How to prepare for pastoral ministry (4)

New Warhorn Media post by Tim Bayly:


Droll: you could have turned up in the UK with a good Master’s degree, and with your American accent, had no trouble in finding a place in our equivalent of a tall-steeple church, in either the Church of Scotland or the Free Church(es). “A prophet is not without honour …” :slight_smile:


Sure, all those Statesophiles in the UK.

If only I could been born in the United States.
If only I could speak English like a North American.
If only I could get the higher education they all get over in the States.
If only we could exchange Queen Elizabeth for President Trump.
If only I had the manners of an American.
If only I had the breeding of an American.
If only our island was as large as their island.

Stuff you must have to listen to all the time.


It took me six years, to squeeze through the 4 years at Dallas Seminary, and has been 20 years since I graduated. I’m almost over it. :grinning:

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It seems to me that there is an inverse relation between the desirability and impressiveness of a credential and the actual usefulness of it. In my field, doing a Ph.D. is how most people get the training to do independent scientific research, but one’s reputation is based on one’s ongoing record of research publications, not one’s Ph.D. credential. I’d even go so far as to say there is less demand that “Dr.” be used as an honorific for those with a science Ph.D. than for those with doctorates of ministry or education.

Although I don’t see the point of getting a D.Min. for most people, I think it made sense for a friend of mine. He had been in long-term ministry with international students, and one long-standing concern of his was helping international students who professed faith and were baptized find a good church and stay in the faith when they returned to their home country. He didn’t know what would help strengthen these young Christians before they returned home and what helped them stay firmly rooted after they returned home. So he decided to do a D.Min to get the training and do the research to find the answer. The result was never openly published due to its politically sensitive nature, but a report on best practices was circulated among those in international student ministry.

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There are many who need to read and write and won’t unless they are under some external discipline. Others read and write, but need time to focus on a project like one mentioned above; they too can benefit from the DMin’s external discipline. But concerning scholarly credentials, it’s readily known by the honest and aware in ministry today that the growth in DMins has much more to do with seminaries needing money than any higher value placed on the pastor-as-scholar. Also that this growth has produced little in the way of better care for sheep or knowledge of divinity.


I’ve filed away this excerpt from David Wells’ book No Place for Truth on this very topic. To say that it was powerfully eye-opening for me when I first read it a few years ago would be an understatement. The third paragraph in particular incisively says it all. Learning this history was a significant means appointed by God to curtail my desire to pursue seminary training (not training in general) for pastoral ministry:

But why has professional status become so important in ministerial ranks? The answer is not hard to find. In general, the esteem in which we are held by our contemporaries has little to do with the intrinsic value of the work we do. The research that has been done on social stratification all seems to indicate that standing in society is determined by the values functioning in that society. In America, importance is conferred by professional standing. By the end of the 1960s and the early 1970s, ministerial standing in society was plainly in need of serious professional upgrading, indisputable evidence for which was provided, as Glenn T. Miller notes, by the fact that ministers were suffering serious status anxieties. The power that inward calling had once exerted on private consciousness, the sense of “standing” before God, of doing his work by making known his truth, apparently was not enough.

The realization that the ministry was culturally adrift proved both alarming and disconcerting, and the response that was made across the board, under the careful direction of the Association of Theological Schools, was to upgrade degree nomenclature. What had been the B.D. became the M.Div. in the early 1970s, and, for those seeking upward mobility, the D.Min. was shortly thereafter added to the arsenal of social tools. For those middle-class congregations that wanted to be served by a professional and those ministers who wanted their service validated by a doctorate, a remedy was now at hand. Thus was the D.Min. born; in two decades, over ten thousand of these degrees had been issued.

It was, of course, the old market mechanism at work. In the 1970s, many seminaries were hard-pressed financially, and the D.Min. was a lucrative new product to sell. At the same time, many ministers were hard-pressed psychologically as they sensed the decline of their profession, their growing marginalization in society, and the corresponding loss of power and influence that entailed. And so the shotgun marriage was consummated.

