(Seventh in a series. To be continued.)

To Timothy, my beloved son. 2Timothy 1:2

We’re now looking at some advantages of teaching and training pastors in the local church and we continue to examine the liability heavy costs bring to bear on legacy seminaries.

When we were at Gordon-Conwell, the trustees announced they had lots of money they were going to use to build a new chapel. We already had a large one, but the new chapel would be of the latest architectural style and sit proudly at the very top of the hill. This new chapel would also add a number of new classrooms.

The announcement motivated a friend who had arrived at Gordon-Conwell after completing a masters in public administration to do a space usage study of Gordon-Conwell’s present facilities. He found the present classrooms were only being used forty percent of the daytime hours. He took his study to the board of trustees but, of course, adding space was never the point. Rich people give for brick and mortar and seminary presidents demonstrate their leadership through these new buildings which bear their name and become their legacy.

There’s an old ditty seminary trustees and presidents don’t know:

Who builds to God and not to fame,
Will never mark a building with his name.

We live in a new time when the web has rendered many brick and mortar establishments obsolete. This has hit seminaries, also. Seminary profs are scholars—not trainers or pastors (although each seminary has an outlier or two on the faculty who actually do train and pastor their students). So now twenty years after Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business figured it out, distance learning is the hope seminary presidents are fixing their sights on, trusting it to rescue them from their costly overhead of faculty and buildings.

Distance learning is taking over seminary training although the largely-superfluous buildings still need to be heated, cooled and maintained.

Meanwhile, church-houses of vital congregations are not superfluous to the work of the church. Not in the least, and this despite their sitting empty most of the week.

At this point legacy seminaries would argue against the pastors and elders of local churches having anything more than a minimal competence in preparing men for the ministry. While not wanting to appear condescending toward pastors and elders, they would double down on the need for a professional class of scholars to train pastors before they begin preaching. They would point out what they assume is a truism—that the teaching given by pastors and elders in local churches is inferior to the teaching of seminary profs. After all, how many pastors and elders have earned doctorates, for instance?

This could produce a very long discussion. What can be said in defense of the knowledge and teaching ability of local church officers?

We must start by exposing the hidden assumption that men without the terminal degree are inferior in their knowledge and teaching ability while these things may simply be assumed concerning men with the terminal degree. They do have the terminal degree, don’t they? How could they have it unless they’d proven their teaching ability and knowledge?

Sadly, though, there’s no rule that men with earned doctorates have superior teaching ability. But this is to speak only of scholarship—not of the training that budding pastors need at least as much as they need scholars’ knowledge.

Most of us who have gotten our masters at a seminary will easily acknowledge that seminary imparts knowledge, but neither skills nor wisdom. In past centuries it wasn’t this way, but the pride of academics and their degrees has run roughshod over the Western world this past century. So now, here in the States, we are about to join Europe in gaining a new basic human right called free university tuition.

College tuition costs have been rising at double the rate of inflation. If inflation is 2% in a sample year, tuition was raised 4%. If the inflation rate was 4%, colleges and universities raised their prices 8%. This has been going on for decades, now, so our politicians are calling for free tuition.

Not free seminary tuition. And if that too is added, it will come at the cost of all hate speech banned from instruction and textbooks (except possibly the Bible).

All this to make the point that our present model of preparing pastors for ministry is long in the teeth and unsustainable.

It’s time to recognize the natural advantages of removing the preparation of our pastors from the scholarly class and their ivory towers, returning it to the sheepfold and its shepherds. That is if the particular shepherd taking it on is a pastor-scholar and has other church officers in his own and neighboring congregations willing to help. But not neighboring geographically. Distance learning works as well or better when its provided by the local church and her officers rather than men off on a campus somewhere developing the definitive bibliography of gnosticism—no stone left unturned.

Again, knowledge without training or wisdom. The head without the body or heart.

Sure, seminary pays lip-service to training by having some internship, field education, or practicum modules required for the MDiv, but most men’s experience fulfilling these requirements leaves (I’ll put it politely) much to be desired.

The pastor-scholar serving in a local church can reconnect teaching and mentoring. That’s the point.

No, not just any church pastored by just any man can teach Biblical scholarship or train a man for pastoral ministry. Not just any church has the ability to tap men in the congregation and help set up distance learning so officers in other congregations are able to help with this teaching and training. Also, not just any church has men in her midst who aspire to the pastoral office.

But churches that do have men wanting to become pastors and other men able to teach them Biblical scholarship and train them in pastoral duties have so many advantages.

Beyond financial savings and the ability for shepherds to train men for ministry down among the sheep, the scholarship itself will be better, and we’ll turn to this in our next post.

(Seventh in a series. To be continued.)

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