How to Keep the Seminary Christian, Part 4
By Timothy Raymond –
In this, my concluding post in this series (see part 1, part 2, part 3), I’ll share two final virtues that I believe made my seminary experience faith-building as opposed to faith-destroying. So with no further ado, here are my final two virtues for keeping the seminary Christian…
5. Tight accountability to and involvement with local churches.
It seems as if some seminaries lose sight of the reason for their existence. As I see it, seminaries exist to serve the church (and not vice versa), and more specifically, to assist in the training of her ministers. If this is true, it only seems to make sense for the seminary to remain closely connected to local churches.
Gratefully, I witnessed a great demonstration of this in the seminary I attended. All of my professors were actively involved in local churches and nearly every one of them was heavily involved in ministry. Many of them taught Sunday school classes. My Greek professor and the current dean of the school devoted their weekends to helping start fledgling church plants.
Moreover, we students were required not only to attend but to serve in local churches. As I described in a related post, I taught Sunday school and preached regularly in a small rural church throughout my seminary education. I would not trade that experience for the world. While not all my classmates had identical opportunities, we were all actively involved, to one degree or another, in earthly expressions of the Body of Christ. Nothing less was required for graduation.
Also, our seminary was accountable to the churches of our particular association. I confess that I don’t understand exactly how this functioned, since I was never privy to board meetings. However, it was clearly and regularly communicated that our seminary served at the pleasure of its constituent churches.
I believe this accountability to a body of local churches is an extremely healthy, if not essential, virtue. It serves as a continual reminder to the students why they’re in seminary, hinders the seminary’s slide toward unorthodox theology, keeps the professors engaged in real-world struggles, and proclaims to all that the local church is the primary tool the Lord is using to reach the world with the Gospel.
6. Regular chapels which included sermons from pastors and missionaries on the frontlines.
I really hesitated to include this final virtue as important in keeping the seminary Christian for a couple reasons. First, I really think it’s in a different class than some of the others I’ve considered in this series. While it’s hard to imagine a seminary remaining a healthy, vibrant Christian community without an emphasis on the Bible as God’s Word (virtue #1), I could envision a seminary thriving without regular chapels.
Another reason I hesitated to include this virtue was because (I hate to admit it), I was highly critical of chapel when I was a seminary student (and some of you reading this might remember comments I made back then!). Many of the chapel messages I heard in seminary were rather poor quality and not infrequently characterized by meandering stories and by what might be described as a “devotional” hermeneutic and not the careful principles of exegesis and interpretation we were being taught in class. I considered them the very epitome of what we were being taught not to do!
However, nearly a decade later, I’ve come to really appreciate these regular chapels, and even to miss them. The sloppy hermeneutics and exegesis aside, even the worst messages served us students as (to use a Piper-esque illustration) a radio feed from the battle lines back to the home front. Nearly all the talks and testimonies were baptized in the sweat and tears of real life ministry. Having served as a pastor myself now for several years, I’ve come to see their benefit. Such regular messages helped keep our heads out of the clouds and in the real world where Christians are far more tempted to abandon Christ because of a flirtatious coworker than Process Theology.
So if I had complete freedom to design a seminary experience, would I include regular chapel messages from pastors and missionaries? Without hesitation, I’d answer, “Yes” (though I’d seek out the best preachers and expositors I could find). While inaccurate principles of Bible interpretation are inexcusable, continually reminding students of what real world ministry is like is priceless.
I’m convinced that one of the greatest needs in the church today is godly, qualified pastors, missionaries, and church planters who will faithfully preach the word, shepherd the sheep, seek out the lost, and drive off the wolves. In order for a man to be equipped to do this, he must be carefully educated in sound doctrine, trained to properly handle the word, and possess a sincere love for people. And while such training can be occasionally accomplished entirely in a local church setting, for most future pastors and missionaries, the seminary is the place where they’ll be prepared for a life of sacred ministry.
While seminaries certainly can be spiritual ghost towns, long abandoned by God’s Spirit (and some I’m sure are), I’m convinced they aren’t all necessarily so. There’s nothing inherently evil or faith-destroying in the seminary paradigm. As I shared in my opening post, my experience was the exact opposite of what some are apparently enduring. Yet by conveying the idea, either implicitly or explicitly, that seminary is inherently dangerous to one’s faith, that not only breeds suspicion among laymen toward an educated ministry, it also encourages immature and unprepared men to skip out on essential training and head directly to the pulpit or the mission field. And untrained, ill-equipped pastors and missionaries only make matters worse for the Church.
As I’ve detailed in this series, I believe there are things we can do to design a seminary experience that is more likely to nourish faith and not kill faith, to make the seminary a greenhouse for spiritual growth as opposed to a spiritual wasteland. May the Lord of the Church grant us the needed grace to keep the seminary Christian.
Timothy Raymond is an editor for Credo Magazine and has been the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana since April 2006. He received his MDiv from the Baptist Bible Seminary of Pennsylvania in 2004 and has pursued further education through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. Tim grew up outside Syracuse, NY and previously served at Berean Baptist Church, Nicholson, PA (member and teacher during college and seminary) and Calvary Baptist Church, Sandusky, Ohio (seminary internship location). Tim met his wife Bethany at college, and they were married in May 2001. Tim enjoys reading, weight-lifting, wrestling with his three sons, and attempting to sleep.