This post was originally published on 22 April 2013.
First Things First: Training Pastors, Teachers & Evangelists for the Church.
Harvard University stands as one of America’s truly elite universities. Founded in 1636, Harvard is America’s oldest institution of higher learning, and also its most storied. Boasting a corpus of more than $32 billion, it enjoys, by far, the nation’s largest endowment. It has produced more United States presidents, congressmen, and members of the judiciary than any other college or university, thus buttressing its claim to be America’s most prestigious and influential university.
Yet when founded, Harvard declared an even loftier goal: to train faithful ministers of the gospel. In fact, emblazoned upon Harvard’s historic entranceway, the Johnson Gate, the Puritans’ founding intent remains ensconced, “After God had carried us safe to New England and we had builded our houses, provided necessaries for our livelihood, reared convenient places for God’s worship, and settled the civil government, one of the next things we longed for and looked after was to advance learning and to perpetuate it to our posterity, dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches when our present ministers shall lie in the dust.”
Harvard has come a long way since its founding, and its confessional and missiological reorientation is one of the most visible, and lamentable, shifts of any institution in the history of higher education. The lesson is clear: confessional integrity is paramount, but it is not enough. Confessional integrity must be coupled with missiological intentionality.
Midwestern Seminary’s mission is crystal-clear: we exist for the Church, and we train pastors, teachers, and evangelists accordingly. Most especially, given the New Testament imperative, current denominational need, and Great Commission urgencies, Midwestern Seminary will unapologetically give its best energies and resources to training pastors for the Church.
A New Testament Imperative
The Puritan emphasis on training pastors was first a Pauline emphasis. As the apostle reminded the church at Ephesus, “He [Christ] gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” In a sense, the specified offices of Ephesians 4 are tangible fulfillments of Christ’s promise in Matthew 16 to build his church. In many ways, the remainder of the New Testament corpus is given to documenting the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to build his church and to defining and defending the church’s doctrine and practice.
Never are the expectations of the pastoral office more clearly presented than in I Timothy 3:1–7. Herein, the distinguishing mark between the pastoral and diaconal offices is that the former must be “able to teach.” To be sure, not every call to ministry is a call to preach, but every call to ministry is a call to a ministry of the Word—the Word preached, taught, shared, or counseled. One can argue that every formal, ordainable ministerial position, in some way or another, has at its core a ministry of God’s Word, and that the candidate to that office must demonstrate at least some level of proficiency therewith.
Therefore, a seminary must make sure priority one is strengthening the preaching and teaching capabilities of the people it trains. So goes the pulpit, so goes the church; and so goes the ministry of the Word, so goes the equipping of the saints for the service of the church. At the institutional level, we can add that so goes the intentionality of training for these offices, so goes the competence of the graduates and the resulting health of the church.
A Denominational Need
The Southern Baptist Convention’s central expectation of its seminaries is that we train pastors and missionaries for the church. After all, in its most distilled form, this is precisely what the SBC is—a confederation of churches, with pastors (and often no other vocational ministers), partnering to win the world for Christ by collectively funding and sending missionaries abroad. These are the two irreducible components of our denomination and the two irreducible positions for which the seminary must equip.
Looking to denominational demographics accentuates the need to train pastors and missionaries for the churches. The median age of pastors within the SBC continues to drift upward, with an increasing percentage of pastors approaching retirement. A dearth of pastors looms on the horizon and, in a sense, is already here. If churches do not call out pastors and seminaries do not train them, from whence will they come? The churches of the Southern Baptist Convention expect much from their six seminaries, but they expect nothing less than we make our first priority training pastors for their churches and preparing missionaries for the world.
A Great Commission Urgency
Finally, it is impossible to contemplate the role of the seminary without considering how the effectiveness with which it prepares ministers intersects with how aggressively the gospel is spread. As Paul reminded the church at Rome, “‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things.’”
Inherent in the call to train pastors is the call to train evangelists/missionaries. At its heart, to be a missionary that is planting a church is simply to be a pastor in another culture. Moreover, the complexity of modern ministry and the accompanying Great Commission challenges due to cultural decadence and multicultural complexities serve as a reminder to double-down on the ministerial mainstays. This does not negate contextual and cultural considerations, but it does abridge them. Though it may be counterintuitive, the more complex ministry becomes, the simpler we must make it. It is still the preaching and teaching of the Word that God blesses, the power of the gospel that changes lives, and the health of the church, as a counter-cultural, ever-present witness that the world needs.
Therefore, the irreducible work of a seminary is to train pastors, evangelists, and teachers for the church. We then fling these graduates out as workers of the harvest, and watch with joy and satisfaction as Jesus builds his church and reaches the nations through them.
Many seminaries—even evangelical seminaries—function like shopping malls, offering a myriad of course options in an attempt to cobble together a sufficient enrollment to justify and facilitate their existence. This dilution of energies might in the short-term help pay the bills, but in the long run it jeopardizes the mission and rationale of the institution. It may also inadvertently undermine the ministries of the churches the seminary ostensibly serves.
If Southern Baptist seminaries do not intentionally train the next generation of pastors, then from whence will they come? Seminaries are not indispensable, but under the auspices of Christ’s plan to build his church, the pastoral office is indispensable. While Midwestern Seminary does many things, and many things well, we unapologetically minister under an Ephesians 4 mandate, giving our best energies to training to pastors, ministers, and evangelists for the Church.Church & Ministry, Education, Featured, For the Church Series, Leadership, Other