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>Seminary Grads Needing to be Urged to Enter Local Church Ministry

>Excerpts from The Christian Post/AP article, Ga. Group Aims to Coax More Seminarians to Pulpit:

They come from a host of mainly Christian denominations, but one thing unites them: they are part of a shrinking number of theology students nationally who are interested in taking over a pulpit rather than doing something else with their degrees…

A recent study by the Auburn Center for the Study of Theological Education in New York found that of graduates with a master of divinity β€” the traditional degree for church pastors β€” the number interested in congregational ministry fell from 65 percent in 2000 to 58 percent in 2006, the most recent data available…

Some seminary graduates prefer to use their religious education for secular or nonprofit work. Other students simply don’t want to work for denominations plagued by sex scandals, rifts over gay clergy, image problems and declining or stagnating membership…

‘There’s 22- and 23-year-old students with a wonderful sense of idealism. They’re gonna change the world, and they haven’t been hammered on yet,’ said Kurt Fredrickson with Fuller Theological Seminary, a nondenominational evangelical school in Pasadena, Calif. ‘But there’s also disillusionment with the institutional church…’

Student-loan debt is another big reason experts say seminary students pursue other professions…

What are your thoughts on this phenomenon? I can certainly understand the desire to pay down some of that student loan debt before moving on to full-time ministry. The question is how long do you take to pay it down? I can also understand the disillusionment with the institutional church. There are many things to commit oneself to other than local church ministry but what about the investment in gaining a deeper understanding of the Word? What obligation does a seminary grad have to share what they have learned? I know some of our readers are seminary grads who are currently engaged in things other than local mininstry (at least vocationally). What is your perspective on this?

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17 thoughts on “>Seminary Grads Needing to be Urged to Enter Local Church Ministry

  1. >I would love to return to the taxonomy discussion. We had a rather healthy one a few months back which included Dan Wallace. My taxonomy would be with a doxiological rather than ecclesiastical center.But, this is a different discussion.

    Posted by ChiefsSuperfan | June 21, 2008, 12:15 am
  2. >Jeff,I hear you that there needs to be awareness and for the health of the body I would not want to be known as the one who created dissension. My point may be clarified in that what I may consider a debatable doctrine that should not be divided over may be considered an essential within a local church. Academics does for the most part these days present a helpful grid or taxonomy to distinguish what is and is not as important. Inspired by Dr. Dan Wallace, I would present this taxonomy: 1) What is essential for the life of the church?2) What is important for the health of the church?3) What is important for the practice of the church?4) What is debateable and should not be divided over no matter what?I would hope that churches accross the board would evaluate their positions in light of this taxonomy, even to the extent that maybe they need to revise their doctrinal statements or statements of faith accordingly. But getting people to think in a way that has this flexibility and the ability to dialog would probably be an uphill battle. Although I hope I am wrong. So when I said I could not not state my position on a matter, I too would need to evaluate it according to this grid and dialog accordingly. Not everything is at the level of the gospel’s importance. I would not separate due to a difference on origins. But I find the freedom much more in an academic environment than I do in a church setting. Hence the judgmentalism of a “maverick.” I do think Jacob’s response demonstrates a pretty good out… even if he is from Moody! πŸ™‚ I went to Emmaus.

    Posted by P. Smith | June 20, 2008, 9:09 pm
  3. >It wasn’t “seminary”, but in my time at MBI I went from one who thought I wanted to be a “Pastor” to one who realized that I shouldn’t go that route. We had an assembly where the director of placement read through about a dozen “typical” job descriptions for pastors, and then I began to understand.As it stands today, I have freedom to speak out of conviction without fear of how a board or congregation (or pastor) will react. I can teach with applications that my pastor wouldn’t consider mentioning, for political reasons. I’d give up any possession easier than my MBI education, but I’m not interested in (most) pastoral positions.

