When students ask for recommended books before entering seminary I usually have Paul Tripp’s Dangerous Calling at the top of my list. Tripp points out many of the common heart problems related to pastoral ministry. But this book isn’t just for students. I think every seminary professor should read it too. Tripp writes out of both professorial and pastoral experience.[Read more…]
By Mike Aubrey
Controversies and debates concerning the question of women in ministry continue unabated. Entering the fracas, you will quickly discover that both sides have a tendency to declare absolute victory in the scholarly discussion. As the argument goes, some book/blog/sermon is “the final word.” on the matter. Yet journals, as opposed to those other media, are where the critical questions of method, argument, and reason are laid out within the scholarly standard of peer-review. If you want to understand the debate as it’s being argued in the academic stratosphere, read the journals.[Read more…]
I read a book called Out of Context by Richard Schultz last semester for a seminary class. The author goes through common exegetical and interpretive mistakes in teaching the Bible, including those that famous preachers or authors have made, and equips the reader with ways to make sure he or she does not make the same mistakes. As I read about each of these kinds of fallacies, I wondered if something deeper than carelessness or ignorance might be the issue for some of us who take things out of context when teaching from the Bible.
One example is that the listeners generally eat it up when a teacher says, “In the Greek, this word means such and such,” assuming that what the teacher says must definitely be accurate. This can tempt us to do some acrobatics to make the Greek mean something it may not actually mean. For example, the teacher could pull out the lexicon and reduce the word to its elements and thereby conclude that he or she has deduced the “true” meaning of the word. The equivalent would be someone far in the future taking apart a current compound word or phrase like “cell phone” and explaining, “‘Cell’ could mean a room in a prison, a portable phone, or a blood cell, so when we really look deeply into the meaning of ‘cell phone,’ we see that it was the life-blood of Americans around the year 2000, and yet it imprisoned them in its cage of distraction and isolation, especially with the advent of the smartphone.”
That’s certainly a very interesting interpretation, and not entirely inaccurate in its implications, but when you or I say the word “cell phone” to each other, we are not in that moment thinking of all possible meanings of the word “cell”! In the same way, we often grasp at straws in an effort to read deep meanings into certain parts of the Bible.
The Word is an inexhaustible source of riches and deep meaning as it stands, but all too often, in our effort to extract something profound, we take words and concepts out of context. Maybe we are just tired, or we are running out of time before we have to present a lesson.
But as I read Schultz’s book, I kept asking myself, “Why else do we do this?” Besides time constraints when preparing to teach, why do we read things into the Word? Is what it plainly says not riches enough for us, not challenging enough for us? Have we been so fully aligned with the Lord, are we so completely obedient and living in the Spirit already, that we have to go into iffy allegory and analysis of seemingly insignificant details in Bible passages for the Word to have anything further to teach us?
I believe the temptation to take things out of context usually comes from a heart that is sincere, but which is trying to substitute human effort for the Holy Spirit. It comes when we rely on the words on a page to give us some deep meaning and revelation, rather than the Spirit who empowers those words, without Whom the words really don’t carry any power at all.
When we as ministers of the gospel are preparing to teach, preach, or write for the education and edification of other believers, we have to let the Spirit guide us in our preparation – not the expectations of others, not what we were “trying” to say or “wanted” to say. Sometimes we feel that we absolutely must teach about this part of Scripture or that, or make this point or that one, and in so doing we limit the Holy Spirit and fail to let Him empower the Word and speak to His people individually.
As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 2:1, “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.” He deliberately contrasts himself with some philosophers of the day who relied on human wisdom, effort, and analysis to grasp at higher truths, rather than the readily accessible revelation and power of the Higher Being.
I firmly believe that the simplest and most basic of biblical truths, communicated in the power of the Spirit and with His anointing and timing, will always be more powerful than the best of human wisdom that tries desperately to glean some elusive nugget that lies below the plain meaning of the text. Teach the basic truths of the Word with power, conviction, and with the guidance and presence of the Holy Spirit. When you are preparing to teach and find that you are coming up short, resist the temptation to read something into the text that really is not there, to take some little nuance or word and magnify it into more than what the writer clearly intended it to be. Delving into the original language, the history, the philosophy of the times – these are all wonderful things that can potentially help to further illuminate the Word rather than stretch or obscure it. When you find yourself pulling something out of the text other than the intended meaning of the passage, take a step back and ask yourself, “Is this being guided by the Holy Spirit, or is this my own human wisdom?”
