Presbyterian Center here.