What a heady idea!
Here are a few things I've been thinking.
I've been thinking that our current model of: go away to theological school-go away to internship-leave internship for a fresh start as a new minister just has to go. It's a model that only works for the young, unattached persons for whom it was created. It worked great for me but doesn't work for persons whose spouses have careers, it doesn't work for people with school-aged children. This pattern means that many interns leave their spouses and even their children for nine months of internship, a situation that, I submit, is contrary to our values and to our best interests. Developing what amounts to three different support systems in the span of 4-6 years is extremely stressful even for footloose and fancy free seminarians. All this moving adds hugely to the expense of an already expensive education.
We're already starting to develop things like Modified residence and distance-learning experiences for Seminary, and this is helpful to many students. I think we should also start to develop some training-in-place options such as doing an internship in one's home church and allowing interns to remain on the staff of the churches they intern in.
There are two crucial and difficult keys to success at these innovations. The first is that we have to find ways to help people grow into ministry among people who know them as lay persons or as interns. Our current theory is that if a congregation has known you as a lay person, they'll never really treat you like a minister, and, if the congregation suffered through your internship clumsiness, they'll never really respect you. You have to move away to leave your old role behind.
Well...I've recently had experience with helping an intern move into a staff position (with all requisite special permissions etc.) and....it had its tricky moments. (Also tricky; I've been an internship supervisor who became, with a break of only a few weeks, the colleague of my old intern. There's no doubt about it...it was a transition.) But 15 months later, I think I can say with confidence that that's done. The transition has been made. I think others could figure out how to do this. And I think that it is even more likely that a person could transition from lay leader to seminary student to intern within one congregation. (I know...one issue is getting more models of church in one's experience. But many seminarians already have that in their life experience and anyway you could get that experience with well-planned trips and short residencies, and most of all from listening to colleagues and fellow students.)
The other, probably more difficult issue of allowing "in-place" transitions into ministry is the issue of boundaries. Can the home church be real with the seminarian's weaknesses? Evaluate their "favorite son" accurately? (I gather that most internship supervisors and committees don't do that well already, so perhaps this is a difference that makes no difference.) Will churches which have enjoyed their interns and need a new staff person be honest with themselves about what they really need for that new position and do the painful work of saying "no" to an intern who wants to stay? Our experience as UU's with these kinds of issues is not that good. But we already make so many exceptions to these rules that "granting waivers" is a significant part of the MFC workload. Perhaps we could simply develop some new policy that would aim to reduce the moves a student was required to make from 3 or 4 to 2 or 3.