top of page

What has changed in Theological Education?

Updated: Jun 12

My experiences in Theological Education started with my Dad. He completed his Bachelor of Divinity (Now a Master of Divinity) at Drew Theological School when I was an infant. He served a two-point charge in Rockland County, NY, while in Seminary as a commuter student. As a teenager, I watched him complete his Master's in Sacred Theology degree at Drew and publish his thesis, “Angles, Angels, Angels,” a topic assigned to him by the acting Dean … a retired Bishop. Dad went to Drew because he was a Methodist, and Drew was the Methodist Seminary. He went to Seminary right after college (and marriage), as was the common practice. 

My experiences in Theological Education continued when I completed my Master in Divinity at Drew. I was following in my father’s footsteps. I went to Drew because I was a Methodist, and Drew was the Methodist Seminary. I went to Seminary right after college (and marriage), but it was no longer the common practice. I also had an appointment at a church and was a commuter student. The Dean at the time told the student body that Drew students should not serve student appointments. Needless to say, I was confused … should I listen to my Bishop or my Dean? I realized that the church and the seminary were drifting apart.

Years later, I returned to Drew as the Director of Institutional Advancement. I soon had a second responsibility as the Director of Admissions. 

When I visited churches as the Director of Institutional Advancement, I learned that few young people were thinking about Seminary. I challenged these churches to support a student with a scholarship instead of sending a student. The development staff did not understand why it was essential to visit churches on Sundays. They were focused on the giving of alumni/ae of the University. I understood that the Theological School alumni/ae were not the potential donors; the church members were the potential donors. I realized that the University did not understand the church, and as a result, the church and the seminary were drifting apart.

When I worked with prospective students as the Director of Admissions, I learned that they were mostly second-career students who needed to find a seminary closest to them, regardless of denomination. As a result, the Association of Theological Schools stressed that the seminary's role was Graduate Theological Education, and the denomination's role was training on how to minister in that denomination. The United Methodist Church responded by revising its ordination processes and extending the probationary period. After completing the MDiv degree, new ministers entered a more extended probationary period, including training in ministry in their denomination. I realized that the church and the seminary were drifting apart.

What else was happening?

Denominational financial support waned over the last 50 years, followed by declining denominational influence over seminaries. Board seats that denominational appointees had traditionally filled were reallocated to influential donors. At the same time, the Faculty gained an increased share of institutional governance. This resulted in the Faculty now managing the recruitment and interview process for new Faculty. Faculty generally sought new faculty that ‘fit’ within their world/theological view, resulting in a sharp narrowing of theological perspectives in many seminaries.

What does this mean?

New theological education notions (understanding and mission) need to be developed.

Northwind Theological Seminary is one of the institutions developing new approaches (ways to implement a notion) to theological education.

Our Notion (understanding and mission)

Northwind Theological Seminary is an ecumenical, online seminary serving many denominations. Biblically-based with theological roots in the Wesleyan tradition, we have a strong emphasis on Contextual Ministry, Spiritual Formation, and Discipleship.

Our Approach (ways to implement our notion)

Offering accessible, affordable, quality, online theological education to local pastors, bi-vocational & and second-career clergy, and lifelong learners for faithful and creative ministry in the NeXtChurch — "A New Re-formation" & "The new thing" God is doing in the world" (Isa. 43:19)

To learn more about “the new thing” that is happening at Northwind, visit:

This current Blog series will include:

  • BIG TENT approach

  • New Approaches to Theological Education 

  • Guided Education & CBTE approach

  • Articulation Agreement and Contextualization Partnership approaches

Stay tuned … we have a lot to share …


Rev. Dr. Robert J. Duncan, Jr.

Founder & President of Northwind Consortia

Academic | Institute | Seminary | Press

Professor of Leadership & Specialized Ministry

13 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All

1 Comment

The blogs are illuminating Rob. Concise and comprehensive at the same time. I find the intricacies of the joined thoughts fascinating. Tied together, they show a lot of time just thinking.

If this was 3 years ago I'd go back and read them, repeatedly. I may anyway :). I know I need to do so.

Thanks so much.


bottom of page