The Coal Mine and the Seminary: A Student’s Perspective

By Justin Honaker    |    August 15, 2022


Editor’s Note: This post is part two of a multi-part series. (Post One)

When I was an undergraduate student, I worked as a coal miner. My father made his living underground for thirty-five years and secured a part-time position for me in the mine, so long as I promised not to make a career out of it. I was young, married, and needed money, so I gladly accepted. I learned the value of quality, on-the-job mentoring in that coal mine. From the right way to operate equipment to the ability to check for unsound rock above your head, my mentor taught me how to do my job with excellence and how to stay alive. To be sure, the dangers and difficulties of the coal mine are not completely analogous to the pastorate, but pastors need experienced mentors too. That is exactly what I found at Grimké Seminary. Though academic excellence qualifies the seminary to train, mentorship by professors ensures that students are equipped for pastoral ministry. Throughout my education at Grimké, I learned solid truth; however, it was the phone calls, text messages, and face-to-face conversations with professors that helped me navigate the dangers and uncertainty of pastoral ministry over the past two years.

The mentorship that Grimké professors provide is always taking place, often unbeknownst to the students. As part of the Grimké model, education does not happen in a vacuum but in tandem with the local church. Every student is to be primarily discipled by a pastor from their particular church, ensuring that theology is worked out in a church of real people rather than in a classroom. But that is not the only way Grimké ensures the maturation of its students. During intensives, when you walk into the lobby of Remnant Church (which hosts the intensives), you immediately notice that the professors are among the students. There is no divide, no chasm, no relational distance projected by the faculty and staff; instead, the professors practice a joyful camaraderie among themselves and the students. The faculty also invests in students, taking the time to learn names, stories, and struggles. Many times over the last two years, I have had the great honor of being asked by my professors about how my wife, children, and church are faring during a pandemic. It is a comfort to know that my seminary cares more about people than papers, hearts more than deadlines, and brotherhood more than grade point average. This is not to say that academic excellence isn’t valued—far from it. However, the beauty of Grimké is the right relationship between discipleship and the Academy.

As useful as books and blogs may be, professors who know your story, context, and particular struggles are uniquely equipped to provide the appropriate salve for your unique ailment.”

—Justin Honaker

As has been the case for nearly all who read this, the difficulty of pandemic pastoring and leadership has been unlike anything we have dealt with. Landmines have been laid on nearly every inch of the narrow road of Christ-following. In pursuit of Jesus, the faithful Christian has likely lost a few battles during this season. However, one great personal benefit has been the pastoral mentorship I have received from the professors at Grimké. The wisdom from seasoned pastors—engaged with their students—has been unbelievably valuable, extremely biblical, and rightly practical. As useful as books and blogs may be, professors who know your story, context, and particular struggles are uniquely equipped to provide the appropriate salve for your unique ailment. And at the same time, the professors can share in the pain as they walk the same path. It is not unusual to see the professors laughing, crying, exhorting, and praying with the students of Grimké Seminary. The pandemic, along with the rise of racial tension and societal division, has made the last two years incredibly painful; the mentorship of Grimké professors has been a light in the darkness, beckoning my fellow students and me to faithfulness.

But my story of ministry challenges extends back before the pandemic challenges of early 2020. In 2016, I lost my spiritual father to cancer. It was in that season that I began to preach weekly and take over the operations of the church. I had become the lead pastor, and there were no structures in place in our church for mentoring me. Consequently, I struggled with affirmation and identity for years. It was until coming to Grimké and finding a home in Acts 29 that I received the support and encouragement I had been missing. Whereas a few years ago, I felt isolated and uncertain, I now feel the support and guidance of many among the staff at Grimké Seminary.

Like Paul, in many ways, I headed to Grimké to ensure I had not been running in vain. What I found was a group of pastors, planters, and church leaders that were willing to open themselves up to the student body so that we might be built up in the Lord. The Grimké professors have been a picture of the grace and guidance of Jesus, teaching all who would come what it looks like to press on toward Christ, even amid great difficulty. Much like the boss in the coalmine spared me great pain by teaching me the look and feel of unsound roofing, so the professors at Grimké have blessed my life and my church by walking with me through the difficulties of pastoral ministry. A practitioner’s school with a heart for the church has blessed my life and my church in ways I may never fully understand.

Justin Honaker

Justin Honaker is pastor of Lebanon Community Fellowship in Lebanon, Va.

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