Sunday, November 13, 2005

A Biblical Problem in our Seminaries

Recently, Michael Spencer (Internet Monk) wrote about his journey towards becoming a Christian pastor, and his sincere regrets over having chosen this path in life. While I've often had trouble relating to his posts as he speaks from a branch of Christianity that seems very alien to me, this time I think he has hit a note that resounds through more of the church than just his branch. The pervasive practice in the church has been to recruit pastors who are very young, still in school and not yet established in their own families. While many worldly careers take this approach, I question whether it is the best approach -- or even an entirely acceptable approach -- for those shepherding Christ's flock.
If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. ... He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. If anyone does not know now to manage his own family how can he take care of God's church? He must not be a recent convert or he may become conceited ... (excerpts from I Timothy 3, which is worth reading in full)
And again
the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. (from Titus 1, again worth reading at length)

Typically, the "recruit through school" approach brings a very young group into the pastoral position; it's a position for which not quite all of them are really ready. Often the "assistant pastor" approach is open for the new pastor to be mentored, or other mentoring schemes are set up until the pastor gets his feet under him, and this is a good thing. But it leaves open a very real problem: what if someone becomes a pastor who, upon maturing, really doesn't belong in that line of work at all? At one time I belonged to a church whose pastor was unable to lead his own family, whose children were "open to the charge of being wild and disobedient" to say the least. When the pastor's job called for preaching he could preach a sermon. But when the pastor's job called for mature leadership, he simply could not deliver. (Yes, his sermons did suffer from "the leadership vacuum" as well; they tended to be very educational but not very edifying.) More than that, in our church body (and many others, from what I gather) the amount of education required for a pastorship includes extensive knowledge of both Greek and Hebrew before entering the Master's program. While this makes for admirably well-educated pastors, it also means it is rarely practical for someone to obtain that education after becoming mature, having children, and demonstrating humble, trustworthy, and effective Christian leadership.

The problems are both dealing with pastors who simply do not meet the Biblical requirements for church leadership despite having their degree, and clearing the path for those who meet the Biblical requirements but are not likely candidates for the church's official Master's program (though they may require some additional training). I have in mind a few possibilities, but would be curious if anyone else has seen this also and has thoughts on it. I'll hold off posting my own thoughts about solutions until after the next Christian Carnival.


Diane said...

Yes, I too have seen this problem. I used to date quite a lot of seminarians and I saw a common problem that wasn't being addressed. Both the seminaries and the students bought into the idea (although probably subconsciously) that one can be mature spiriutally (through what you knew and also your talent); while at the same time being immature emotionally and socially.

Nope..doesn't work....LOL.

I can't wait to read your solutions. I will weigh in on that topic after you post yours.

silas jones said...

hey, i really agree with what you said.

i'm listening to this great sermon right now from mars hill church in seattle, it's mark driscoll talking about 1 timothy 3:1-7 and what that means in light of a person becoming a pastor.

you can find it under the "downloads > sermons > books of the bible > 1 timothy" section, it's really good. :-D

Ariel Gazelle said...

I have been doing a little bit of seminary exploring. The last seminary I went to, a very conservative reformed one - they generally accepted a lot of students from an christian undergraduate school, however they told them to be out in the world for atleast two years before entering seminary. I think thats a good idea, only I would up it to atleast 3-4 years. You have to see a bit of life first. Time also is a good test for calling. If this is what you are really about and this is not just some phase ...

I have heard that there is a high burn out rate for pastors also.