    Posted by Jacob | June 20, 2008, 1:47 pm
  4. >Here is a quote by Tozer I was convicted by earlier today.β€œThe soul of man, says Matthew Arnold, is a mirror suspended on a cord, turning in every breeze, always reflecting what is before it but never reflecting more than a small part of the whole. The size of the mirrow varies from man to man, but no one is able to comprehend the vast panorama that lies before and around us. The mental giant has a large mirror, to be sure, but even the largest is pathetically small. As long as we know that our view of truth is partial we can preserve that humbleness of mind appropriate to the circumstances; but let us once get the notion that our view is total and we become intellectually intolerant. Let us become convinced that ours is the only sensible view and our ability to learn dies instantly. . . . Unity among Christians will not, in my opinion, be achieved short of teh Second Advent. There are too many factors working against it. But a greater degree of unity might be realized if we all approached the truth with deeper humility. No one knows everthing, not saint nor scholar nor theologian.” (”Our Imperfect View of Truth,” The Alliance Witness, March 11, 1959, p.2).

    Posted by ChiefsSuperfan | June 19, 2008, 5:37 pm
  5. >”But people seem to want certain “maverick” ideas they don’t agree with to not be preached/taught. I can’t not think and say what I think about such matters.”If there are 2 or 3 issues like this where we have strong convictions, or maybe don’t have strong convictions but our views are not widely held, then it seems that we should make them known early on in the process so there are no suprises later. If the church leadership knows about it up front and they agree to have you become their pastor anyway then there should be no problem when you teach according to your convictions in those areas. If literal 6-day creationism, for instance, is a dearly held position for them then all parties involved will know that the process should probably go no further.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | June 18, 2008, 10:04 pm
  6. >Interesting post. I’ve got an MAR in Old Testament from one of my tradition’s seminaries, and I’ve used it quite extensively in my college teaching and Renaissance Lit research. But beyond translated benefit, I’m trying to live with the reality that, in my own tradition (Christian Churches/Churches of Christ), there are two dueling phenomena going on: on one hand, the mega-churches and church plants get accolades, attention, and bumps in attendance while the small town congregations are forgotten and shrinking. (I imagine that’s where a fair number of those megachurch congregants come from.) By setting myself up to earn my main paycheck from someone other than the elders of a congregation, I’m actually in a slightly better position to serve local congregations because I don’t have to hold out for a living wage from a local congregation.Just to give two examples, at our congregation here in Athens, GA, I’ve become the de facto pinch hitter whenever the preacher needs to be somewhere other than the pulpit on any given Sunday, a Sunday school teacher, a teen Bible study teacher, and one of the main teachers in the congregation. And in West Virginia, where my in-laws live, I filled pulpit two Sundays ago, taught their Wednesday night Bible study, and helped them to get their job listing for a new preacher on the Internet. (Some of them wanted to hire me, though I had to return to Georgia; others thought I was too educated and talked too fast.) In sum, I think that I’m heading for a lifetime of teaching Christians, even if I never once receive a paycheck from the elders.(BTW, sorry I’ve been incommunicado for a couple weeks. I’ve been on the road in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Indiana visiting Micah’s grandparents, and computer time is scarce.)

    Posted by Nathan P. Gilmour | June 18, 2008, 12:38 pm
  7. >I too feel the seriousness and gravity and responsibility of what I have learned. To whom much has been given much will be required. I am also reminded of the parable of the talents.I understand the need for everyone who is sound in doctrine and passionate to be in ministry. However, I also think that, while I have begun to have a taxonomy of what is and is not important, I also think I’d be seen as a theological maverick in a church setting.People might think I’m out of my mind if I were to talk about the Genesis creation account as a polemic against ancient Egyptian cosmogenies. They’d think wrong thoughts about the Seminary I came from too if I did not think Mark 16:8ff and the pericope adultrae were not inspired canonical portions of Scripture and should be left out of the Bible. Yet, I’d have all my ducks lined up in a row as far as orthodoxy is concerned. The deity of Christ, Humanity of Christ, Trinity, etc. I may be correct about the doctrine of salvation, but I may not be as free grace as many believe and promote within churches too.My point is, churches aren’t ready for the positions I hold as a result of the current Biblical studies within the academy. Yes focus on the essentials that are established, but at some point you’ll be expected to comment on the creation narrative or some other controversial subject like election and freewill and free grace v. Lordship salvation etc. I have learned solutions to these problems that are not the solution or sides of the past but are right down the middle as mediating positions. But people seem to want certain “maverick” ideas they don’t agree with to not be preached/taught. I can’t not think and say what I think about such matters. I want to be as honest as possible about them. The academic freedom I enjoyed in the academy is not nearly present in intolerant church settings. Again, man-centered preaching contraints will exist, thus stifling my desire to be all that I am and serve the best I know how. Who wants to be stifled?