We are hungry for the Spirit in our seminaries and churches today, and we all long to be guided by Him in our teaching. Using Scripture out of context, pulling unintended meanings out of the Word, is just one symptom of trying to use human effort to supply the meaning and power that only the Spirit can offer.
By Rebecca Dobyns. Becky graduated from the University of Texas and still loves the city of Austin in all its weird glory. Nevertheless, she currently finds herself keeping it relatively normal by studying at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, preparing for further cross-cultural ministry. She blogs about spiritual and physical wholeness at Wholly Redefined and Tweets about the adventures of abundant life with Jesus.
We live in a health-crazed world. With the help of the latest technology we are able to track information about our health with the simple push of an app on our smartphones. Even without the use of smartphones, we have access to an incredible amount of information on how to maintain health. Yet, heart disease is the leading cause of death here in the U.S. Despite everything that is accessible to us, hundreds of thousands of Americans are affected by heart disease, and its two leading causes? A poor diet and a lack of exercise. So what does this have to do with life in seminary? I believe that the leading cause of “death” in seminary is also heart disease. Allow me to explain.
Average Americans consume much more than they need to and without a source of output (exercise) we are at risk of heart disease and the same is true for the seminarian. As seminary students in the modern age, our accessibility to information is remarkable. We sit under some of the greatest teachers in our seminaries, but we can learn from many more through the use of the internet. At the click of a button we can buy and read books from nearly anywhere in the world. With a simple swipe and tap of the finger we can even open the very Word of God, wherever we are! A great blessing as it is to live at this time, it is also a time that requires greater responsibility for if we are not careful we will find ourselves at risk of spiritual heart disease—consuming without exercising.
I sincerely believe that the key to staying healthy during your time in seminary is to exercise what you learn. Your head may be filled with some great and beautiful knowledge, but if you are not exercising that knowledge by way of service to Christ’s kingdom and people, the arteries of your heart may be beginning to be clogged with pride. If this is you, you may be at risk of spiritual heart disease.
Thankfully it is not too late to fight against this disease for there is a great Heart Surgeon. As we strive to learn more about God and His Word, may we not neglect the exercise of loving service that our learning requires.
By Daniel (Je) Park. Daniel a current M.Div student at Westminster Theological Seminary in PA. dpark1006.tumblr.com
If somebody asked you to sum up your seminary experience, what would you say? Two years ago I left behind my successful career in IT (Information Technology) to attend seminary. It was a great experience—but that’s not to say it was perfect. But I learned a priceless lesson.
Like every seminarian, I quickly discovered that my expectations of seminary being a cross between a non-stop worship experience and a little bit of heaven were, well, a tad misinformed. If you’re considering seminary, somewhere in your heart right now you think that is exactly what it will be. I’m sorry, but it won’t be.
Seminary can be a very positive experience, but it’s not a trip to theological Disney World. In fact, you may not even finish your degree. In my case, after two years I ran out of money and the Lord provided for me to return to IT support and lay leadership at church. It was hard at first, but there’s no question that I’m better for the experience and I love what I do.
So what did I learn?
Well, before I answer that, let me suggest a few probing questions to ask yourself:
- Do you love the church members where you’re at in seminary, or do you see them and the church as a means to an end? (You are going to church, right? Don’t laugh–some who go to seminary because they feel called to church ministry don’t go while in school!)
- Are you single? If so, are you pure in your singleness? Purity, of course, is not just a single person’s charge, but there’s a reason Paul warned Timothy to “flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace” (2 Tim 2:22). Purity matters.
- Married guys–are you more loving? Are you leading your family well? Married gals–are you taking care of your family well? Has your love for, and communication with, each other gotten better or worse since starting seminary? If worse, God has not called you to seminary.
- Are you a better neighbor? If you’re not loving your neighbor now, why do you think you will later?
- Are you punctual? You can’t expect to be allowed to be late when conducting a wedding or funeral. You’re not a child anymore, it’s time to be on time. I would add here that having a daily routine for prayer and Bible study are nonnegotiables.
- Which do you prefer, the seminary “bubble” or the dynamic life of the real world? Seminary may seem idyllic, but we’re not truly Home yet. If you don’t like the world now, you won’t like ministering to it later.
