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If you peruse various job postings where churches are looking for potential pastors, you’ll notice that many, many churches, regardless of size or location, want Seminary graduates. Here are several realities about Seminary graduates churches should consider before they make seminary education part of their requirements:
1. Seminary equips the teachable. There are several seminary graduates that I wouldn’t hire or recommend. There are several Southern Baptist pastors that have their doctorates that I wouldn’t recommend. There are other non-seminary graduates that I would recommend and pursue in a heartbeat. A seminary education guarantees very little, if anything concerning faithfulness, godliness, holiness, etc. A seminary education is only valuable to the teachable. Because churches want a pastor with a seminary degree, pastors attend seminary for the purpose of more opportunities for ministry. Just because a pastor has a seminary education, doesn’t mean that he was a good student, has learned anything, etc. He may have attended seminary, not to learn, but to have another degree added to his resume’. On the other side, there are several solid SBC pastors that don’t have an ounce of formal bible education. They however are well-read, self-taught theologians.
2. Seminary education forces pastors to be involved in academic discussion. But, do you need an academic for your pastor? I’m always amazed at how many rural churches, where the average highest completed degree is a high school diploma, want their pastor to have a 90 hour master’s degree in theology (M.Div. aka Masters of Divinity). Most of what your pastor learns in seminary, he will not be able to teach you; and you normally wouldn’t be interested in knowing it anyways. Your eyes will glaze over the moment he speaks of eschatology, systematic theology, etc. Furthermore, why do you need a pastor that has had 7 years of education beyond high school whenever the average education level in your church is a high school diploma? Sure, your pastor should be well-read; and should study to show himself approved before God; but, a seminary education is not necessary in order to be a faithful preacher of God’s Word. Why do you need a pastor that can engage academia if you have no desire to learn anything about the academic discussion? If you do not care about the academic discussion, then you don’t necessarily need a seminary trained pastor.
3. Seminary education is expensive. The current cheapest accredited seminary is around $250 per credit hour. A Master’s of Divinity is roughly 90 credit hours. So, tuition alone costs your pastor $22,500. This does not include the cost of books, gas, food, lodging, etc. By the time your pastor finishes seminary, he has invested around $25,000 at the cheapest amount. Can your church afford to pay him based on his investment? How much debt do you think his family has accrued over the years?
4. There is a disconnect between academia and the rural church. Universities largely influence cities; but, their ideas trickle down to the rural communities eventually. Several years ago, there was about a 10 year gap concerning the length of time it took for various ideas to trickle down from the cities to the rural communities. Today however in the information age, these ideas are spreading much faster. The point is simply this reality: Much of what your pastor has learned to refute in seminary does not tangibly exist in your church or community at this point. In other words, he may sometimes speak about things or come against ideas that are present in media, academia, etc., but are not visibly present in your local community or church. These ideas will eventually be present; and therefore, should be addressed. But you as a church member may ask yourself, “Why does he keep talking about this? I’ve never encountered anyone around here that believes that.” You will encounter people like this eventually, but, are you willing to prepare to engage the various idolatries present in your community, and those that will exist in the future? If not, don’t hire a seminary graduate.
5. Seminary demands an academic vocabulary. The first time I read a Systematic Theology, I had to look up so many words, it was pitiful. Now, I rarely need to look up words. My vocabulary expanded because it was forced to expand. I could not participate in the academic discussion without knowing the vocabulary and definitions. My point is that if you hire a seminary trained pastor, he may occasionally use words you have never heard before. If you are willing to be gracious towards your pastor, and learn these words, or to graciously share with him that you don’t understand, then hire a seminary trained pastor. The church I pastored in Soddy Daisy, TN; and the church I pastor now, have both been kind in this respect. It’s difficult to speak one way in the academic discussion, and speak another way from the pulpit. I try to do my best, but I find myself occasionally using words my church has never heard before. For example, the other day I said “the imago dei,” which is Latin for the image of God. Most seminary graduates would know what I meant when I said that; but, my church didn’t have a clue. I of course explained it; but, truth be told, I should not use that kind of language in a crowd that doesn’t speak that language. If you are willing to be longsuffering toward your pastor concerning his use of language, then hire a seminary graduate. If you want a pastor that doesn’t struggle with using this type of language, then call a pastor that doesn’t know this type of language.
6. Seminary education often changes a pastor for the better; which will thus lead him to teach you some form of what he learned in seminary. One of my first courses in my B.A. at Trinity College of the Bible was Hermeneutics. My professor was David Turner, the author of Matthew in the Baker Exegetical Commentary Series. I made a C- in the course, the lowest grade I’ve ever made in all my education years; but, I was determined to understand the content. So, I took the principles my professor taught me, and I began applying them to the sermons I was preaching to the teenagers at my church. At first, it took me some 20 hours of preparation in order to apply these principles; however, within a few months, this time was reduced to about 10 hours. I still use these principles today in sermon preparation. Because of this course, and my first courses in Systematic Theology, I started viewing Scripture differently. Instead of asking, “What does this text mean to me?” I started asking “What did the author mean when he wrote this text, and how does this truth apply to me and my hearers?” Because of my excitement in this life-changing understanding of Scripture, I have tried numerous times to teach some form of Hermeneutics and Systematic Theology at the various churches I’ve served. There were always a few that were interested; but, there were also a few that frowned on learning anything I was taught in seminary. If you won’t want to learn anything that your pastor was taught in seminary, don’t hire a seminary trained pastor. BTW: If you don’t want to learn anything your pastor was taught in seminary, why do you need a seminary trained pastor?
In conclusion, let me be clear: I believe seminary is a wonderful thing that helps train pastors to fulfill their calling as faithful men of God. Thus, I hope all churches will seek seminary trained pastors. I just want you to understand that there is baggage that comes with seminary trained pastors. If you don’t want to benefit from your pastor’s seminary training, then do not hire a seminary trained pastor. Pursue someone that knows the Scriptures, meets their qualifications, and is a good fit for your church. However, if you are willing to learn and be longsuffering with your pastor, then hire a seminary graduate.
*It must be noted that a pastor who has served churches for years; and has been out of seminary for a while, may not possess the various shortcomings mentioned above. In other words, he may not be like me. If you can call a pastor that is better than me, then please do so!
What are your thoughts?