Being in seminary I hear a lot about why it is or isn’t necessary for pastors. I hear “seminary isn’t relevant anymore” or “I could just work at a church and read books instead.” I remember that when we’ve talked about this before some of you have said that seminary isn’t a have-to for everyone. I’m not going to be legalistic and say it is a have-to but to just throw seminary out as irrelevant is disingenuous to me.
I recently read an interview with Leland Eliason, who is about to retire from Bethel Seminary. It spurred on a few thoughts in my head about whether seminary is relevant to today’s world or not.
- Seminary is more relevant in preparing today’s church leaders than ever before. Why do I say that? Today’s world knows less about Christianity and the Bible than ever before. Seminary is the one place where a student can give full devotion to learning about theology and the Bible in an accredited process.
- Sometimes we get too wrapped up in being relevant. I loved what Leland said in the interview. “What I often say to people thinking about seminary is that a seminary degree will create a structure of discipline for you to read and study and learn in areas that you would want to learn anyway. Without the structure seminary provides, you may not find the discipline to make it all happen.” Seminary doesn’t have to be relevant to be vital. The one thing I’ve seen in the past 2 years is that seminary is instilling in me a discipline to be able to handle church ministry for the next 50 years.
- Reading a bunch of books does not prepare you for ministry. I’ve read a number of blogs and heard a number of people say that a pastor could get a seminary education by simply reading a ton of books on theology, the Bible, etc. Seminary is interacting with students and professors, writing position papers, praying, doing an internship, and much more. Reading books is only a small part. Leland said, “Seminary provides the tools to mine the truths of God’s Word over the long haul.”
- The process of a seminary education has been tested and proven effective. That doesn’t mean seminaries never change, because clearly the best seminaries are adapting to the shifts in culture, but the premise behind how seminary prepares you for ministry has been proved.
- Seminary provides you with a base that will allow for a lifetime of successful ministry. Leland knocks it out of the park with the ultimate value of a seminary education:
“I think the danger of doing pastoral ministry without the equivalent of seminary education is in being contemporary without having roots in the history of the church. The history of Bible and theology, for example, turns up every conceivable heresy that we find in our world today. They have surfaced before in an earlier setting. They may be called something else, but in essence there are rarely new heresies. If you have the benefit of church history, it shapes a world view that diffuses the enthusiasm for everything that’s new by tempering it with the truths of God that have been given to us through the Scripture and godly teachers down through the centuries.”
So what do you think: