This Horse Is Very Much Dead, But Let’s Keep Beating It Anyway


It happened again. It didn’t surprise me, honestly.

I was scrolling social media the other day and came across someone insisting that residential seminary education forms people for ministry much more effectively than hybrid or online programs.

On the one hand, I understand this. These opinions always seem to come from clergy who had deeply meaningful experiences while living and physically participating in their theological school’s community. Come to think of it, I’ve yet to read such an opinion from someone who doesn’t mention their own seminary experience as part of their argument.

And yet, people are still holding fast to these opinions in the Year of our Lord 2023, in which we are still dealing with the effects of a pandemic. That includes ongoing concerns about healthy contact and mitigating the spread of a serious disease, as well as everything we’ve discovered about the possibilities of technology for greater inclusivity.

After all we’ve experienced since March 2020, I don’t understand how some still want to insist that in-person ways of being the church—including ministry formation—is the only true way.

Evangelical traditions have been ahead of the methodical curve for decades: use of technology, worship innovation, multimedia…and mainliners’ response was to scoff and insist our way was superior and never innovate. They explored new musical forms, we insisted the organ was going to remain the standard. They had talking vegetables tell Bible stories, we kept printing thick verbose lesson books. They experimented with the internet, we kept sending out print newsletters and mailers.

Sure, pockets of the mainline started exploring over time, but my experience was that most preferred the old tried and true ways and the answer to decline was to keep running the same tricks harder.

Then COVID happened and we had no choice. Suddenly technology, worship innovation, and multimedia was all we had. Non-mainline churches likely found it easier to pivot because they’d already been making use of these forms. We needed to climb the learning curve and pray.

And what happened? Our circles expanded. The physically limited, the immunocompromised, those who work on Sunday mornings, LGBTQ folks with no safe options they could travel to now could all worship and participate thanks to online options including live-streaming and recordings on YouTube.

But now that we’re back to in-person capability? That apparently means that we’re also back to the old arguments like the one I’ve mentioned.

Ministry institutions of all kinds were catapulted into the 21st century and had to do some incredible, experimental ministry. Now’s not the time to go backwards. It never will be that time. Put down the stick, the horse is dead.

Onward into the future of the church. Jesus is calling.

One thought on “This Horse Is Very Much Dead, But Let’s Keep Beating It Anyway

  1. It is easier to argue about the beauties of the past than it is to face the complexities of the present. I think that is the danger of institutions.


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