The pastoral ministry is thus being professionalized. It is being anchored firmly in the middle class, and the attitudes of those who are themselves professionals or who constantly deal with them are increasingly defining who the minister is. Once again, it is the old market mechanism at work–ministers defining themselves as a product for which there is a market. And so they feel they must present themselves as having a desired competence, and that competence, as it turns out, is largely managerial. They must be able to manage the unruly and painful forces within the human psyche as well as the turbulent and equally unruly forces in the organization of the Church.

–David Wells, No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?, p. 234-237

Thank you for this series, brother.

I have a slightly different take on this extended quote, Chris. In my experience, David Wells and his teaching and seminary created this problem he seeks to speak prophetically against. It was my observation that Gordon-Conwell consistently failed to teach pastors to preach to the conscience and apply the text to life and call for repentance and be faithful in church discipline and fear God. Especially that last one. I had David Wells and he contributed in significant ways to the attrition of authority that permeates pastors and their preaching and pastoral care today. Or maybe I should say he didn’t do anything to correct it.

Furthermore, Gordon-Conwell (Prof Wells’s seminary while he was writhing these books) was one of the first and best at milking pastors financially through the DMin degree.

Finally, David is wrong to think a DMin impresses people. It impresses about as many people and congregations as an EdD or a BS in biology.

The problem with the decline of respect for pastors and the decline of pastors’ confidence in their “status” and work has been aided significantly by Wells and his seminary, as I will continue to testify in the ongoing series on seminaries and pastors colleges. Love,

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Thanks, brother, for adding fuller perspective based on your firsthand knowledge of David and Gordon-Conwell. Sounds like a sad case of David not practicing what he preaches? If our Lord could teach His disciples to do what the religious leaders say but not as they do (Matthew 23:1-3), then it sounds like I (and we all) can learn something from what David has said/written here (which aligns at least in some ways with what you had written) even though we shouldn’t follow his hypocritical example :frowning_face:

I’m grateful for what I learned, by God’s grace alone, from what David has written here. And I’m grateful for your response.

I look forward to the rest of the series.


I’ll take the contrarian position. I am very glad for the education I received at WTS. Poythress, Dillard, Gaffin, Silva, Conn and others were godly men I feel privileged to have studied under. I had no expectation that I’d be fully ready for the pastorate any more than my BS in Biology and minor in Chem prepared me to step right into lab work.

It would be nice to have a setting where I could have studied and been mentored by Paul, Apollos, Barnabas, or others. But that system didn’t work out perfectly either judging from Paul’s letters and the book of Acts.

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Dear Jeff, I’m thankful for your taking the contrarian position. That said…

But, as I warned a man about to join the faculty of Westminster east recently, Westminster men have never been able to preach. So said Dad forty years ago. So say I (and others) today. Why is this? Westminster men don’t understand the importance of pastoral care. Why not? Westminster men are often disembodied brains who love books and doctrine, but not their sheep. Why? Having taught at Westminster west, why does John Frame think the pastors college model is better?

Yes, there are godly men at Westminster, as there are at most orthodox seminaries. Yes, seminary shouldn’t be expected to be a finishing school for pastors.

That said, look at the condition of the Reformed and Evangelical churches of our day and think that all of them have been being served by seminary trained shepherds for a century, now. This model has failed and we need to return to the methods of our Lord and Calvin and William Tennent. Love,


I’m just as concerned about the general quality of men coming through seminary these days. My church is in the same metro area as a major Reformed seminary, and 10-25 years ago we used to have interns regularly coming through our church. Our pastor met with them one-on-one weekly and gave them opportunities to serve in all areas of church life over the three years of their seminary education – preaching sermons, teaching Sunday School, leading devotions at the prayer meeting, leading the college Bible study, and more. It was much, much more work than nominally required by the seminary internship requirement, but the practical training was immense, and our church paid part of their tuition as a gift to them. Five of these men went on to be senior or solo pastors in the OPC, and two more to mission work (and this from a church that has never exceeded a hundred members). But the current students at the seminary have no interest in such an internship. They would rather be the tenth intern at the closest (and well-staffed) PCA church, spend most of their time just standing around, and get the internship requirement checked off with the smallest time investment possible. I just don’t get it.


You paint with a rather broad brush. I can only speak to my experience, not your father’s which precedes mine by decades. I don’t recall chapel services being extended theological lectures. The effect on me was teaching, correction, reproof and training in righteousness. Many of the professors emphasized that study of theology was to be focused on the pursuit of knowing God. There were times when the class was devotional or even worshipful.