    Posted by P. Smith | June 17, 2008, 5:28 pm
  8. >A good, somewhat related from Dan Phillips of Pyromaniacs:To seminary, or not to seminary?

    Posted by Jeff Wright | June 17, 2008, 5:05 pm
  9. >”I shared with our men this past Sunday from the pulpit that of the three guys who influenced me the most to have a passion for sound doctrine, none of them received a formal Bible degree such as myself.I’m not sure what point that makes because I know I truly value my degree, but the further I get from my school days the more I appreciate my dad, my father-in-law, and my Sunday school teacher as a kid.”I’m totally tracking with on this. I certainly do not mean to imply more training = better. I do not believe that. I can also think of people similar to the ones you mentioned who were/are great servants. I will never have the impact on lives the way some of these have had. If we fail to appreciate believers such as these merely because they lacked formal training that would be insane. Seminary has made me much more humble (probably that and the fact that I’m getting further and further removed from my 20s when I knew everything). Seminary has helped me to see that I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’ve merely prepared myself to continue a lifetime of learning. “If I can pray for any of you, let me know. I’d love to.”Yes, please do. I finish school in early Aug and my wife and I are going away on a week-long vacation. Then we will take the Fall to think and pray about what is next and to rest. We’re going to need wisdom.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | June 17, 2008, 4:04 pm
  10. >Jeff,A quick follow-up before I head up to Pacific Garden Mission to preach (please pray for a harvest this morning):I shared with our men this past Sunday from the pulpit that of the three guys who influenced me the most to have a passion for sound doctrine, none of them received a formal Bible degree such as myself.I’m not sure what point that makes because I know I truly value my degree, but the further I get from my school days the more I appreciate my dad, my father-in-law, and my Sunday school teacher as a kid. If I can pray for any of you, let me know. I’d love to.

    Posted by ChiefsSuperfan | June 17, 2008, 3:26 pm
  11. >”When you all get your rest, jump in! We need ya’!! :)”No doubt. One thing seminary has given me is an appreciation for the seriousness & gravity of the responsibility one has after learning what we have learned and being trained in the ways we have been trained. I do feel a sense of obligation to serve the church with what I have learned. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that I have to force myself to do it out of guilt or anything like that. If I didn’t want to do this I wouldn’t have gone to seminary in the first place. But I am stuck by the fact that so few, relatively speaking, have the opportunity to be trained as we have as yet they are giving themselves fully the best they know how. I could not imagine putting myself through 120 hours of seminary (not to mention 60 hours of a Bible degree) including 5 semesters of Greek and 4 of Hebrew and then not enter full-time mininstry. I don’t say that to lay a guilt trip on anyone who has chosen a different path. I’m just expressing my thoughts on all this. Now, I suppose things could change and I could go a different route but these are my thoughts at this time. My desire for rest is more of a catching my breath thing than it is a change of mind about the future.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | June 17, 2008, 2:55 pm
  12. >We need every guy who is sound in doctrine and passionate for the lost that we can possibly get into local church ministry. When you all get your rest, jump in! We need ya’!! πŸ™‚

    Posted by ChiefsSuperfan | June 17, 2008, 2:34 pm
  13. >P. Smith- Thanks for sharing. Very interesting to get your perspective.

