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Posts Tagged ‘pastor’

In my two previous posts I dealt with how seminaries can improve seminary education and how students can do the same.  This is my last post in this little series: how churches can improve seminary education.  If you’re a pastor with seminary students you may want to read the other two posts as some of the points will apply. 

On to my thoughts…

Consider Saying ‘No’ (or at least ‘Not Yet’)

One of the lamentable facts of seminary education is that students often go to seminary without a home church behind them that truly knows them well.  Most seminaries require, if you’re applying for an MDiv, a recommendation from a church.  But I wonder how many churches really screen candidates for seminary.  From my experience, not many do. 

When a young man or woman (or maybe even not-so-young) comes looking for a little help getting into seminary, consider that this person may not be truly ready.  Are they capable of ingesting a tremendous amount of information, information that empowers them for ministry, without having their pride grow along with their knowledge?  Are they seeking positions of power or of service?

Perhaps even before asking these questions, we ought to ask more basic ones.  Has this person been faithful in smaller areas of responsibility?  In the ministry experience they’ve already had, how did they do?  Have they sought to learn from them?  Have they sought out the pastors and elders?  Are they being discipled or mentored?  Does their mentor think they are ready for seminary?  Have you considered suggesting they take another year before seminary and be mentored by a pastor or elder?

There should be no rush to send people to seminary.  The church will not collapse if they don’t hurry up and take a church history class.  Let them simmer a little longer before you turn the heat up.

Meet Regularly with Your Seminary Student

I stated in a previous post the importance of students sharing what they’re learning with other students.  The danger, however, can be the lack of perspective.  After all, how much can a bunch of students in a classroom really know about how to apply what they’re learning?  Perspective comes from getting an outsider’s (preferably a wiser person’s) thoughts.

I’d strongly recommend that pastors meet regularly with their seminarians.  Hear about what they’re learning (there is a good chance you’ll learn something from them).  Find out what’s exciting them.  Ask them questions, challenge them to think more deeply.  Ask them how they would apply what they’re learning.  Challenge them to think of ways to pass along all they’re taking in to people in their church.

What seminary students often miss is the connection between the classroom and ministry.  Because they’re so wrapped up in their coursework, they often fail to apply it to church life, or even their personal life.  Pastors are, in my opinion, the key to bridging this gap. 

Enforce Anonymity

I’m picking this up from my previous post on how students can improve their seminary education, so I won’t rehash it here.  Basically, I offer two suggestions to seminarians:

  1. Find a church that is unimpressed with you.
  2. Serve in a non-visible role for a while.

It may, of course, be hard for the eager seminarian.  But churches will learn more about the character of their seminarian by how they act when no one knows who they are or what they’re doing.  So stick them in a corner where no one sees them.  A little obscurity never hurt anyone.

Never Abdicate Your Responsibility to Train Pastors

The local church should be the primary training ground for pastors.  I can find no biblical (or even logical) warrant for sending your future pastors somewhere else to learn how to lead a church.  It simply makes no sense.

Notice, I’m not saying seminary has no role to play.  I loved my time in seminary; I’m thankful for Gordon-Conwell.  But seminary is not supposed to be the primary training ground for ministers.  Seminary is where you learn certain skills that will prove invaluable for ministry.  The work of seminary can’t be replaced by most churches (unless, I suppose, you have a church staff equipped and available to teach all the same things- if so, God bless you). 

I (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) commented about the logic of seminary in my first post:

  • Christian Leader #1: How can we best train people to pastor churches?
  • Christian Leader #2: I know!  Let’s take them out of the church and stick them in a classroom for 3 years!

There are some things in life that you simply cannot learn by listening to a lecture or reading a book.  (For the record, I don’t even think this is the best way to learn the Bible.  I’ve learned more about the Bible from teaching the Bible, especially in preparation time, than I ever did in a class.  Of course, class time in seminary helped me develop those skills, so it fulfilled its role.)  I can read all the marriage books I want, but nothing actually teaches me about marriage better than being married.  My wife and I did some premarital counseling, which helped us tremendously.  We sought advice from a lot of couples.  We’ve attended seminars and got some books.  But in the end, there’s a lot of learning “on the job.” 

