Monday, February 09, 2009

Rural churches, seminarians, the Bible

Our commenter RT sent me a link to an article on the shortage of pastors in shrinking rural towns. Now, it's TIME magazine, so it may be all lies and fabrication... but in this case, I don't think so.

Briefly, the story is that the shrinkage of rural towns, and the movement of jobs, is creating a scarcity of support for "seminary-trained" pastors. And of course the article features apostates and false-teachers alternately wringing their hands or gleefully eying the opportunity.

The article provides no Biblical interaction — so I'll try to do so.

No Bible verse urges nor implies the necessity of seminary education. I have such an education, I'm glad of it, but I've never thought that it is what either gifted or qualified me to be a pastor.

Decades ago I was in a Baptist church with a very professional, formal pastor, who often spoke of my then-future stint at Talbot as the time when I'd "begin" to prepare for pastoral ministry. At the time, I'd had four years at a church-based pastoral training institute, and had a Bachelor's via distance-education. I already knew Greek far better than he (no brag, just fact); and he didn't know Hebrew at all. I tried respectfully to correct him as to where I was in the training-trajectory, but the correction never "took."

Here are my reflections on the article:
  1. Formal, Caesar-accredited seminary education is in no way a Biblical requirement for pastoral ministry.
  2. The first requirement is that a man be a genuine convert to the Lord Jesus Christ. No seminary issues regeneration. The Lord effects it, and local churches can observe and confirm it.
  3. The second requirement is that Christ have given a man as a pastor-teacher (Ephesians 4:11), and that he thus possess both the passion (1 Timothy 3:1) and the gift (cf. Romans 12:5-8 ; 1 Corinthians 12:28).
  4. The prospective pastor must also possess the moral and spiritual character of a pastor-teacher (1 Timothy 3:1ff.; Titus 1:5-9).
  5. Specifically and particularly, he must be able and willing to teach sound doctrine, whether in easy or difficult situations; he must be able to discern sound from sick doctrine; and he must be able to refute sick doctrine (this recurs constantly in the Pastorals, including 1 Timothy 1:3ff.; 2 Timothy 3; 4:1-4; Titus 1:9; 2:1, 15; 3:10-11).
  6. While formal seminary education is one way to gain the qualifications laid out in #5, it is not the only way, nor is it the way specifically envisioned in the Bible.
  7. The explicitly Biblical way is local-church apprenticeship (cf. 2 Timothy 2:2).
  8. That doesn't mean that formal seminary education is evil or wrong; just that it is not a Biblical requirement.
  9. The Biblical model for the appointment of elders is startlingly simple. Elders find gifted men in churches, and appoint them in those churches (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). Ta daa. That's it. Done.
  10. Congregations should financially support such men fulltime (1 Corinthians 9:6-7, 14; 1 Timothy 5:17-18), but that is also not a Biblical requirement — a man may voluntarily waive fulltime salary (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:15-18; 2 Corinthians 12:13).
The upshot: I think these situations are rebukes of our abandonment of the Biblical model. Now, I'll say it again: there is nothing wrong with a man going to seminary, per se. I did it, and it is not on my long list of regrets.

But formal seminary education just is not necessary, and churches should not simply be shipping everyone off to Debtor's Prison or going without pastors because seminary grads can't afford to pastor them. I see this as an opportunity for Biblically-faithful churches to implement the Biblical model.

One parting shot: I fear that my stressing the not-absolutely-essential nature of formal seminary education will be mis-apprehended by some lazy souls. I think that, if you do not have such an education, you must nonetheless accomplish the equivalent under apprenticeship. You must know Hebrew and Greek, you must learn how to study, preach and teach, and how to care for souls. You must know theology. This is hard, hard work. I'm not issuing a get-out-of-work card.

If you point to Charles Spurgeon as an example of a man who had no formal seminary education, but who rather enjoyed a bit of fruit in his labor, I will heartily agree. But I will also point out that Spurgeon was better-read and better-studied at age 17 than most seminary-trained pastors are in their twentieth year, and that Spurgeon was a voracious reader and student until his last breath.


