How to prepare for pastoral ministry (5)

New Warhorn Media post by Tim Bayly:


I’ve been reading this series with much interest. I’m attending seminary in my early 40s. I have only good things to say about the theology of my school, but here are just a couple general observations:

  • Instruction is improving for those of us who weren’t called between the ages of 15 and 20, and enter seminary with a family, a mortgage, and a career. There is a lot that can be done online these days in terms of straight academics.
  • I’m on the long track because I only buy classes as I can afford them. I think people like me with a career and bills and a family look at huge debt differently and more cautiously than “pipeliners” who go straight from college right into grad school, where money is still kind of an abstraction, just numbers on a page.
  • There is a constant, unrelenting, unyielding pressure to contribute something “new” to the academic discussion, and the longer I am in the environment the more I think this impulse itself is what makes seminaries the birthplaces of declension. It’s also just plain stressful. If I am supposed to preach and teach the “faith once given,” why am I pressured to come up with new, provocative insights?
  • I am not sure that an excitement for preaching the Gospel and shepherding souls translates to an excitement about finer points of academic theology. I confess that razor thin nuances of academic theology make my eyes glaze over.
  • There does seem at points to be a sort of appropriation of the world’s methodologies, shaping the process of theological instruction to fit secular methods of information evaluation and research, though I’m not sure it’s always intentional

Again, just my own subjective observations


One other aspect of preparing for ministry, which I’ll mention here because I can’t think of anywhere else to put this. What are pastors and their presbyteries doing to actively look for men who could have the “right stuff” for full-time ordained ministry, and then encouraging those men to put themselves forward?

Back in the day, when I was a synodsman (lay rep at a Diocesan annual meeting), we would often discuss the question of actively looking for people who we thought could be released into ordained or other full-time ministry. In my own parish, we identified one man who we (the lay leadership) thought was “officer material” and in time he did go into parish ministry.

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Will you be touching on the intersection between this, credentialing/ordination, and the new Evangel Presbytery?

Will you also be writing on what the real or perceived weakness or challenges this approach involves? The historical precedents you’ve mentioned, why didn’t they survive?

Not planning on it since there’s nothing in our BCO about it. Ordination has always been more a function of examination than academic credentials. Love,

We acquire knowledge by studying; we acquire wisdom and character by practice. Therefore, when seminary students are focussed on study and knowledge, they do not build wisdom and they do not acquire the character necessary for being good shepherds. What is more, when they come out of seminary, too many have learned to value knowledge over character and wisdom.

Man, I’ve observed this to be so important. I’ve lived enough life in the church now that the difference between an ivory tower theologue and a real shepherd is so incredibly easy to see.

I’ve known men who come back from seminary with a great foundation of doctrinal knowledge, but show themselves to be virtually inept when it comes to human relationships. We revere them for their ability to write sermons, explain TULIP, or listen to them try to channel their inner MacArthur as they preach. But they are immature when it comes to actually loving people, and working through real situations of sin and forgiveness. They are fragile and offendable. They know nothing about what it is to navigate the challenges of real church life with patience and faith. They don’t even yet have categories in their minds for some of the interpersonal situations they are going to encounter.

But with the way I perceive most churches operate today, the problem is basically immaterial. It isn’t a problem at all, because the pastor in our day is not a shepherd. He’s a preacher. He turns the phrases, and produces memeworthy sound bites that will look good on social media. He may occasionally engage in a little bit of online pugilism through blogging. But his ministry doesn’t ever exceed the cerebral knowledge component of the Christian life, and if it does, it will be only from the pulpit in the form of an abstract exhortation. But he doesn’t get his hands dirty dealing with actual people. And when he is forced to, he flops hard. He’s brought into situations that would require him to be the resilient father figure, speaking wisdom with love, but instead he labors very hard to keep himself emotionally distant. He might refer people to therapists and counselors, because, you know, they are the real professionals trained to work through these things.

For my part, I am very thankful when I consider how God saved me from pursuing eldership in a pulpit ministry church like this several years ago. And even if I never enter into eldership, the insight I have gained into what true pastoral ministry looks like has equipped me to be a far better and useful churchman and father than I would have been had I stayed that course.