Posts Tagged ‘bethlehem institute’

Training Preachers: A Lesson From William Tennent

February 5, 2009

logcollege1

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?
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Is formal theological education good or bad? PART 2

November 18, 2008

I have always had difficulty when academic institutions acknowledge that they are not a local church (no church polity, no church discipline, etc. ) yet claim to be accomplishing a task that only the church is given the authority to do; namely, the work of preparing the saints for the work of the ministry. As I understand it, the Church is the only institution that is given the authority to prepare the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). However, it is difficult to undergo the necessary theological studies in a local church context. As a result of this, there have been some attempts to integrate rigorous theological study done at a seminary, with practical apprenticeship done at a local church. Almost all of these experiments fail to properly integrate the two. These programs often end up lacking a genuine apprenticeship or fail to offer a theological education that is academically rigorous.  However, there are a few churches/schools/apprenticeships that have made significant contributions to the reform of ministerial training.  Here are three: 

1.  Bethlehem Seminary (www.thebethleheminstitute.org) is currently the only Seminary of its kind because both the apprenticeship and the theological study are governed by a local church, in which they can be properly integrated.  The new M.Div. program is a 4 year commitment and involves rigorous theological studies, including extensive Greek and Hebrew studies.  Bethlehem Seminary will only accept 12-14 M.Div “apprentices” every year into their program.  Each of these students is mentored by a Pastor and progressively becomes more involved in ministry at the local Church level throughout the 4 years of the program. 

2.  Sovereign Grace Pastor’s College (www.sovereigngraceministries.org/PC/Overview.aspx) is a one year program, ranges from 15-25 students at a time, and is restricted to those who are commited to ministering within the Sovereign Grace network of churches.  It is only one year, and because of this, it is not academically as rigorous as a typical seminary.  It does include a limited amount of Greek study and there is a special focus on the spiritual life of the potential pastor.  The goal of this Pastor’s college is not only to impart a general theological framework and practical study skills, but to give opportunity for hands on ministry within a local church context and to promote growth in Christ like character.  This is a great opportunity for those who can fit into the ministry ethos of Sovereign Grace, and are in a season of life where a 3 or 4 year seminary commitment is not reasonable. 

3.  Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church has an internship (www.capitolhillbaptist.org/we-provide/internships/description/) is 5 months long, and is for those who sense a call to the pastorate.  It is not intended to be a seminary replacement, but rather to compliment a seminary education with an internship experience.  Throughout the program, an intern writes about 100 papers and reads over 5000 pages of text.  The 6 interns attend elders meetings, are involved in ministry at the local church, and spend weekly time with one of the elders at Capitol Hill Baptist Church.  If you are currently are planning to attend a run-of-the-mill seminary, or have already attended one, I would highly recommend taking a look into this program as a supplement to those studies.


This might be a good time to pitch an interactive web forum we attempted to launch some time ago, and are hoping to resurrect.  It is our desire that it would be an effective tool for those seeking to be trained for the ministry.  www.bibleschooldiscussion.com  Write anything you know about a school, post questions about a school you are considering, add a school to the discussion.  Our goal is that it would be a place where potential students can see what is available for those looking to train for the ministry, and can have an idea of what is really being taught at various institutions.

 


PART 1


 

Is formal theological education good or bad? PART 1

November 1, 2008

Years ago, I would have never imagined that I would ever be pursuing a formal seminary education.  The Christian community/tradition I was in was pretty anti-institutional in many respects.  We called seminary “cemetery”, and it was only for stuffy, proud, rich young men who had turned Christianity into an intellectual pursuit, much like the other sciences.  Formal theological education was only for the “hireling” who was seeking to make merchandise of the saints by applying for the CEO (pastor) position at a local hymn singing country club (typical church) so he could hear himself give speeches (sermons) to as large crowd a crowd as he could muster (congregation), hoping to make his name great. 

And now, years later, after many paradigm shifts, here I am, with seminary applications in hand.  And I need to ask myself honestly, ‘have I sold out?  What has changed?’

Some things have indeed changed, and some have not.  I would still extend a critique to the way many of us in America (and around the world) ‘do church’, as many of our gatherings reflect the ways of the world rather than the pattern entrusted to us in the Scriptures.  I am still grieved by the way that many are making merchandise of God’s people, and the way we perpetuate this problem by handling church leadership like a corporate office over a business venture.

But now I look at many of these churches, and in them, I see many of God’s beloved people, struggling to see the Kingdom of God while keeping one foot in the world.  People gathering with other believers to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, worship God, and to be exhorted by means of His Word.  They are looking for encouragement, discipleship, and others to walk with on this calvary road, and all too often they come to the church only to hear, see, and be surrounded by the same things they are seeking refuge from.  They hear contradictory messages from different corners of the congregation, and being untrained in the scriptures, many of them choose to follow whoever is speaking the loudest.

I want God’s Word to be what is loudest in those churches.  I want them to hear things, that by the Holy Spirit, will fight back the flesh and encourage the Spirit.  I want them to be encouraged to trust a Holy and Perfect God, even when everything in their life seems amiss.  I want to grow with them in discipleship and discerning the will of God, cherishing the one who rescues us through His own shed blood on the cross.  I feel called to shepherd, and I want to learn, I want to study, I want to be mentored.  Certainly, not all the training (or even most of the training) needed for tomorrows elders takes place within the four walls of a Seminary.  However, I would argue that in our present day, Seminary is one of the best places to:

1. Study the heritage of the faith passed down and entrusted to us, and to learn from  the lives of Godly men and women who have gone before us.  

2.  Acknowledging the mistakes of the past so that we might avoid them as a church in the future.

3.  Consider the struggles of those who are in our churches today and considering how to care for them in light of God’s Word. 

4.  Develop and practice rhetorical skills to be used in defending right doctrine and proclaiming the truth in a winsome manner.

5.  Grow in critical thought as it relates to theology and the church.

6.  Study God’s word on a daily basis in a community that is thinking critically and pastorally.

7.  Learn to read the Bible in the languages it was originally written in.   This may help us grow to understand the underlying misconceptions in many modern day controversies, and walk in the awareness of any assumptions translators may have made while translating the texts into English.

8.  Spend time listening to older people who have spent dozens of years pouring over the Scriptures.

9.  Spend more time reading.  

10.  Spend time learning to communicate well through writing.

These are all important skills that are invaluable to our next generation of church leaders.  There are indeed many dangerous things that Seminary may bring before us.  Many Seminaries are steeped in bad doctrine and are unhelpful all together.  Many things about our current conceptions of Seminary itself are  just plain unbiblical.  However, God is still using many Seminaries as a key component in the training of tomorrow’s church leaders.  

All this to say, we should work towards reform in our Seminaries… more on this to come.  But just as a teaser, here is the way one Church/Seminary is reforming the way Seminary is done: The Bethlehem Institute.