    Posted by Jared Nelson | June 17, 2008, 1:52 pm
  14. >Just graduated from Seminary myself. I’m tired. It took me 6 years. I had a Bible College undergrad so most was repeat. I only had about 3 years worth of patience to get it done. I wish I went elsewhere and did a freakin MA in Bible Exegesis at Wheaton in two years. The ThM is a flippin beast. I could have been a Medical Doctor by now.Having just graduated I applied to one job at a church I grew up in. An ideal church, willing to grow and with a big vision for the lost. But they picked someone else… Someone I know, but not one who grew up there like I did. A prophet is without honor in his own hometown. Som I’m sort of recovering from the hopes I had about that possibility.Two things I have yet to see the previous replies and blogs address, while I agree with the loans and rest factors in my experience. First, as in my situation, coming from a Plymouth Brethren background, many of these local churches within my preferred ecclesiology do not have either the means or the desire to have educated clergy. Plus, since the Plymouth Brethren don’t consider themselves a “denomination” (even though they are) they do not have any sort of centralized communication network that communicates needs for “full time workers” (for soem strange reason they shy away from the work “pastor” like it is infected with coodies). So my hurdles are a little larger than most. If you do not hear about a local church in need you’ll never know about it if you are not connected somehow to them. It’s really ineffective to think this way… many of the Plymouth Brethren also do not trust outsiders and hire from within. That does have some pros and cons however.Second, having thought about life, I know I do not need to do full time ministry in order to be saved. Am I wrong? I still get eternal life, what more could I ask for? I don’t say that to be provocative, but I do say that thinking that if I do not do ministry it is not some sort of let down in eternity for me… and yes it does sound kind of selfish. Third, I think Seminary did really good at teaching me information and method and how to think. However, it has not taught me about God nor has it grown my faith. I’ve been in Bible College, Seminary, and work environments with high numbers of Christians so much so that I have lived in a Christian Bubble for approximately 10 years. I’m timid to talk to my drunk and drug addict neighbor and the neighbors who are loud all night. I should love thos people but I am timid now. I’ve been institutionalized. My mindset is defensive not offensive and the weird part is that I even know my patterns are wrong. But this is really a surface issue. My faith in a living and almighty God that acts in today’s world is small. Seminary did not enhance my view of God’s greatness which would in turn grow my faith and ability to trust him like the heroes of the faith I read about in the Bible. This is pretty candid of me to reveal I know. But as much as I know this is the error, I still need help fixing it. Fourth, I once saw in the Seminary Student Newspaper a funny but oh so true one frame comic. There were two tables set up for book signing. At one table was an obvious reference to Warren’s 40 days of purpose. The author sat behind his table ready to meet his admirers. The other table had Moses behind the book table with his book on display: 40 Years of Wondering. I often wonder if it’ll take 40 years to get me into the ministry God has for me. I would have to wait. And maybe I’m ready, but the people he wants me to minister to are not. If that is the case then I can’t force it.Lately, I wonder at the stress of ministry. A number of the sites that post ministry positions are either too business like in their lingo that I have no idea what they are saying or the job description wants you to be everything under the sun with a poor salary. Ok ok ok… I’m not in it for the money. But I ahve a wife and want to have kids and provide for them… and have time to be a husband and father. I’m prone to workaholism already. Why go into a field that wants you to work 365 24/7? Those job descriptions are crazy. I’ve seen them and they are out there. Plus, I’m a type A perfectionist and obsessive compulsive. I don’t want to do mediocrity in everything because I don’t have time or the skills to do it. I’ll not be satisfied myself. I like to play fantasy sports now days because I can see results too. You either win or lose. In church work you can tell people all they need and they’ll go and do opposite all the time. I can’t make their decisions and even if you impacted some people’s lives you may never know. I don’t thin results exist in ministry!Ok… I went a little off on that last one, but this reason is also a good one. I recently heard of the AIMS test and http://www.thegiftednesscenter.com where you can be analyzed by people and tests to know what careers out there are going to be the most satisfying to you and your personality and skill sets. I had no idea about these just a few years ago. I want to enjoy my career. I’ll spend 1/3 of my life doing it, so it better be at least enjoyable and motivating to get up in the morning. Right now, ministry just seems too stressful to me. A sermon a week? Too much work in my mind. I’m a perfectionst remember. I won’t even be happy with it when I am done. I’ll kill myself knowing I forgot to say this and that and this over here… I want to do something I’m built to do. Maybe ministry is not that for me. So I had a few areas why I am not going directly into ministry right now as a full time work. I still go to my local church. I still have ministry to do while I am there. I’ll always go to church. I can always do lay ministry. Bible College and Seminary will both be beneficial to me and others inside and outside of the local church setting. I get tired of being asked what will I do next and getting some internet site with a job description shoved into my face. I just need to be and recover and read the Bible again… not for class… but for me. I need to pray and journal. I need time. It sound so selfish… it really does, but I am in a place needing to be served right now. I’ll serve and am serving… so don’t worry in the long run. Just let me get my bearings again please. I need at least a summer to detox from school. I know a preacher who said he’s been detoxing for 35 years! I’ve thought intensely about it all. I just need a chance to let it simmer.

