One of the greatest stories from Church History is the story of William Tennent. William Tennent was an Irish-born, Edinburgh-educated, Presbyterian Minister who came to the American Colonies in 1718. During this time he was known to have planted at least 3 churches in the New England States. After years of great success, his age no longer allowed him to travel the distance required to preach at his churches. William Tennent would no longer be able to plant churches, but he would be able to plant preachers. In the fall of 1726, Tennent started a school. But it wasn’t to be an ordinary school.
This was not to be a school where exams were taken on pieces of paper; instead, it was designed to prepare his students to endure in the work of the ministry. William Tennent had a vision to mentor young preachers in the skill of preaching. The place in which they met was called the “Log College”–a ragged, one-room log cabin located in the hills of Pennsylvania. No heat. No wi-fi. Just a lot of zeal. The Log College was not its original name. The name was actually a derogatory title given to it by the educated elite ministers of England, who chided Tennent for endeavoring to train poor, unfit, uneducated farm boys, who were considered by most unsuitable for the ministry.
But Tennent didn’t think so. Over a period of 20 years, William Tennent took dozens of these young farm boys and spiritually and intellectually poured his life into them, training them in the ancient languages and giving them a zeal for souls. When the time came, these men were ready. At the crest of the Great Awakening—that spiritual revival that swept across the American colonies—these young men were sent out burning with a passion to convert sinners from the power of Satan to the power of God. Every one of them risked their lives and labored faithfully to convince their hearers of their ruined condition, and of the necessity of a thorough conversion from sin. By the time it was over, William would also have sent out four of his own sons. Combined, these young men created such an impact in Great Awakening that George Whitfield, who spearheaded the Revival, commented on the lasting influence these young men had on the Revival.
These young men may be said to have lived fast. They did much for their Lord in a short time. Being burning as well as shining lights, they were themselves consumed while they gave light to others. Oh that a race of ministers – like-minded, burning with a consuming zeal – might be raised up in every generation.
Many of these young men went on to spend the rest of their lives on horseback, riding nearly 100 miles a week and preaching nearly twice a day. They endured malaria, fatigue, hostility and the incurable, looming disease of depression . . . all for the sake of the gospel. As a result of their intense labor in the vineyard, most of them did not live past the age of 40.
Because of the Log College and the vision of William Tennent, their ministries not only endured but prospered throughout their lifetime.
It has been said that it is certain that few, if any, of those young men who were brought forward to the work of the ministry could ever have endured had it not been for the mentoring of William Tennent.
That is the kind of mentality and thriving ministry young men our age had 200 years ago.
Several lessons can be learned from this
- William Tennent was a church planter; he not only trained his students in the original language, but he himself was a model for his students
- A partnership between the old and the young–between Tennent and his students–resulted in a powerful weapon for the gospel that spread the wake of revival
We need William Tennents in our day. We need Log Colleges. We need both the seminaries and the training of a seasoned pastor who has endured both the triumphs and the failures of the pulpit. We need pastors who are willing to take a young, passionate preacher and release him towards a Kingdom target.
That’s why we are encouraged to hear of schools like Sovereign Grace’s Pastors College started by C.J. Mahaney, or the long anticipated Bethlehem Institute started by John Piper. These are the present-day Log Colleges. We need more. We need these to start up in our own churches. We need pastors with a vision to train up the warriors in their own church and prepare them to do battle in the pulpit. We need the young men of our day to see the value of rigorous, seminary training with the hands-on experience of a local pastor.
- Is there a William Tennent in your church?
- What is the value of having both a theological and practical education?