Read Part 1.
A seminary’s practical theology department addresses how the academic categories affect church ministry. Students need instruction in preaching, counseling, personal evangelism, and pastoral practice. Philosophical and practical ministry questions regarding missions, youth, senior citizens, music, and a whole host of other areas in church life receive attention.
Because the seminary classrooms do not come equipped with baptisteries, communion equipment, potential counselees, or unsaved people who need to hear the gospel, most seminaries expect and require their students to pursue internships with their local church where real life ministry takes place. While students in seminary receive helpful instruction about practical issues, no amount of teaching can replace the actual doing. Seminaries know this, and they pursue partnerships with local churches to help their students fill in the gap between the theoretical and the actual in ministry.
Besides the benefit of learning significant aspects of biblical, theological, and practical ministry knowledge from trained experts in these fields and in addition to developing skill for the doing of ministry in a local church, students who attend graduate school receive the intangible benefit of maturity. The typical student enters seminary at the age of 23; most would consider someone in this age category as a novice (and therefore unqualified for pastoral ministry, 1 Tim 3:6). The seminary experience provides many opportunities for the development of character and maturity. Issues related to the wise use of time and money, the practice of leadership, the art of learning how to think critically while encountering ideas contrary to one’s own, and the ability to accept critique from professors and fellow students all help to develop growth.
Knowledge, practical experience, and maturity constitute the skills aspect of seminary training, but aspiring pastors also need to advance and grow in their personal relationship with God. The popular catch phrase for this educational component is “spiritual formation.” I refer to it as heart training.
Pastors do not typically fail in ministry because they cannot parse a Hebrew verb or because they cannot remember the date Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenberg church door. Rather, they disqualify themselves because they do not heed Solomon’s exhortation in Proverbs 4:23—“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Disobedience to this command results in all varieties of sin, the deceptive nature of which gradually draws its victims into an iron vice that squeezes any resistance away.
While no seminary can guarantee the spiritual formation every Christian desires to see in life, students receive ample opportunity for heart level confrontation and development. Daily chapels provide a constant feeding on God’s Word as students and faculty attend to the faithful exhortation of the Bible. Small groups meet regularly throughout the semester as faculty members seek to develop vital personal relationships with the men in their particular group. Meeting times include seasons of prayer for each other, accountability interaction (e.g. “What sin struggle are you facing right now?”), questions and answers regarding ministry issues, Scripture reading, and other types of practices designed to enhance spiritual sensitivities. Social events such as picnics and banquets not only encourage the involvement of spouses and families in the student’s overall educational experience but they also provide another environment where meaningful conversation and mutual encouragement develop.
If you, the reader, believe that I am an advocate of seminary training for pastoral ministry, you have perceived correctly; if I have persuaded you of its value, then I have gained my objective. The Master of Divinity degree provides a necessary component for the preparation of Christian leaders in today’s ministry environment. However, I do not want to discredit or deny the validity of effective pastoral ministries carried out by non-seminary trained men. In God’s grace some men either have served or are currently serving in churches across America without the benefit of an MDiv They have proven to be fast learners in the school of practical ministry experience; they have demonstrated great acumen in the art of self-instruction. I thank God for pastors like these, and for five years I served as an assistant pastor with one of these men (note: he entered the ministry in 1951). But given the opportunities available for aspiring pastors today, I strongly recommend seminary for the skill development and heart training necessary for effective pastoral ministry.
In God’s kind providence he has situated Central Baptist Theological Seminary in the backyard of Eden Baptist Church. This has afforded EBC significant opportunity to partner with the seminary in fulfilling Paul’s exhortation to train up the next generation of pastoral leaders (2 Tim 2:1–2). What an opportunity and what a stewardship!
May God thrust out more individuals into the ripe harvest fields of the world, and may he continue to use seminaries like Central in partnership with churches like EBC as useful tools in their preparation.
Jonathan Pratt is Associate Pastor at Eden Baptist Church as well as Professor of NT and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Minneapolis). He holds the PhD from Dallas Theological Seminary. He lives with his wife and children in the Minneapolis area.