As for your Pastor’s College. I only know one man from there, Pastor Abu-Sara. I love that man. He is my pastor. But it is an institution. You have a process. You cannot guarantee the outcome. The Boy Scouts produced Eagle Scout Michael Moore (at a time when they still were solid.)

There is a great danger of men who are poorly theologically trained. I am not going to jump on the band wagon of dumping on good seminaries. They are an adjunct to the ministry of the church. Men need to be taught and seriously mentored. This mentoring cannot take place in the classroom. It has to be under a godly seasoned man in a local church.

The root problem lies with the local church, denominations or associations. You’ve seen first-hand what will happen to a man who is bold enough to preach to the conscience. There is nothing new about people gathering men about them to tickle their ears. They cry ‘stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel.’ Men need to have elders who will stand with them in the gap. It has my experience and observation that this is very rare.

The problem does not lie mainly with the seminary.

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Dear Jeff, wholeheartedly agree. Zechariah shows the absence of good shepherds is God’s judgment on the sheep—at least at times, and certainly in his own time. But seminaries are a problem themselves, and for a number of reasons I intend to elaborate in this series. Why can’t Westminster grads preach? Why can’t most Reformed seminary grads preach? Why is pastoral care on life support in Reformed churches where seminaries and the MDiv predominate? Why do Reformed seminaries always lead the forces of heterodoxy and heresy in their church associations? There’s no doubt in my mind the problem is systemic and must be faced and reformed for the safety of our Lord’s flock. And yes, it’s not the fact that legacy seminaries are institutions that I object to. Love,


One other aspect of the current enthusiasm for seminaries:

This piece was concerning for a number of reasons. It is good that people want more in-depth Biblical knowledge - and a Biblically-informed laity is priceless - but that they are looking for it from seminaries, raises a horde of questions, esp. as to why they are not getting good Biblical training from their churches. Again, I am not sure if this is a specific issue in/for Reformed churches, but I can think of plenty of others where it is.

You are describing historical problems. This has been a perennial issue one might say since the Fall. Adam couldn’t have had a better teacher or mentor, eh? Paul has problems with those he mentored. Back-stabbed him. I am sure you are enough of a church historian to be familiar with these same issues the church fathers on down faced. There’s nothing new under the sun.

This historical problem effects all our institutions and processes. It even extends to your Pastor’s College. It will drift and lose its way. Isn’t that the theme of Ecclesiastes in some way?

You won’t get an agreement out of me that WTS grads can’t preach. I am one. Was an elder asking me to stop preaching about sin because it upset his wife a good recommendation? This may surprise you but none other than Tim Keller told our preaching class that a preacher needs to preach to the conscience. He was a big fan of the Puritans who were masterful at this.

I think you’d have a hard time driving a hard correlation between seminary trained pastors and poor pastoral care. There are powerful cultural values at work. Rabid individualism, consumerism, subjecting our kids to godless government education, and on and on. Even before mega-churches pastoral care was difficult. Preacher starts meddlin’? Just go to the church down the road. Now you can be Mr. Anonymous at a local mega church which has gobbled up and weakened smaller local churches. You’ll hear a psychologized message with a few Bible verses thrown in. I am not telling you anything here, am I?

Yes, I share your level of distress. It is as in the days of Nehemiah, the gates are burned with fire and the walls are broken down. The problems are multitudinous.

Uh. Ummm.

The argument is not for anyone’s pastors college. It is for removing the training of pastors from the Academy and restoring it to the church. As Calvin did. As Spurgeon did. As Tennent did. As Frame and many others have always said should be done. And about Westminster grads not being able to preach, there are always exceptions that prove the rule. I stand firmly with Dad to this day and recently warned a man taking up teaching homiletics at WTS east that this was the case and he needed to address it in his work. And yes, I agree there are many other strong pressures from culture that contribute to our present state. With love,

Yes. Really. Tim Keller was like that in homiletics. His Pastoral Theology course was right up your alley, too. Wish I still had my notes and syllabus I could copy and send you. It was quite good. Somewhere things got sideways when he went to NY. He’d been at a smaller, around 200, church in SC I think before he came to WTS.