Seminary is not about books and papers. Those are the last things it is about, but the things most students focus on the most. It’s not about amassing a data bank of ideas and opinions about God and the Scriptures. It’s not facts and figures, it’s fruit. It’s not names and dates, it’s commitment and holiness. Seminary is only part of the bigger picture: Life. And life is about being forged into a tool for service for the Master’s use, however He sees fit and running well until He calls you and me home.
Seminary is a wonderful opportunity God gives to some. If He has given you the opportunity, even if only for a season, take it seriously but also enjoy it as the gift it is. My professors and classmates taught me more than I can ever tell. But what I learned above all else is that what you learn isn’t nearly as important as who you become.
Desire: Have you ever had a desire for something deeper than yourself? Of course, as a Christian, we all have. Has that desire been so strong and so internally compelling that it scared you? Has a desire like this driven you to pursue God in a way that looks very strange to those around you? Do you get up early to read about God and spend time with Him? Do you pick up strange and difficult books to grasp a glimpse into the eternal being that created you? Do you long to know more about Psalm 139 and look at biology through a lens of ‘how God knit me together?’ If you have a desire that has gone deep within you and touched every aspect of your life and the way you see the world. That is a start.
Commitment: Have you thought about being in ministry full time? Many of us dream of a job where we can read, hang out with Jr. High Kids, Counsel or Study all day. Have you feared it yet? Have you come to a point of rationalization where you have to ask, ‘Can I handle it?’ Have you thought through constant interruptions, counseling mothers and fathers whose children have just committed suicide, being there for men and women as their marriages, careers, lives and families fall apart? Have you been afraid of it yet? If so, that is a start.
Compassion: How has your heart changed over the last few years? Not last week for that cute girl who won’t call you back, or last month for that rock band you loved, or last semester after the retreat on Evangelism you went to, over the last few years? Are you more excited to reach the lost because they need Jesus or because you have a new comeback or apologetic to try out? Is your heart driven to love the lost because you remember how you were a hopeless slave to sin, living apart from God, Lost and with No Hope in this world? (Eph 2:12). If you were saved a young age, do you know what your heart is for the lost? Have you found that yet? Paul said he was in the pains of child birth, Gal 4:19, until Christ was formed in these Galatians who already knew salvation but were not growing. Have you gained compassion for the lost and those in need of growth as you look at your own sin and struggle with the flesh? Do you long to come along side your brother or sister in Christ, do battle with them, go through the pain of failure just to reap a moment of victory and pray for God to give growth to that person? If you long for that, it is a start.
Pride: Have you left yourself behind? If you can do anything outside of ministry, go do it. You do not belong in Seminary. Seminary can only mold and shape you to have a more effective ministry. Perhaps that ministry is serving burgers and witnessing to others, if that is your passion, jump on board, join the group, but if you can serve burgers and never care about the customers souls, Seminary is not for you.
Change: Everything above was my journey to Seminary. It has been a 15 year process of prayer, research, God giving the growth as other servants planted and watered the seeds of God’s Truth into me, growing a compassion for the lost to a point of knowing that I could never not be in ministry. Pray, be patient and Trust God. If He wants you in Seminary, you will get there. And if not, you will be blessed with whatever ministry he has laid before you, even if that is ministering to the customers at your local hamburger shack.
Remember: Full time ministers do not often get to work at gas stations, bus stops, restaurants or offices. God still ministers there. We are part of a body of believers. If you are a hand, be a hand. If you are a foot, be a foot. If you are a member of the body of Christ, keep your eyes fixed on the Head, Jesus and serve where you are today. Seminary may be in your path. I embraced the growth He gave me when I was serving pizza, making copies, meeting with college kids, sitting in an office and serving in the local Church while praying about if Seminary was for me.
The year is 2015. Flying cars and hoverboards are everywhere, and most of us will have graduated from seminary. Maybe most of the world’s problems will be fixed in this short amount of time. There could be self-drying clothes and pizza that takes just seconds to hydrate—but probably not. And regardless of whether life is any easier five years in the future, Christian ministry will remain a tough task. So what are some of the challenges we will face in the future as we lead churches and ministries? It’s impossible to predict exactly what issues will face the church in the years to come, but it is highly likely that three problems which currently plague the church will only continue to be a problem if we don’t do anything about it.
