Seminaries have tremendous influence in church life- for good or for bad. I prefer the good. (Does that make me a legalist?) So, with that in mind, here is my unsolicited advice (which is about the only advice I am usually allowed to give) for seminary leaders and professors.
1. Be practical. Seminary needs to be about more than imparting information. We can be educated, intelligent, knowledgeable and still be terribly ineffective in ministry. Don’t forget that that the goal of the M.Div. is more than just training students to get a Ph.D. Help us prepare to become pastors and staff members and missionaries. Make Hebrew practical. How does it help us preach to a diverse congregation? How can it help us translate the OT into the language of an unreached people group? Go beyond imparting information. Help us apply that information to hands-on ministry.
2. Teach leadership. (See point 1 for more information on why.) Pastors can leave seminary woefully unprepared (yes, woefully, I say!) to give the leadership that will be needed by them in the pastorate. They will be called to give leadership in congregations with great diversity of opinion. (I haven’t noticed any shortage of opinions on what a pastor should do.) Ineffective leadership can lead to dictatorial mandates or waffling indecision or unhappy power struggles. Ministers do have leadership responsibilities so teach us some basic principles that will help us to lead in an effective and Christ-like manner.
3. Recognize the twin dangers of
biblical liberalism and dead orthodoxy. The slide from biblical orthodoxy is easy and popular with the world. Stand for truth. But the danger of dead orthodoxy is also real. Encourage us towards a vibrant devotional life built on the trustworthy bible. Encourage us to pray, witness, serve, give, etc. Vance Havner reportedly said, “You can be theologically straight as a gun barrel and just as empty.” Give us an education that leads us to a gun barrel that is both straight and loaded for bear.
4. Learn to teach. Professor, we know you are smart and educated and we respect that. But please learn to be an interesting teacher. Please! Your motto should not be “Boring is next to godliness”. Bring some energy and passion to the classroom. Try some different teaching techniques on occasion. A little sizzle would not hurt the classroom.
5. Value relationships. Put a premium on relationships with students. We are craving that and we benefit from it. You don’t have to be our best buddy or give us a nickname or anything. But, it would be great if you demonstrated care and compassion for us. It would help us if you valued us more than our grade or our ability. And, you will probably enjoy your profession even more as you build some meaningful relationships with us students and your fellow profs.
6. Don’t model after Europe or the Ivy League. You can learn from the Ivy League schools but please don’t try to replicate their qualities for your seminary. Effective ministry is certainly more than GPAs and our fields of service will include blue collars as much as white collars. And, why the strong tendency to model everything in seminary and church life after Europe? Does their spiritual life seem so vibrant that we want to reproduce it? Isn’t our tendency to try to follow the example of European higher education evidence of our feelings of inferiority? (Don’t you love the free psychoanalysis I threw in there?)
7. Love churches. Love the churches we will serve. I know they are filled with imperfect people, but love them anyway. Teach us to love this institution formed by our Lord. Love large churches and little churches, city churches and country churches, Anglo churches and ethnic churches, etc. Beware of anti-church sounding jokes and comments. Be honest about the flaws of churches, but be sure we know that honesty comes in the context of deep love for the church.
That is all the free advice I offer at this moment. (And who in their right mind is going to pay me for it?) Blessings on you, seminaries. We’re counting on you– and praying for you!