Tom said...

So, you need a seminary education -- you just don't need to go to seminary to get it :-)


DJP said...

LOL, I like it.

I'd say "Seminary-level at minimum." Some seminaries, of course, do far more harm than good.

Unknown said...

This is interesting, to say the least. Especially since I am not seminary-trained yet I am planting a new church in a community of 2700 people in west central Illinois. There is nothing but corn, soybeans and livestock out here. Maybe we need to redefine rural?

As a footnote, I am enrolled in a seminary program that I will be starting soon.

Carl said...

For whatever it is worth, I have encountered people who remain steadfast that formal training such as seminaries and Bible colleges are actually evil. Some of these claim that their theological abilities came directly from God (unfortunately, all of those claiming this also teach unsound doctrine), some claim all they needed was a couple of reference books (again...unsound doctrine). I have also found that most, if not all, of the folks I have enountered espousing unsound doctrine also exhibit an unteachable and uncorrectable spirit. Frankly, I feel, Scripturally speaking, that legitimate, Biblically sound teachings usually come from preachers who have had at least some formal or informal training. And even then, I feel it wise to take a Bereanic approach and make sure what that person teaches remains in harmony with Scripture.

Also, for whatever it's worth, I grew up going to small rural churches (such as ones located in Waynesboro, MS and Shubuta, MS) and the church I currently attend is a small one as well.

DJP said...



Carl said...

C'mon Dan, cut me a little slack. :-)

Trinian said...

To underscore a portion of your parting shot, Dr. Luther on the question of just using German to teach the Bible, since it's "enough for our salvation".

The preacher or teacher can expound the Bible from beginning to end as he pleases, accurately or inaccurately, if there is no one there to judge whether he is doing it right or wrong. But in order to judge, one must have a knowledge of the languages; it cannot be done in any other way. ... For even though they may teach the truth, they inevitably often miss the true meaning of the text, and thus are neither equipped nor fit for defending the faith against error. Moreover, their teaching is so obscure and couched in such peculiar terms, differing from the language of Scripture, that I fear it is not or will not remain pure. For there is great danger in speaking of things of God in a different manner and in different terms than God himself employs. In short, they may lead saintly lives and teach sacred things among themselves, but so long as they remain without the languages they cannot but lack what all the rest lack, namely, the ability to treat Scripture with certainty and thoroughness

...and with the wealth of resources for study that God has made available to us since 1524, "I don't have enough money for seminary" is not an excuse.

RT said...

Completely concur with your points, however from the congregation's point of view a seminary degree or a denominational stamp of approval makes the hiring process easier. Not necessarily better, but easier. Lay people often have difficulty making the Biblical assessments you outline, or at least are not terribly confident about making such assessments. In a non-denominational context the organization I mentioned to you - Village Missions - at least purports to certify a decently educated, bible believing pastor with a genuine calling. Of course the are no guarantees and the congregation ultimately should educate itself sufficiently to assume the final responsibility.

Mike Westfall said...

"Bereatannical," maybe.

~Mark said...

Dan you have no idea how well-timed this post is, thank you! (It relates to the email I sent you a few weeks ago.)

I have been encouraged and rebuked all in one post. Tremendously helpful though, thank you again.

Carol Jean said...

""If something here is passing, then God will raise up other forms of worship, because people will be drawn here."

Well there you have it - a Calvinist labyrinth-walker!

We recently left a a mega church full of uber-educated pastors. One of the youth pastors defended his frequent use of Rob Bell videos by saying, "I know what I'm doing, I have a MASTERS in THEOLOGY!" Needless to say, I was not impressed with the quality of his education.

We now attend a church (GARBC) with a youth pastor with no seminary degree. After graduating from a Christian college he volunteered in the youth ministry of the church and was discipled and trained by the former youth pastor and sr. pastor and was eventually called as the youth pastor. He preaches on occasion and has taught our adult Sunday school class (he's in his mid-30's).

Bottom line - we trust our kids (spiritually) with
Pastor-No-M.Div. Wouldn't let our kids sit under the teaching of Mr. Master's in Theology. When my kids are coming home on a Sunday talking about Jeroboam instead of Shane Claiborn, it's all good!