Brother, I still say you are painting with a broad brush with anecdotal evidence. I understand you’re a man of passion and I think your passion has gotten the best of you here. These are strong accusations against many men. Temperance would serve you better. I know you have deep love for your father. One cannot argue with the respect he engenders in you still.

Can men be trained better? Surely. Who can fault anyone for looking for and trying different models? I don’t see it as an either/or. You sound like you are offering a simplistic solution, if only we can close the seminaries and train pastors with a Pastor’s College model, all would be well. The Church would experience a revival not seen since Edwards. Calvin, Spurgeon, Tennent. What happened there that it did not endure?

Reformation and renewal in a church or seminary is difficult work. Much doesn’t succeed. The SBC did it. It took all out war. Now they’ve backslidden. We wish it weren’t so. It is not without cause Paul exhorts us to fight the good fight. Maranatha.

My two cents as a man currently discerning a call to pastoral ministry:

I must say, I am attracted to a seminary education, especially to Westminster Philadelphia and Greenville Presbyterian due to the quality of knowledge that I see in graduates in the original languages, systematics, and biblical theology. However, the cost is (usually) outrageous and practical application is lacking. I think seminaries are realizing the latter. See, i.e. required “field education” credits in just about every seminary.

P&R churches usually require at least a year long pastoral internship, presbytery care, etc. before a man is ordained. But, there is something strange, in my mind, about hundreds of pastoral prospects leaving their home churches for three plus years to attend an institution hundreds of miles away to learn to be shepherds. Likewise, because the institution is centralized in one city, there are usually less then a dozen solid churches for these men to learn practical skills in - for three plus years! The result is that churches lose good men (families) that they have raised up, men and their families take on the burden of moving and debt, and they are forced to “compete” for mentorship opportunities with a dozen or more other seminary students in a local church that they have no history in or prior knowledge of.

I think the church has need for vocational theologians. Seminaries seem suitable to meet this need and for that reason I believe the should still stand. However, especially given the tools God has given us in the internet, what John Frame has proposed, and churches like Trinity Reformed, Christ Church, Sovereign Grace, etc. have put into practice are most attractive to me when I am looking to learn to become a shepherd.

There are exceptions, and it would be hard to prove who preaches / teaches / counsels / shepherds / administrates / etc. better in any real statistical or convincing fashion. But common sense seems to tell me that local training in the church is best, especially when we consider the breadth of tools that we now have at our disposal to educate men theologically.


No. You are describing a problem that has been around since the fall, and mistaking it for the problem under discussion that has been around at various times, mostly since the Sorbonne. The two are definitely not the same thing.

It is true that no institution is perfect. No type of training will be perfect. Nor will any type of training produce 100% good men. Jesus trained Judas. But you can’t use that fact to prove that it would have been just as good if Jesus had simply sent his disciples to Gamaliel for 3 years. He didn’t just choose the men. He chose the method. And the question is whether some methods are better than others.

Surely you men aren’t suggesting that judgments can’t be made about institutions and their fruit. Refusal to do this is a constant problem. If reformed seminaries are doing a good job at this, why is the evidence overwhelmingly to the contrary?

The judgment that is being made here in these posts is far less broad than the judgments you’ve made yourself here about the Christians in our nation. If your contention is that the state of the church today in the USA is the people’s fault and the pastors are all suffering servants, I fail to see the evidence. Just like the time of the prophets I see a few, here and there, while a great many more are harming the sheep rather than being harmed by them. And remember, Jesus knew the people were trouble and said so, but he far more strongly criticized the religious leaders.

This has always been the case, and you have the testimony of one of the men here about how it’s been working out:

Besides, when it works or has worked in the past, who is providing the training then? The seminary, or the church? The whole point is that the seminary cannot provide it, and it is essential for ministry. Unless you’ve been in a church that had it, either before or after seminary, you will not have it. How is this controversial?

Book learning is good. Rigorous academic training is good. Theory is good. None of these things are impossible to provide in the Church. But seeing it actually done is essential, and every other industry in the world knows it and acknowledges it. The work of pastoral ministry is done in the church, and it is not done in the seminary. This is established by definition, not by opinion or research. Thus, as

You can outsource or insource book learning for true pastors, but you cannot train true pastors via book learning.