Apathy against holiness- The first of these three problems is a general apathy: a nominal version of Christianity. The church doesn’t have a problem getting people into the pews—the real problem is getting those same people out of the pews and into the streets as ambassadors for Christ and sold-out disciples. The problem lies in a consumerist mindset found in our culture: that we go to church only to receive a service, and we need not make any contribution. There are many today who say that they believe in Christ and that they have been born again, but their life testifies that they have never truly been changed. They rely on a past conversion experience to get them by as a form of ‘fire insurance’ to save them from hell, but there is no true fruit of salvation in their lives. If we look closely at Matthew 7:13-23, we see the danger of living no differently than the world and not having any fruit that accompanies genuine repentance. This faulty mindset that says holiness and a changed life is not a necessary fruit of salvation is often a result of:
Illiteracy concerning the Word- A second major problem in the church is a lack of knowledge about Scripture. The Bible might be the best-selling book of all-time, but unfortunately it isn’t as often read. If we don’t teach our congregations to dig deep into the Scripture and hide God’s Word inside their hearts, they will not be affected by God’s truth, convicted by the Spirit, encouraged by God’s promises, and strengthened to fight daily against sin and temptation. The danger here is evident. Christians who don’t know the Word will lack discernment, and will be spiritually malnourished. And without discernment, many will be deceived and led into.
A distortion of the gospel- Possibly the greatest danger facing the church now and in the future is a distortion of the gospel. When people see God as some sort of all-powerful Santa Claus who exists to shower them with earthly riches and make them feel good about themselves, we have reduced Christianity to nothing more than one great therapy session, and when we do this we leave the key doctrines of our own sinfulness, Christ’s work on the cross, and his victory over the grave far behind. I was once told to ‘never preach a sermon that would still be true if Christ has not been raised.’ This is the greatest advice I have ever received. If we lose sight of the gospel and of the glorious work of Christ, we have lost the essence of true Christianity. If Christ had not died on the cross, we would still be dead in our sins, and if Christ had not been raised, we would have no hope at all. We must keep these truths in the forefront of our minds and our teachings.
Of course we do not know what the future will hold, and it would be silly to make the claim that we do. But if these trends continue, they will remain serious issues for the church to contend with for many years. As those entrusted with the gospel and pursuing Christian ministry in some form, we need to lead the charge against these faulty ways of thinking. We must preach expositionally, teach and disciple individuals with fervor, and set the example ourselves. If we do not take a stand for faithful discipleship and sound doctrine, revival in the church will seem as unimaginable as flying cars in five years.
I grew up like a lot of guys in full-time ministry. I was in church every time the doors were open “ my mom made sure of it. I did my part as a good Baptist by visiting with her and helping out in ministries that had captured her heart. She was an excellent model of a good, Christian woman and laid a godly foundation on which I could base my life choices.
After navigating through some tougher times in my late teens and early twenties, I landed in ministry as a bi-vocational youth pastor. I found quickly that due to my rearing in church I was prepared for most of the questions I received from both young people and parents, and found myself being so thankful for the background I had that well equipped me to minister to others. What I didn’t know, however, was what I didn’t know.
I had heard older ministers and laymen talk about education among ‘preachers’ when our church was preparing to fill a staff role, and the conversation was always two-sided. Educated professionals talked about the value of an education and seminary degree while less educated men and women (who, I might add, were just as successful as their well-educated co-committee members) spoke of the need for a down-to-earth person who was educated by life experience and the church. I could best be described as the latter. In fact, I entered seminary after having served bi-vocationally for more than seven years and full-time for almost as many.
Having grown up around all kinds of ministers, I had a great deal of respect for their seminary degrees. In fact, the older I got the more cheated I felt personally for not taking the opportunity to experience the classes and seminary life I heard them speak of on multiple occasions. I felt that I had no ‘cool’ seminary stories or experiences from which to pull. But not one time did I ever feel like I was less equipped or prepared for ministry than those guys. In fact, I considered myself their equal. I did not have their training, but I was certain that I was called and that Christ was using me effectively for advancing His Kingdom.
When I began my seminary journey, however, all of that changed. It did not take very long for me to realize just how ill-prepared I was for so great a task as training, teaching, and being a pastor of any kind. I remember having this moment of self awareness where I realized just how little I knew before I began seminary and how little I was going to know after I received my degree. It was awfully humbling.
And then my mind shifted to the gifted individuals who had received extensive seminary training but had allowed me to enter ministry without the same experience. These individuals recognized God’s call on my life and set me free to do ministry under their care. When I realized that these men knew full well what I didn’t know, it made their willingness to trust me to serve God’s Kingdom as a trusted pastor all the more humbling. And the fact that they allowed me to serve freely under their care “ not as an hireling, but as an equal “ helped me see that the scope of their training and calling far surpassed the paper they had hanging on their office walls. These men understood the heart of Jesus and owned the responsibility of modeling His heart to those called to serve Him.