    Posted by P. Smith | June 16, 2008, 7:19 pm
  15. >When I graduate in August, my family and I are taking a break. I don’t if that will be for the rest of ’08 or for an entire year. We are tired. After almost 5 yrs of seminary with a family of five for my wife and I to care for, me working full-time and going to school full-time along with internships, we’re beat. We need to get off this ride for a little while. And, yeah, I have student loans to face. I need to get in for a check-up which I’ve neglected for a long time. I need an eye exam. So…I need some time. People ask me, what’s next? What’s next is rest. When school is over we will begin to think about ministry. But for now its enough that we made it through seminary.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | June 16, 2008, 5:38 pm
  16. >Before I started ministering in a church, I did a year in a parachurch ministry while working on a PhD in NT Theology. The reason? I wanted to serve God without having to deal with the politics of church work.My first two experiences in church after college were awful. First, I worked in a SBC church in Oak Cliff in the Dallas area. It was an all-white over 65 church in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood. They brought me and some other youngsters on to “save the church” from going under (attendance had gone from 600 in the 60s to 75 in 2000). We had a lot of missions minded guys on staff and some bilingual folks, so we decided to do services in Spanish to reach out to the neighborhood. Some of the rich deacons who were paying the bills said, “If you bring in the Mexicans, we are leaving and the church will not be able to pay its bills.” I went into the ministry because I wanted to work for God. I found out really quick that you work for men.I left that church soon after and attended a large SBC church in downtown Dallas (not on staff). This church was doing a lot of great things in the city and I wanted to be a part of it. However, I was never embraced by the church because I wasn’t a good ole boy. (I went to DTS and not Southwestern.)After these two negative experiences, I thought, “Maybe I misunderstood my calling. I am obviously not cut out for church work.” At the same time, I was doing well in school so I thought I might be better at teaching. I gave church one more shot, attending a third church in the Dallas area, and had a great experience, which showed me that the problem was not that I wasn’t cut out for church work, but that I had chosen two churches in which I did not fit. I dropped out of the PhD program and got a job at a church in Washington State.Church politics almost ran me out of church ministry.

    Posted by Matt | June 16, 2008, 3:09 pm
  17. >At Saturday’s meeting of the Lone Star Founders Fraternal we talked about ministerial calling, so this is fresh.Part of my contention was/is the role the church should play in helping one to discern calling. This is not the only answer, of course, but I do think some are not serving in churches because their calling wound up being something else. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with going to seminary “merely” because you want to know the Bible better. Just as I would say that seminary alone is not enough to train for the ministry, I would also contend that the only legitimate reason to attend seminary is not vocational ministry.

    Posted by GUNNY | June 16, 2008, 2:36 pm

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