What comes to mind when you hear the word “seminary?” Do you have visions of men hunched over a small desk, reading large doctrinal treatises and quietly parsing Greek and Hebrew words into the early morning? Or do you see seminary as an unnecessary speed bump for pastoral hopefuls who could otherwise use their time reading and studying to preach the gospel and serve others? It might be that you don’t really know what a seminary is or, even if you do, you are generally unfamiliar with what is really going on inside the classroom walls.
What is Seminary?
Seminary is the place where men receive intense theological training in order to prepare them for or enhance their current pastoral ministry. The curriculum among faithful evangelical seminaries will usually consist of several semesters (or quarters) of training in the Bible’s original languages (Hebrew and Greek) and multiple theology classes, along with courses in church history, preaching, leadership, counseling, and evangelism. In all, the standard pastoral degree, a Masters in Divinity (M.Div.), includes between 88-96 credit hours and usually takes between three to five years to complete.
Even here, however, except for the list of required classes, you may not intuitively connect seminary with evangelism or see partnership with a seminary as a means of outreach. By the end of this article, I hope I have been able to convince you otherwise.
The Importance of Seminary for Pastoral Training
For a pastor-in-training, his seminary education will be one of the most important facets in his preparation. While doctrinal formation and intense study of the original languages is not sufficient to equip a man for ministry—character development, discipleship, and hands-on experience among God’s people are just as vital—it is in seminary where he will begin to form and sharpen his spiritual convictions, gain exposure to the church’s rich theological heritage, and make significant strides in his ability to handle God’s Word. Because the pastor’s primary role is to feed the church with the Word of God, it is of eternal importance that he achieve a level of high competency in the Scripture before he is entrusted with spiritual oversight of God’s people.
While seminary per se is not a biblical qualification for pastoral ministry (see 1 Tim 3:1-7), there is certainly precedent in the Bible for intentional preparatory training of men who desire to be in pastoral ministry. Jesus spent three years with his disciples in order to furnish them for their responsibilities after his ascension. Paul spent several years receiving revelation from Jesus before he wrote his first canonical letter (i.e., Galatians). The very nature of Scripture—it’s depth, breadth, rich doctrinal texture, and diversity of genre—not to mention the rigor required to rightly interpret an ancient text, synthesize all of its teaching, and bring the truth to bear on one’s congregation in a way that honors the whole counsel of God’s Word, necessitates that a pastoral candidate set aside some quality time for serious biblical and theological study.
It is grievous to me when I hear of men who are released into ministry without sufficient training or after earning a degree at a school that is better known for its cultural analysis than its biblical exegesis. While it is possible for a man to pastor faithfully after receiving a sub-par degree or no degree at all, it unwise to conclude from these isolated examples that theological education is unnecessary for those who desire to enter the ministry. Often, when men are lacking in adequate training, their ministry will suffer. In our day and age, seminary training in an institution that is faithful to Christ and his Word is an excellent means of ministry preparation.
The Gift of a Well-Trained Pastor
A man well trained is truly a gift to a local congregation. Through his biblically faithful preaching, teaching, discipleship, counseling, and evangelistic ministry, he will be a means of rich blessing and spiritual growth for his people. Week after week his people will hear the Word of God explained accurately and applied carefully at the pulpit, from the lectern, and in the counseling office; they will be protected from the enemy and from false teaching; they will experience consistent joy as their convictions grow deeper and stronger; they will acquire spiritual resources with which to persevere through trials, love their family and their enemies, remain steadfast under persecution and peer-pressure, and grow in their own personal ministries to fellow saints and unbelievers.
Through his ministry, the well-trained pastor will multiply himself through the congregation so that now, fully equipped, the individual members of the congregation will be ready to advance the work of the ministry (Eph 4:12). This work will include ministries of edification and service to believers and evangelism to the lost. In this way, the pastor’s ministry has the potential to move well beyond the church walls into homes, neighborhoods, communities, cities, and the world.
Worldwide Gospel Impact
When local congregations consider how they might have the greatest gospel impact in their region and beyond, partnership with a nearby seminary should be viewed as a welcome opportunity. Partnering with faithful seminaries is highly strategic because training pastors is one of the primary ways a church can have significant gospel influence in their own area and throughout the world. The men you have the privilege to train and support will eventually be placed (if they haven’t been already) in local churches in which the reverberations of their preaching and teaching ministry will be felt well beyond their own local congregations.
Faithful Churches + Faithful Seminaries = A Happy and Fruitful Partnership
But churches shouldn’t partner with seminaries out of a sense of expediency, as though the goal of supporting a local seminary trumps any other consideration. Schools that have a history of faithfulness that are currently on a trajectory of biblical fidelity are the only institutions to which a church should give its attention. You should also consider how a given seminary’s distinctives align with your church’s distinctives, and whether you can gladly affirm their statement of faith.
But once you’ve located a seminary or group of seminaries that are worthy of your support, consider giving regularly as a congregation. Given the potential worldwide impact that seminaries will have for the gospel, such expenditures could flow naturally out of your evangelism and missionary budget. Maintaining a well-run, well-staffed, fully-supplied seminary is often fiscally challenging, and these schools are in need of reliable partnerships.
The people of your congregation can also support these schools in prayer. In light of the global gospel influence seminaries can have, we can be sure that one of Satan’s primary strategies is to disable these schools from producing well-trained pastors who are skilled in studying, preaching, and teaching the Word of God. A vital partnership with a seminary will not only be financial in nature; it will be deeply spiritual, as your church labors in prayer to God to sustain faithful institutions who are equipping men with a robust, biblically-grounded theological education.
Equipping Men who Equip the Church
Supporting a local seminary and its pastors is a thrilling gospel opportunity. Your congregation is able to have a vital share in equipping men who will equip the church, and, in this way, your people will have a fruitful spiritual influence beyond their own local congregation. Next time you hear the word “seminary,” I hope you will think of a faithful, Christ-centered school and your partnership with them.