Do seminaries teach practical ministry?

In seminary much of the coursework, depending on where you go, is geared toward making you an effective preacher, evangelist or scholar. You can’t get out without studying original languages (except at Yale Divinity School, which was why I went there!), systematic theology, preaching, church history and so on. But are schools that train ministers effectively training them for practical areas of ministry, such as pastoral care and counseling?

I use the term “practical” here as a way to distinguish between the more typical idea of ministry from the pulpit from the ministry that happens outside of it, such as chaplaincy and counseling.

Is there a gulf between ministry and counseling? Are they seen as not incompatible but effectively separate fields?

I’m interested to find out people’s experiences in terms of their training in and for the more practical parts of ministry that they had in seminary. At YDS for example, CPE was an option but not necessarily a requirement. There were a smattering of courses offered in the areas of pastoral care and counseling, but again these weren’t a requirement and the classes were rather small.

So what were your experiences? Please comment below and keep the conversation going…

2 thoughts on “Do seminaries teach practical ministry?

  1. I just completed a Masters in Practical Theology at Oral Roberts University Graduate School of Theology and Missions. This was a modular degree. Eighty percent of the courses were in person, on campus, for a week at a time, class work for 14 weeks before and after on campus,and the rest were online. We did an Internship as well as received credit for CPE already completed or could complete during the program. The classes were practical – Pastoral Counseling, Internship in a church and secular setting, Practical Theology in Ministry, and Spiritual Formation and Discipleship. Also took Church History, Systematic Theology, and a basic survey of Old and New Testament and an Intro to Preaching Class. Main difference was practical ministry and did not include the languages.

    I am a Hospice Chaplain myself and did not feel that I needed the languages as much as I needed the practical and counseling classes. I finished my degree (MAPT) in three years. I met folks from all over the world both in person and online discussion groups. I loved the modular because I wanted the Faculty and student interaction. I entered Seminary at age 50 and it was a fantastic experience.

    My CPE took place at the only level one trauma center in the State of Oklahoma. I was trained at the Children’s Hospital and Trauma Center. Six hours transferred in toward my degree. Once again, the training was practical. I was exposed to all faiths and we discussed other faiths as well. That’s the fun part of Hospice work. I get to meet all kinds of folks with all kinds of beliefs.

    An MDiv is a great degree but not always the best fit for Chaplaincy. My thoughts for what they are worth.

    Chaplain Becky Johnson

  2. Just found your blog (link from George Handzo) and I’m digging it.

    I’m a Buddhist and went to Naropa University specifically because the degree program there promised to be ‘Engaged Buddhism’ more than academic. The program is what now is their three yr. MDiv, but it was a two yr. Rel. Studies degree back when I went. I could brag on it at length, but we did indeed study counseling and other pastoral skills.

    What I found most surprising though, when I began my first CPE group was the difference in interfaith training.

    At Naropa we had several courses on translating/contrasting Buddhist beliefs with western psychology as well as other faith systems (e.g. a whole course on Contemplative Christianity) and during our CPE internship, we had a weekly 3 hour symposium on how to understand our faith within the CPE experience.

    Now obviously as a minority religion, this was pretty essential but I’m constantly surprised at the culture shock our poor seminarians experience when they first encounter a non majority patient or, heaven forbid, a Buddhist!

    Not to derail your discussion, but I’d love to hear what others received as seminary training specifically for the interfaith side of the job.


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