The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Unique Challenges of Seminary

By: Thomas F. Booher

The difference between Bible college and seminary is deep and wide, for me at least. There are many reasons for this, but the fundamental difference is that I am now preparing to be a minister of the Word of God. Better, I am now being prepared to be a minister of the Word of God. This is not the case at Bible college. Here are some challenges I have found peculiar to seminary:

1.) Private Worship:

No, it's not like you shouldn't do personal devotions and family worship before seminary. The point is, if you do not develop good habits of doing that now, you never will. And if you can't read the Word yourself devotionally and be regular in prayer at seminary, you simply aren't called to be a pastor, at least not yet. I am learning more and more the importance of reading the Word and communing with God. Studying passages for a class or report doesn't replace private, devotional worship. If you think it does, you will suffer. You need a relationship with God that isn't tied to a class requirement. You need to take the time to feed on Christ, because if you are too busy to do so, how can you demand your congregation to do so?

2.) Family Time

Similar matter. If you are trying to cram in Greek and watch a movie or play a game with your wife and/or children all at once, you aren't really having family time. You have to find the time to stop your school work, stop doing whatever you do to make some money, and devote quality time to your family, and not only devotionally but to simply have a good time. I have found having a new screaming baby a particularly difficult challenge for both my wife and I. Do not underestimate the importance of family time, and again, if you aren't making it now, why do you think you will later, and how can you teach your congregation to do so?

3.) Church Involvement/Fellowship

Guilty again. It's hard to be involved in church beyond showing up on Sundays, because of the busyness and juggling of multiple callings. I would not want to say that you have to do more than attend regularly of course, but to have fellowship with other believers is vitally important. Again, if I think I am too busy now while in seminary, I deceive myself if I think it will be easier once I am pastoring a church. Fellowship is necessary spiritually, and it's just another test for one preparing for the ministry.

4.) Theological "Minutiae":

I want to be careful here, but this is one of the main reasons I decided to write this post. In one seminary class we have discussed at length on at least two separate occasions whether or not it is acceptable to have a wooden cross behind the choir. This gets into the issue of graven images, and using images for worship. I have also heard that you can have stain glass windows, but only with geometrical shapes. Scenes from Scripture are off limits. Whatever your thoughts are on these issues, and however much I may think this is a waste of time, it does have to be discussed. Why? Because you are a pastor, and you have to know whether or not it is honoring to God to have a wooden cross in your sanctuary. Then, if you decide it isn't, you have to determine how to proceed in getting it down. Do you refuse to pastor a church with a wooden cross and stain glassed images? Do you take on the church and try, through the elders and over time, to convince them that it should be removed? Or do you deem it not a real temptation and just let it go, even though you are convinced from Scripture it ought not to be there? Or do you go in guns blazing and split the church over the issue? These types of issues you don't think about in Bible college. I didn't at least.

5.) Theology of Secondary Importance

This is the other sticky issue. While it's fun to think about premil, postmil, or amil in Bible college, its serious business in seminary. What about apologetics, are you Van Tillian or Clarkian, or classical? What about the style of worship music? What about politics, and if it is ever right for a government to give financial aid? Further, is it ever right for a member in your church, in dire straits and where you as a church cannot financially lift the burden, to accept government aid? What about social justice? Does the church have an obligation to minister to the poor outside the church? Is evangelism something individual members in the church do, or should their be organizations within your church to take the good news to this lost and dying world? At the seminary I attend, the Sabbath is all the rage, a very particular view and interpretation of the Sabbath. How do you view the Sabbath, and how will you instruct your congregation on it? What about counseling? Does the pastor and elders do all of it, is it ever permissible to have a counselor come in for a church member in need? If so, what kind of counselor, nouthetic? What are your views on the Lord's Supper, on Baptism, and sanctification? Even within Presbyterian circles, there is variance on these issues.

Once you decide what you believe, and it should take a careful study of Scripture and looking at each side of the debate (including reading the best each view has to offer), then you have to instruct your congregation on your views, and while some may have very little Scriptural understanding and be all too willing to mindlessly accept what you teach, others will have their own beliefs firmly established in their hearts, which will take years to uproot. And then, with matters of secondary importance, when is it necessary to uproot them, and when is it best to say, "I am not going to die on this hill, even though you are a Dispensational, Van Tillian, libertarian, classical music worshiping, super Sabbatarian, infralapsarian!" Maybe you adhere to some of those things, maybe all of them, maybe none of them, but you can be sure someone in your congregation will be some of these things, and this is where pastoral wisdom and guidance by the Holy Spirit is very much needed.

In the end, it is the gospel that is primary. It is the gospel that must be proclaimed for unbelievers and believers alike. A church that is together for the gospel should be able to weather the storms of theological minutiae and even secondary theological differences. Debate is needed, as well as charity, and even room for disagreement. But not on the gospel. I believe that the key to good pastoring and preaching is highlighting the gospel, our forgiveness and freedom in Christ, our purpose in serving Him and cultivating fruits of the Spirit. If we make this, the main thing the main thing, then, by God's grace, the other things will fall into place.

Of course, there is no guarantee that every church member will see the gospel and the gospel alone as primary, but if we keep that as the focus and pray that the sheep would do likewise, I believe the Lord will bless the church.

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