How Important is a Seminary Education? Part 2

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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.

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.

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There are 16 Comments

abrandtbost's picture

I have to take issue with one aspect of the article as I believe it doesnt cover the importance of where the "Heart" originates. One can develop a "Heart for ministry" in an artificial way (based upon looking at the need for evangelism, discipleship, etc..). A heart for ministry originates with The Triune God himself. The Tri-unity of God is our example... but not just our example for we are In Christ and Christ is in us - on an individual and corporate basis. As a Body (The Church) is the physical representation of Christ. A Heart that originates with God himself is not formed in a vacuum. Dont you think that the Heart of God is better understood in an Organic setting such as the Church - Ekklesia - God's physical representation on earth? I have nothing against a Seminary Education, but all worthwhile knowledge originates from God and is best understood in the vessel He has ordained.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Seminary is not about initiating a heart for ministry. It's about growing it. As I understood it, the article assumed/reflected that. Men attending seminary must already be born again and the seminary phase definitely assumes it is working with someone who has already been taken about as far has his local church can take him.
Then, as the article also suggests, the seminary has to work with churches to take the learner further.

This is pretty hard to do though... all of the heart work is hard. You can't quantify it all like you can educational objectives and exams. But it's hard in churches, too.

Christopher Kirk's picture

Greetings,

In my 30 years of housechurch planting we have never needed paid professional ministers.
In fact I feel they hinder the priesthood of all believers. We have always raised up leaders from within our fellowships. I firmly believe in every member ministry. It is amazing what God can really do when we can just manage to stay out of His way.

Christopher Kirk

You can visit my blog @ http://notesfromthebridge.wordpress.com

Most would rather endure comfortable bondage, than experience uneasy freedom.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
In my 30 years of housechurch planting we have never needed paid professional ministers.
Interesting that Paul severely rebuked a church for not paying the ministers, and commanded at least two other church to make sure that they paid their ministers. Why do you think that is? What do you know that Paul did not?

abrandtbost's picture

Quote:
Interesting that Paul severely rebuked a church for not paying the ministers, and commanded at least two other church to make sure that they paid their ministers. Why do you think that is? What do you know that Paul did not?

I'm curious, where in scripture do you see this?

Christopher Kirk's picture

Larry,

I think you misread the scriptures. In fact Paul said that taking pay would "discredit the gospel"
and most of the time Paul was a tentmaker.

Most would rather endure comfortable bondage, than experience uneasy freedom.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
I'm curious, where in scripture do you see this?
2 Corinthians 9:1-14; 1 Tim 5:17; Gal 6:6.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
I think you misread the scriptures. In fact Paul said that taking pay would "discredit the gospel"
Not actually. In talking about this matter, he uses several different examples (oxen, soldiers, priests) all of whom are paid for doing their work as oxen, soldiers, and priests, and then connects it directly to pastors saying "Those who preach the gospel have a right to live of the gospel." I think it would be hard to be much clearer than 1 Corinthians 9, unless your contention is that pastors are not "those who preach the gospel." By appealing to oxen, soldiers, and priests, it is clear that he was not simply talking about only the apostles, because there is no corollary in those other illustrations. Paul was condemning the church at Corinth for not being willing to pay their spiritual teacher, even though he was not insisting on it. In 1 Tim 5:17 and Gal 6:6 he teaches that spiritual teachers are to be rewarded with physical means.

Quote:
and most of the time Paul was a tentmaker.
But not always; he did take contributions from the churches for his work, and as a tentmaker, he did so voluntarily so as not to be a burden. He makes it clear that not all are to do that, and in fact, that a church is to pay its pastor.

skjnoble's picture

@Larry: I completely agree with you, for what it's worth. Smile I understand I Tim. 5:17 (your mention above) to be very clear about compensation for pastors. The context is the qualifications for the church taking care of widows and then immediately after, without skipping a beat, Paul says elders are considered worthy of double honor, particularly those who labor hard at preaching and teaching. If godly widows are to be taken care of, then preaching elders are to be doubly taken care of/honored.

To Others: Also, IMO as just a laywoman in the church, I never seriously considered a seminary education to be of great importance. Do the people love God? Does the pastor desire to serve God? Is that evident in his preaching and teaching? Those were the markers we looked for whenever we searched for a church. That is... until we landed in our church where our pastor is a PhD. Honestly, at first I thought it was a little overkill. (Did I really say that out loud on this board?) Smile Now, being there for 7 years and running, it's invaluable. His razor sharp exegetical preaching is deep and rich.

Having been under pastors who do not have this kind of seminary training, we now see the difference--and it is huge. But it is just our experience and I would never want to infer that someone cannot be deeply rich in their ministry without a PhD. I believe Spurgeon was a less educated man, yes? I do want to say our adult church experience, at a few different churches (two churches had PhDs and two did not), has led our family to believe that whenever looking for a church, seek out one who's main preacher has done the hard toil in the Scriptures and I think a seminary education requires men to focus on it without a bunch of distractions. It shows in the preaching at our current church (and one other church we briefly attended).

Do I think there are a ton of PhDs out there with little "heart" for God? Yes. Do I think there are a ton of less educated men out there with a burning, God-given "heart" for Him? Yes. Do I strongly believe in trying to search for both, even if it is a longer drive? A resounding yes! Do I understand that is a luxury that few will possibly be able to find no matter how long the commute? Yes. (I hope I've covered all the possible bases.)

