Sunday, March 7, 2010

Med School and Seminary

I've recently confessed to you, my dear reader, that I've taken to watching Scrubs, a medical sitcom that used to air on NBC.  There's currently a spin-off like version on ABC, but it's kind of like AfterMASH without the chemistry.  Or that season of the A-Team when they were actually working for the government.  However, the original has become one of my current favorite shows.

As I'm one of the bigger nerds I know, when I start learning a little about something, I'm often curious about learning more.  When we were in a Boston Legal habit, I read up on law firms and law school.  Now that we're on the medical side, I thought I'd learn a little about medical school. 

I've long known that medical school and seminary are somewhat similar it terms of the academic structures.  They are both graduate professional schools, both take much more than the 30 hours a typical MA takes, and are highly specialized in their teaching.  Medical school is actually the only graduate program that I can find that takes more academic hours to finish than an M.Div. from seminary takes.

The real difference, though, isn't the academic load.  It's not even the academic work.  (Sure, organic chemistry is hard.  Want to swap for some Aramaic or maybe family counseling?  To each their own.)  The biggest difference is that a medical school degree is practically worthless without a substantial amount of supervised work in the field.

It's not the med school that really weeds out people that shouldn't be doctors.  It's the internships, the residency time, the having to actually be glared at by another doctor while you practice the various basics of medical work.  We don't often do that with ministers.  Some denominations may encourage that, but we Baptists have no structure for anything of the sort. 

For example, I started my first pastorate with no supervision or outside accountability.  All that could have happened was the church could come together and fire me if they wanted, but things had to get bad before they would do that.  Meanwhile, I'm honing my skills as a pastor, and the church is what's being scraped to get there.  Even though I had worked in various staff ministry roles, none of them carried an intentional effort to prepare for a different role.  Partly because it's hard to be a good youth minister for a church if you're really only there to fill a resume block or if it's intended just as a temporary spot until you can move up.  Or at least we assume it is.

Another aspect of difference, at least from what I can tell of reading about teaching hospitals and medical school systems is that you are highly unlikely to go through the system without having to teach someone below your skill level.  Specialists train general practitioners, who in turn train residents who train interns, and even interns show med students a thing or two.  (Meanwhile, nurses know everything, but that's another story.)

In other words, you don't go long before you have to communicate the lessons you're learning to someone else.  Still under supervision, still under evaluation, and still learning more and more as you go.  But you have to get started training those who will come after you, to both cement the lessons in your head and to insure the perpetuation of the knowledge.

Yet we have this tendency in Baptist ministry to hunker down by ourselves.  First of all, you can get through seminary without having to teach anyone anything.  In fact, you've got to be either well-connected or exceptional to even have the opportunity to teach anything in seminary.  Second, you can actually enter ministry with no education or practical training for it.  Finally, you can cut off your learning any time you want to. 

Should you? No.  Do I want outsiders controlling our churches?  No.

I can't help feeling there's got to be a better way, even for us independent minded Baptists.  It seems that we have either too much pride or too little confidence to adopt a system that used internships and residencies in most Baptist life.  Maybe it's both.  We're too proud to think we need to keep learning, and too scared that our congregations will like the intern better than us.

I know the medical system isn't perfect.  I know that there are gaps in the learning process.  After all, my own doctor did part of residency at the Med in Memphis.  I doubt that he learned everything about small-town private practice while working at the Med, although I'm highly confident in his trauma skills after that.  I know we can't create "Teaching Churches" without being very cautious.

I do think that one thing we need, though, is to find a way to model and teach one another better than we do.  The reason we in the Southern Baptist Convention need a Great Commission Resurgence is partly because we church leaders spend too much time being on guard against each other, and too many church resources go into reinventing the same wheel the church down the street made.  We have too many young pastors that falter over lessons they could easily have been taught by an experienced pastor.  Except that neither pastor's church wanted him to "waste his time and their money" sitting down together talking about such things.

Ministry has to become about expanding God's church, even if we have to swallow some pride and spend some time on it. 


If you're curious why I'm just now watching a show that debuted in 2001, it's this: we've just recently canceled our cable TV, and now have just hi-speed internet.  So, we watch stuff that's on DVD.  We'd watch the things that Netflix streams, but I think our local internet provider blocks Netflix's IP address to try and force you to pay for cable.  Anyway, prior to this past 18 month stint with cable, if it didn't come in with an antenna, we didn't watch it, and NBC never came in clearly, so we never watched Scrubs.  Caught an episode on Comedy Central one night, and now we're hooked.

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