Provoked by some great class discussions, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between seminary training and practical ministry. How does a person make the most of her/his seminary training and truly bless the church?
A few weeks ago I wrote about the “seminoid” phenomenon. I stole the term from a former pastor who playfully used it of the seminary interns in need of overcoming the condition.
So, how does one move from seminary training to being useful in ministry? There may be more to come on this, but for now, a few thoughts:
(1) Put “the ideal church” out of your mind. It doesn’t exist. You talked about it in the classroom, but it doesn’t exist in the real world. Goodness, it didn’t even exist in the New Testament! The Book of Acts displays a church struggling to figure things out and most of the NT letters are problem-solving documents. Be patient, don’t try to change everyone and everything overnight, and realize that your church doesn’t have an ideal pastor, either.
(2) Get the “serious/unserious” mix right. Take very seriously the task of blessing the church, praying for them, loving them, and serving them. But don’t take yourself very seriously. Learn to laugh at yourself and you’ll have a long ministry at a happy church.
(3) The church is not a classroom. The classroom is about critical engagement. We lift up the hood on Scripture, Christian thought, and church practice, holding everything up to scrutiny from every conceivable angle. Most seminary students get turned on by those fascinating discussions. But you’ve got to leave them in the classroom. If you do that from the pulpit, those who aren’t sleeping will think you’re an out of touch nitpicker.
The point of your seminary training is to help you grasp the truth profoundly and comprehensively. But you’ll need to learn to communicate that truth to the church with other language.
(4) Along that line, learn to talk “normal.” Express your thoughts in everyday speech so that normal people can understand you. The hard work of preaching is finding language that draws people into the truth so that it transforms them. Put another way, work hard to express truths clearly and compellingly so that the truth moves into the life of the church and transforms it.
You want people to walk away thinking that the way of Jesus is the way of hope and promise. If they walk away thinking about how smart you are, your sermon was a disastrous failure.
You want them to say, “thank you, that is so helpful,” and not, “wow, you are so smart.
(5) Quote your people and not the experts. Most people in our churches don’t know the rock stars of the seminary world, so why mention them? They don’t know Word Biblical Commentary from Hermeneia, nor ICC from NICNT.
There’s no point, then, of saying things like this: “As Cranfield, in his magisterial, two-volume commentary, says, . . .”
But consider something like this: “I was talking with Dennis this past week, and he noted that in 1 Corinthians, Paul . . . That really challenged me, so I . . . ”
Or: “After the service last week, Anne asked me a question I hadn’t really considered before, so I did some thinking about that and . . . ”
Quoting the experts rhetorically sets you apart from your church. Wearing your training on your sleeve puts a chasm between you and them and it discourages them from studying Scripture. It’s something only you can do.
Find ways of rhetorically setting yourself among the rest of the church and draw them into the process of discovering God’s word together. That’s a way of getting everyone excited about Scripture, which is really what you want, right?
They may never find out how smart you really are, but, again, you’ll enjoy a long ministry with happy people.