Ministry is, in many ways, similar.  You will learn better about how to minister by actually being involved in ministry, under the tutelage of a more experienced pastor. 

Pastors- do not give up your rightful place as the primary mentors of future pastors.  If you hold on to your responsibility and do not forfeit it, if you allow a seminary education to complement your role as discipler rather than the other way around, your seminarian will be more prepared for a lifetime of ministry than they otherwise would be.

Some Concluding Thoughts

I’ve spent three posts on this subject because I think it’s important.  Even though I’m only 30, I’ve spent a long time observing churches and seeing how they train leaders.  In fact, a large part of my job now is helping train future leaders for our churches (a job I’m probably unqualified for). 

My point in spending three posts on this is that I think the responsibility to improve seminary education falls on the shoulders of more than just the seminary, though I clearly think they have areas of needed improvement.  The primary responsibility to make sure seminary is fulfilling its function lies with the student.  The seminarian needs to make sure they’re learning, not just being taught.  And I think the local church is primarily responsible for training a person to pastor well.  If the student and the local church do their job well, seminaries will be far more effective and the future of our churches will be much brighter.

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I recently just finished reading D A Carson’s book, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor.  This book is a collection of some of his father’s (Tom Carson) journals and reflections on his ministry as a church planter in French Canada.  I’m tempted to offer a book review, but I think I’d rather give some thoughts on this book.  If you go here, you can scroll down (under 2008) and download the book for free!  Free is less than I paid for it, since I had the wonderful fortune of purchasing it and having it delivered to my door the day before it was put up for free download on the TGC site.  That’s okay, actually, because I don’t think I’ll ever get used to reading books on the computer.

Okay, here I  go with some thoughts, in no particular order:

1.  I think this book would be great for anyone in ministry to read.  It gives a glimpse into the mind of someone struggling as a church planting pastor in a difficult context (missionaries to Africa, coming back to North America and looking for a new ministry context, found it too hard and left within a year!).  It’s a sobering and realistic account of what many ministries look like.

2.  It’s most challenging aspect, however, was not seeing the toil of ministry, but seeing the faithfulness of Tom Carson throughout.  He saw a need and gave his life to serve.  He stuck it out through thick and thin, with a grace that is all too uncommon.  I would read about Tom Carson and look at my own life and ministry and realize I had a long way to go.

3.  D A Carson does a good job of avoiding hagiography, not an easy task given his admiration for his father.  He admits that his father struggle with depression (though Tom Carson was never diagnosed or anything) and was better as an associate pastor rather than a senior pastor.

4.  Without giving the specifics away (go read the book!), Tom Carson did a phenominal job of not bad mouthing others in front of his kids.  Doesn’t sound like much?  Listen to the words you and others say about other people.  Can you say that you do not speak negatively about others?  Do your kids ever hear you voice your frustrations about other people, even if they are justified?

5.  The love that Tom Carson had for his wife is moving.  As I was reading through his service to her as she struggled in the final years of her life, I kept coming back to Paul’s command to the men of Ephesus: love your wife as Christ loves the church.  From what I read, Tom Carson did this about as well as anyone.

6.  As Tom Carson got older, the younger generation of pastors saw much more fruit than he and his generation did.  D A Carson notes that there was never a hint of jealousy or animosity on his father’s part.  I know for a fact that I would be jealous.  I’d look for relatively minor flaws and comfort myself that at least I got that right.

7.  An impetus to write this book came from a desire to encourage pastors in difficult contexts.  I can’t remember if I heard D A Carson say this in an interview or if it was in the preface of the book (I don’t have it in front of me), but he commented that we tend to glamorize certain ministries and go to their conferences (I’m thinking: Desiring God, Together for the Gospel, etc).  This can perpetuate an unrealistic vision of ministry.  I have a lot of thoughts on this (though none are complete), but I’ll save them for another post.  But I think there’s a lesson in this book: Tom Carson was faithful, therefore he was successful.  May we hear this message.

There are probably a number of other thoughts I could give (the insights into denominational politics was interesting, as were some of the historical notes of French Canada), but I really want to encourage folks to read this book.  If nothing else, download it for free and read it at your leisure.

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