I recently came across one of those annoying tweets on Twitter where someone who had never really taken the time to go to seminary was simply degrading it as if it really didn’t matter. What’s worse is that this person was in the ministry himself and still felt the same way about seminary. This got me thinking and I wanted to post a few of my own personal thoughts on where seminary ought to rank in the life and ministry of a pastor.
Doctors go through three years of medical school and five to seven years of residency after that in order to become a doctor. Lawyers go through three years of law school in order to become an attroney. In both cases, these are done after they have earned their college degree. Why do you pastor’s get a pass on seminary when it is an even more important job then those two professions? There was day when the theologians of the church were not relegated to colleges and seminaries as they are today. The theologians of our country and world were found in the pulpits serving as pastors. For some reason, the idea of a pastor being a theologian has become almost extinct and it is shown by the direction that our churches have taken and the shallow preaching that is found inside the average church. It is my contention that if a man is called to the ministry (and by that I mean vocational ministry as a pastor or missionary) then he is called to prepare for that ministry as well. This preparation ought to extend past only undergraduate work. Seminary is crucial.
I remember when I was debating seminary after finishing my bachelor degree as a thirty year old father of three. I was burned out from my bachelors, had no money, and was desperate to find a full-time ministry position. In my heart of hearts, I felt I needed to get further training and discipline but I had no idea how I was going to do any more than I had already done. I was expressing my feelings to a seminary professor over email. He asked me a simple question, “Ben, in the ministry, do you want to be a regular deckhand or do you want to be a Navy SEAL?” He said the difference between those that are average in their preaching, teaching, and ministry and those that are above average is seminary. This conversation struck a chord with me and I began to pay attention to preaching that I heard. I began to see a marked difference between those that had gone on for further training in seminary and those that had not. What was the difference? It wasn’t in the delivery or clarity as much as it was in the substance. The seminary graduates preached deeper and knew how to dig into a text and pull out the meat of a passage. It was then and there that I determined that I wanted to be that kind of a pastor. Not for my glory but for the sake of the people to whom I was ministering. This was the way they needed to be fed. This is what they needed to hear regularly from their pastor.
There are some out there that would argue that they don’t need the piece of paper that seminary provides (i.e. a degree). But, you have remember that seminary isn’t about a piece of paper. It is all about knowledge and preparation. Preparation is as much about practical ministry experience as it is about the classroom, so I agree fully that one needs to be active in ministry while in seminary. I don’t think anyone would ever say focus only on the classroom. Practical knowledge is good but relying on self study alone while getting that practical experience is dangerous in my opinion. The only way for Elders to do what Peter commanded them to do in I Peter 5 is to make sure that you have the tools to teach correctly. Seminary provides those tools in giving you the knowledge as to why you believe a certain way and by providing you the knowledge of to how find out what you believe through proper research and study.
Pastors must remember the task for which they will give an account….shepherding and feeding of the flock of God:
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly (1Peter 5:1-2 ESV)
Pastors will give an account of their ministry to God and that includes every word spoken from that sacred desk, the pulpit (Hebrews 13:17). I would much rather be well trained and prepared to preach accurately than to have to stand before my God ashamed that I failed in the task to which he called me. That changed my view of seminary and I hope it does yours.