My seminary journey is now nearing an end, but my thirst for knowledge has not been quenched. In fact, the more I learn the more I have a desire to learn more. And the greater my understanding becomes of the chance others took on me when I answered God’s call on my life, the greater responsibility I feel to nurture the same in others. I am thankful for what I have learned and for what I have yet to learn and experience. But I am so much more grateful for others who allowed me to answer God’s call on my life long before I actually knew what I didn’t know.
Have you ever thought about going to seminary? Chances are your answer is ‘No.’ Maybe ‘No, I’m not looking to become a minister’ or ‘No, I want to do ministry, not just learn about it.’ If you had asked me two years ago if I was thinking about seminary I would have said ‘No way!’ Yet I’m now near finishing at Rockbridge Seminary with a Master of Minister Leadership. I want to share a bit about how I came to that point, and why it might be something for you to consider.
I have always enjoyed learning. It was an easy decision to continue after college to get a Ph.D. I followed that by being an Assistant Professor before making the jump to industry. Now I’m a software developer for a small company. I love my job, spending time with my family, and have been growing in my faith for many years. Things were very comfortable, and I wasn’t looking for more to do. Until Spring 2008:
I was on a team developing a ‘long-range’ plan for my church. I was excited that we taking an honest look at our strengths and weaknesses, identifying strategic ways to pursue our mission of developing fully-devoted followers of Christ. I realized leadership development was a huge need for us “ not relying on staff or professional ‘clergy’ to do all God is calling us to do. Between this realization and the fact that I was turning 45, I was facing a mid-life crisis. No, not wanting a sports car, but a powerful realization that despite my success, I really had no clue about what it meant to be a leader, much less how to effectively develop other leaders. The impact of my life so far wasn’t what I had hoped it would be, and something needed to change. It became clear that the best way to have a significant impact “ on other people and for the Kingdom “ would be to become someone helping others be all they could be, developing others as disciples and as leaders. The big question was: how could I become such a person? My role-models were very task-oriented, great at getting things done, smart and hard-working, but not people who poured themselves relationally and intentionally into developing others.
At this time I learned about a seminary that was 100% online and offered a program of study on Ministry Leadership “ how to build up disciples and disciple-makers. The timing was perfect, and I enrolled in seminary. I had no intention of changing careers, and still don’t know where this might lead me, but I’ve found the past two years to be an amazing growth experience. Seminary isn’t needed to do ministry, but I don’t think that people appreciate just how helpful or practical it can be. There are three groups of people I would like to encourage to give more serious thought about the possibility of seminary.
Church Staffer (no seminary training)
A recent study shows that 83% of seminary graduates highly valued their experience and found it quite practical. Yet only 10% of churches require a seminary degree for staff members! This disconnect reflects a wariness about traditional seminary education. If you’re serving on staff at a church, know that there are now excellent seminary options that are online, biblical, practical, where you do not have to put your life on pause for two-three years to get training.
Volunteer Ministry Leader
Seminary is not just for those looking to be ‘career’ ministers! All Christians are ministers, but God has gifted some to be teachers and equippers to build up others for ministry. This is based on giftedness, not on position or career. Sometimes the best person to challenge volunteers trying to juggle career-family-ministry is a peer facing the same struggles. Developing a better understanding of the bible and practical ministry is not just for full-time pastors. Consider seeing if your church might partner with you, allowing you to serve as a ministry-intern and/or covering seminary costs.
Halftimer / Retiree
It’s common to drift into your 40’s-50’s and find yourself lacking a good answer for the question ‘What am I here for?!’ Bob Buford calls this ‘Halftime’, when a desire awakens to change your game plan from success to significance. One of the greatest benefits of seminary is that it helps you consider this question of life purpose, and helps you find a biblical framework for significance. My classes have included people of all ages.
We were fortunate enough to get a Google Wave invite yesterday. And, we have so few friends that were interested in Wave we didn’t give all our “nominations” (read invites) away yet.
If you would like to get nominated for a Google Wave account post your crazy idea for how it could be used in ministry. Then be sure to vote on the ideas you like the best by replying to that person’s comment. The winner will be nominated for a Wave account.
If you’re asking what Wave is: