Irrigating Deserts: Seminary Education for Pastors
By Doug Logan | September 19, 2022
Topic: Applied Theology—Missiology—Urban Theology
Any successful plan to get in shape includes exercise. If you want to get fit, you get a gym membership and get after it. Exercising on your own can produce results, but enlisting the help of a coach will significantly increase your success. The results are better; the impact is greater. Anyone serious about achieving their fitness goals will optimize training for maximum effectiveness. Intentional training is crucial, yet churches often fail to prioritize the equipping of pastors. As a result, churches can launch unqualified men to lead new churches. Likewise, many aspiring church planters see theological education as more hassle than helpful. They believe that talent and hustle can compensate for the absence of theological training.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.” Theological education is critical to fill church planters with the necessary foundations for effective ministry. Moving forward, we must help pastors see that a commitment to theological education is vital for long-term fruitful ministry.
A New Kind of Seminary
Sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with the lost is serious business. Planting churches to make disciples requires more than a magnetic personality and an impressive social media presence. Our mission demands no less than a steadfast commitment to vigorous theological training. We want to plant Bible-preaching churches led by pastors thoroughly equipped to declare and display God’s glory to their neighbors and neighborhoods.
In a recent Christianity Today article, a seminary student writes, “Seminary has long been understood as a means to becoming a pastor. I’m now an MDiv—and the expectation is that once you get the MDiv, you get the job. Well, as it turns out, evangelical churches care a lot less about step one these days, so aspiring pastors are being told that seminary is unnecessary, even a very bad idea.” A failure to value the hard work required to plant and lead healthy, multiplying churches has catastrophic consequences for the mission of the church. Theological training is not optional; it’s essential. Is it costly? Yes. Is it time-consuming? Of course. Is it worth it? Absolutely.
“May God give us a renewed vision for training the next generation to advance the gospel.”—Doug Logan
I have the honor of serving as president of Grimké Seminary. Grimké is the official training partner of Acts 29, bound together by our shared commitment to planting churches, developing pastors, and teaching Christo-centric theology. We train pastors and planters in the church, by the church, and for the church.
Many traditional seminaries are doing good work, and we praise God for them. We at Acts 29 and Grimké operate from an abundance mindset, not a scarcity mindset. There’s room for us all. But traditional schools typically aren’t a viable option for many aspiring ministers. As demographics are shifting in the US to become more racially diverse, we must consider how to equip pastors for this emerging mission field. Making disciples of all nations means making disciples in all neighborhoods. Grimké strives to be an affordable, accessible, and achievable option for aspiring pastors of all contexts.
An article in 2002 looked at the perplexity of the need for seminaries to take on a more contextualized approach that would apply to diverse people being trained for ministry. Edna C. Greenway says, “When all is said and done, it takes a group of devoted people who are future-minded and dare to take risks, to see God’s will in preparing men and women to bring the gospel to the cities of the world.” In this generation, I believe we need people who are devoted, people who are looking ahead with a future vision, and people who are willing to take risks to progress the mission of Christ.
Our goal at Grimké is not to perfect seminary education but to master training pastors. We want to be as effective as we can be in training pastors and planters to reach their communities with the gospel. Success for us means more disciples made through the local churches of our students. We want to train the best pastors, not make the best seminary students. A 4.0 seminary graduate isn’t necessarily a 4.0 pastor.
A New-Old Vision
The vision for robust theological training to prepare ministers is an old one that deserves revisiting. The Apostle Paul’s strategy to equip the church in Asia was to teach the Bible every day for two years in the hall of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9–10). Charles Spurgeon never earned a university or seminary degree. Still, his esteem for proper pastoral training is evidenced by The Pastors’ College—the school he started to train aspiring pastors theologically.
We must optimize the training and equipping of pastors while making theological education personal and applicable in their local churches. Pastors must think critically about theology and its practice. We want to be the best disciple-makers in our churches and neighborhoods, at our places of employment, schools, gyms, and anywhere else God places us.
May God give us a renewed vision for training the next generation to advance the gospel. May he give us faithful shepherds to raise up congregations that enter into the dark places of their communities to shine the light of the gospel.