Focusing Bible College and Seminaries

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ReLit, a ministry of Mars Hill church, has recently pumped out some great resources. Their series of books, books you’ll actually read, are great for newer Christians seeking to get an overview of some specific doctrinal issues.

One of ReLit’s books is by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis called Total Church. In it, they address the issue of theological education with the following excerpt:

“We are not against theological colleges, but we need a big switch of focus from the isolation of residential theological colleges to apprenticeships in the context of ministry. This is how Jesus trained people. This is how Paul trained people. In residential colleges the academy sets the agenda. With on-the-job training, ministry and mission set the agenda.”

Theological education, outside the context of the local church, can become very “heady” and not practical. Studying theology becomes an academic affair rather than light unto our paths.

I feel for Bible College and Seminaries, many are caught in this “middle ground.” In Systematic Theology Wayne Grudem points out that the church has three main purposes (Grudem 867-868):

1. Ministry to God: Worship (Schools have weekly chapel)

2. Ministry to Believers: Nurture (Schools are building up the body for the work of the ministry)

3. Ministry to the World: Evangelism and Mercy (Schools have days of outreach and evangelism campaigns)

They aren’t a local church, yet they are often doing many things that the local church has been commissioned to do. Anytime a school engages in an activity of the church, they must follow the Scriptural mandate for such activity, i.e. communion, teaching the Bible. Schools even practice a form of discipline by means of expulsion. I guess the only thing I haven’t seen a Bible College or Seminary do is baptize someone.

The point is the lines are way too blurry. Bible Colleges and Seminaries shouldn’t be acting like rogue institutions, they should be arms of the local church. Leave the roles of the church in the church. Stop doing communion, stop counseling, stop requiring ministry, and other tasks they have been commissioned for the local church. If the church is missing the mark somewhere (lacking in counseling or ministry), we need to fix the problem not commission a whole new group of people to do it.

Bible Colleges and Seminaries should keep their role in view: they are teaching Bible and theology. That’s all that the local church needs for assistance. Bible Colleges and Seminaries should be filled with elder qualified men, preparing young pastors to do the work of the ministry. Bible Colleges and Seminaries should have professors doing what the local church doesn’t seem to have time to do, which is devoting their time to teaching new pastors intensive Bible and theology. Bible Colleges and Seminaries are a great gift, their lives have been freed up to devote themselves to studying the Bible and theology and teaching new pastors.

We need a sharper and more focused view of Bible Colleges and Seminaries. Denominational schools are a lot closer to where I am advocating (schools like Southern Seminary and Westminster Theological Seminary are a great example). At Westminster all of the professors are teaching elders in their local churches.

Christian liberal arts colleges are great, training Christian school teachers is a wonderful pursuit, but men are coming to Bible Colleges and Seminaries for something different.

Another concern is that men feel that just because they have an MDiv., they are now qualified to be a pastor. Seminaries are poppin’ out thousands of 25 year old “pastors” every year. These men become ordained office holding pastors because of their degrees. Theological education is vital, but we need life experience to go along with it. We need time “walking with the wise.” We need to be ordained, or elected, or asked into church leadership because of the evidence of God’s grace in our lives, not because of our master’s degrees.

There are two skills to become an overseer–many characters qualities–but two skills. A man must be able to teach and he must be able to manage his household well. God help us to not raise one above the other. Too many pastors are chosen from resumes.

I encourage young Timothy’s to pursue theological training and seek out your training with some of these things in mind.

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