Stefan Ewing said...

There you go again, Dan, applying biblical principles to the qualification of pastors. Troublemaker.

Our church has established a pastoral internship program and is establishing a school of pastoral ministry (along with our existing Bible school) precisely to surmount this challenge presented by seminaries that teach everything but biblical pastorship.

Not to say that there are some gifted men of God who come out of said institutions, but they are diamonds in the rough.

Stefan Ewing said...

Sorry, "Not to say that there are not some gifted men of God who come out of said institutions, but they are diamonds in the rough"—i.e., there are some gifted men of God who come out of such environments.

Stefan Ewing said...

Oh, needless to say, the point is that our own programs are under the oversight of our elders, and draw on the gifts of our pastors.

DJP said...

Ah, Stefan, I'm having a nostalgic flashback to the days when it would take you five or six times to make each comment you meant to make.


Herding Grasshoppers said...

Carol Jean...

Yes! I can relate!!!

I'm not anti-education, but what I've seen coming out of seminary lately is not very encouraging.

One of the young men I'm thinking of came into our (ex) church feeling that he had a prophetic role to bring that church into the 'new' knowledge of what a church ought to be doing. (Straight out of Tony Campolo and Regents College - sorry, Stefan.)

Trouble is, the church didn't see it coming and didn't refute unsound doctrine, and now there are more like him.

I'm not anti-seminary, but I'm increasingly leery. Put a young guy under my pastor for a few years, and he'd be much better off!

Trouble is, as RT mentioned, it's hard to get a good "read" on someone in the typical hiring process. Maybe that is part of the problem.

Stefan Ewing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stefan Ewing said...

:) to both Dan and Julie

JackW said...

Your post is in agreement with my observations and part of my bewilderment of what has become the ‘clergy’ mindset. The other side of the coin is the expectation that “The Pastor” not only has the gift of pastor and teacher, but he needs to have all the other gifts in more abundance than all the other members of the church too.

Hey Dan, if there is such a shortage, then why aren’t you … ;{)

Solameanie said...

Why am I thinking of "Keeping Up Appearances" and the "dishy Vicar" always being chased by Rose? I know, I watch too much British comedy.

Kidding aside, I remember what Martin Luther said once about trusting a milkmaid armed with Scripture more than all the learned popes and councils etc.

Finally, my word verification was "blymp."

I resent that...(cough cough)

W. Ian Hall said...

I agree that there is no explicit biblical requirement for a pastor to attend a seminary.
However, I do think in the great majority of cases it is needful. I think if a man can spend 3 or 4 years at a good orthodox seminary studying the word of God and being influenced by good pastors that can only be beneficial to him and any church he pastors in the future.
Personally I benefited greatly from my time of study at a seminary. It was there that my interest in the biblical languages was first sparked and it was there that I realised that the chief things in the ministry are prayer and the study of God's word.

Connie said...

I think more Christian men would welcome the opportunity to study under a Godly pastor with the support and encouragment of a local flock.

DH attended seminary, and I took some classes with him--valuable time and experience, but definitely not essential. Truth is, if someone thinks they'll 'arrive' academically by graduating from seminary they're sadly mistaken because our study and learning MUST continue throughout life.

Good post and great encouragement to many men, I'm sure!

(P.S. My word verification was 'obscones'. Exactly what sort of scones are those????)

trogdor said...

"Some of these claim that their theological abilities came directly from God (unfortunately, all of those claiming this also teach unsound doctrine)"

I think when you said "unfortunately" you meant "predictably" or "necessarily".

threegirldad said...

And the man must also be...well...ummm...a man.

Word verification: exatin. Indeed. ;-)

Eags said...

I agree...many churches are led by pastors who have little or no exegetical knowledge for interpretive purposes. Claiming each person is welcome to their own personal interpretation as a result of knowing God singularly , is dangerous ..the bible calls us to study and show ourselves approved for a we are not led astray by our own corruptible reasoning. Great blog article