I guess my point is, in my experience, that a seminary education is not a requirement for a heart for God and to shepherd God's people. But it surely is a rich blessing in our short 12 1/2 years of going to church as a family, and it has completely altered our church criteria search, should we ever need one again (hopefully never again.)

Blessings, Kim Smile

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I usually say something like "Other things being equal, a seminary trained guy is far better than the alternative." But of course, in the real world, other things are often not equal.
So sometimes a seminary grad is lacking in other things that make "what he got in school" far less useful. And sometimes a non-seminary trained guy has unusual experience, character and spiritual vitality that significantly reduce the "training gap" in his case.

But I think J. Pratt's observations here ring true... that there is much about seminary that weeds out the immature and uncommitted. So even without my "other things being equal" qualification, a seminary grad is going to work out better than the alternative most of the time.

(But I'm pretty biased... I gave five years to seminary.)

abrandtbost's picture

I have a hard time with your interpretation of the passages you provided as "Proof Texts". 2 Corinthians 9:1-14; 1 Tim 5:17; Gal 6:6. I think you meant 1 Corinthians 9 instead of 2 Cor 9. Anyways, if Paul is speaking about himself in 1 Cor 9, how do you then globally apply this to all "Pastoral positions" as we see it now? Correct me if I am wrong, but I think in a practical sense Paul was never in a Pastoral role as he is considered first of all an "Apostle", and what we view today as the first "Missionary". As for 1 Tim 5:17 I interpret this verse in the greater context of 1 Timothy 5 as the thought flows from honoring Widows to honoring Elders then on to honoring Masters. Within this thought flow Paul first instructs Timothy on the proper way the Church Body should treat Church members. When he speaks about honoring and then moves on to "Elders" it is in this context where he says that Elders who rule well should be worthy of Double Honor - and this may or may not be in the form of monetary means.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

It seems like a strain to take the position that an apostle was entitled to pay but a bishop/elder/pastor wasn't.
And Gal 6.6 especially doesn't use language that can be easily limited to the apostolic office.

From my point of view, there's a stronger argument yet: there is no Scripture that says a congregation cannot hire a janitor or musician or teacher or accountant or pastor or anyone else.
So making a case that this is wrong is difficult from the start.

abrandtbost's picture

Aaron,

I agree with you on this fact.

Quote:
From my point of view, there's a stronger argument yet: there is no Scripture that says a congregation cannot hire a janitor or musician or teacher or accountant or pastor or anyone else

Point taken... it is just that I think we need to be careful of not inserting what we "think" the Bible says about a subject and then making that a policy for every situation and every time.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
I think you meant 1 Corinthians 9 instead of 2 Cor 9.
Yes.

Quote:
Anyways, if Paul is speaking about himself in 1 Cor 9, how do you then globally apply this to all "Pastoral positions" as we see it now?
Because (1) Paul uses illustrations from fields that have no "apostle" correlative. Soldiers, oxen, and priests do not have some sort of "super office," (2) he includes Barnabas who wasn't an apostle, and (3) because Paul is talking about "those who preach the gospel." So as I said, if your contention is that pastors don't preach the gospel, then you can dismiss this passage. Otherwise, I don't think you can.

Quote:
As for 1 Tim 5:17 I interpret this verse in the greater context of 1 Timothy 5 as the thought flows from honoring Widows to honoring Elders then on to honoring Masters. Within this thought flow Paul first instructs Timothy on the proper way the Church Body should treat Church members. When he speaks about honoring and then moves on to "Elders" it is in this context where he says that Elders who rule well should be worthy of Double Honor - and this may or may not be in the form of monetary means.
there is a strong argument for it.

RickyHorton's picture

Larry wrote:

Quote:
As for 1 Tim 5:17 I interpret this verse in the greater context of 1 Timothy 5 as the thought flows from honoring Widows to honoring Elders then on to honoring Masters. Within this thought flow Paul first instructs Timothy on the proper way the Church Body should treat Church members. When he speaks about honoring and then moves on to "Elders" it is in this context where he says that Elders who rule well should be worthy of Double Honor - and this may or may not be in the form of monetary means.
there is a strong argument for it.

And the strong argument for the monetary interpretation is confirmed in verse 18 of I Timothy 5. It says, "For the Scripture says, 'You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,' and, 'The laborer deserves his wages.'" (ESV). "For" links it to the prior verse. The reference to the muzzle was so the ox could bend down and eat so he could get sustenance to continue working. Even more clear is the laborer that deserves his wage. It is hard to twist that enough to make it mean honor (as in respect) instead of monetary wages. Scripture seems to be very clear on this point.

Ricky

Steve Newman's picture

Like Jon and others who have posted here, I put in my time (six years in my case) at seminary. I gained tools and perspective that would have rendered my service for the Lord as otherwise much more ineffective. The Lord brought me through a much more "non-traditional" path from a secular college background. I found that it was some of these tools as well as the challenge of education that had to be balanced with the rest of life, working part-to-full time, as well as church life, that was most shaping. In reality, life in a local church should be as much or more of a factor in some ways. These are the lay people you learn to love and serve with, as well as being a much-needed tie to "the real world" and its problems and challenges. Also, marriage and family have been much more of a shaper of ministry.
However, the tools of seminary do definitely raise your abilities and your standards for your own work and ministry. Because of this, we are challenged to do better in the work. The Lord has put me in bi-vocational ministry, working one (or two) other jobs beside that of pastor. The workload of the seminary years definitely prepared me more for that!

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