This post was originally published on 20 May 2013.
Teach these Things to Faithful Men who Will Be Able to Teach Others Also
A call to ministry is a call to be equipped to minister. To be sure, one need not possess a seminary degree to have a faithful ministry. Many preachers lacking formal theological training have served the church, and served the church well, but they are the exception, not the rule. In fact, preparation for ministry is an established biblical pattern, referenced throughout the New Testament and succinctly expressed in II Timothy 2:2, “Teach these things to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.”
Though a seminary experience should be short-lived, its effect on students is long-lasting. Both by what is taught and what is neglected, the seminary experience shapes students, for better or worse, for the duration of their ministries. The stakes are high in theological education because the calling to serve the church is high and the needs of the church are great.
Much like the value of a meal is dependent upon the nutritional content therein, so the benefits of a seminary education are contingent upon the strength of the institution. If one is called to serve the church, then one should attend a seminary that will intentionally equip one for such service.
The seminary that will most effectively train pastors, teachers, and evangelists for the Church will not do it unwittingly. Rather, a seminary must intentionally aim its three pedagogical touch-points—curriculum, faculty, and campus culture—toward this end.
When evaluating a seminary’s academic value-system, the curriculum is the right place to start. A seminary’s curriculum—what degrees it offers and the requisite coursework required to complete those degrees—reveals an institution’s priorities and demonstrates its convictions related to theological education.
The curriculum must be geared towards local-church needs and expectations, with a special emphasis on the preaching and teaching ministries of the church. The curriculum must be comprehensively evaluated and positioned to equip pastors, teachers, and evangelists to serve the church.
Theological education in the twenty-first century evidences a myriad of degree options packaged in numerous delivery vehicles. Descriptors such as residential, non-residential, extension, online, and hybrid, to name a few, remind us of the ever-changing formats of theological education. Moreover, the modern seminary offers a plethora of degree options, with scores of sub-specializations and niche focuses. Academic expansion can be good so long as it does not become synonymous with institutional mission creep. Expanded academic offerings must serve to amplify and strengthen the seminary’s service to the church, not undermine it by diluting institutional focus and resources.
A curriculum is to a seminary’s instructional efforts what the skeleton is to the human body. It provides essential structure and form, but for life and health much more is required. If the curriculum is the skeleton, the faculty is the organs of the seminary’s academic program.
No single factor influences the curriculum more than the composition of the faculty. At the formal level, the faculty approves and monitors the curriculum. Most importantly though, the faculty embodies and personifies the curriculum in their respective classrooms. In the classroom, to be for the Church means every course and every lecture must be envisioned in light of the question, “How does the subject matter intersect with the church, how will it prove to strengthen the church?” If courses do not naturally align with the needs of the churches the seminary serves, then the course should be culled from the curriculum or reconfigured so as to serve the church.
More specifically, each class ought to have a direct line from the syllabus to the church. Ethics is taught as bringing the Word of God to bear in the milieu of cultural challenges the church faces. Counseling is taught, first and foremost, as soul care for those in the church. Church history is taught through the prism of what God has done throughout time to redeem, preserve, and build his church. Personal evangelism is taught as part of enlarging the church. Missions is taught as God’s plan for his church to undertake the Great Commission so that his church may be comprised of every kindred, tongue, and tribe. Leadership and administration courses should present how to structure, lead, and administer rightly ordered churches. Pastoral ministry must be taught so that churches might be appropriately shepherded. Theology is taught to equip the members of the church in sound doctrine. Language and exegesis classes are taught so that ministers may divide rightly the word of truth for the church. Apologetics classes are taught so that the church can defend the truth, the church’s foundation. Preaching classes equip students to exposit God’s word, to strengthen the saints in the church, and to win the lost for the church. The list goes on, but all courses can and should be taught with an eye toward the church.
Yet, even more important than what the faculty teach, is who they are. A seminary should expect from its faculty, in amplified form, what it desires its graduates to believe, exemplify, and practice. Students must find in faculty members not merely a professor from which they learn, but also a person with whom they study and grow. Most especially, when students look to faculty, they must see churchmen, who by their teaching, personal disposition, and demonstrated service to their own local church clearly perceive their ministry as one given to Christ’s church.
Transformative ministry preparation experience takes place in the midst of healthy campus communities. Ministry preparation is as much caught as it is taught. It is as much overheard as it is heard. Often times the seminary community and culture impacts the student as much as the curriculum or classroom. This is to say, the whole spiritual momentum and kingdom impact of a seminary should be far greater than the sum of its form and academic parts. Therefore, cultivating a campus community that values, honors, and humbly serves the church will serve to instill an ethos of church service in the students.
As a family, my wife and I determined long ago never to criticize our church—or people in it—in front of our children. We desire our children to grow up loving, serving, trusting, and admiring God’s people known as the church. Likewise, though lamentable trends and saddening occurrences in the modern church exist, attitudinally, the seminary culture must point students to love, serve, and honor the church.
Too many seminarians want to put the church in the dock—criticizing, assessing, and bemoaning perceived deficiencies or errors in local congregations. It is not a seminarian’s, or seminary’s, role to put the church in the dock. The seminary does not sit in judgment of the church; the church sits in judgment of the seminary.
Thus, the seminary community that best equips students to serve the church when they graduate is the seminary that has a pathos and ethos to honor and serve the church in students before they graduate.
For Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, its vision to exist for the Church serves as both a compass and a catalyst. For the Church directs our institutional efforts, pointing our way forward. For the Church also provides institutional velocity, energizing our efforts to most optimally train students accordingly.
The seminary that will train students for the Church intentionally will bend its three pedagogical influencers—curriculum, faculty, and campus culture—for the Church.Bible, Church & Ministry, Education, Other