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5 Reasons Seminary is Relevant

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.
  5. 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:

Is seminary relevant?

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  • http://www.shapingthespace.net David

    Totally relevant.

    And I’m thankful to be part of a church that values it when so many smaller churches in our denomination don’t.

  • http://seth.heasley.net/blog Seth

    I agree it’s relevant. I still don’t think it’s strictly *necessary*, but the big thing for me is that a person with no anointing can go to seminary and be seen to be qualified to be a pastor. A Bible Teacher is a teacher because he’s gifted for it, not because he’s educated for it. The two should fit together.

    There’s a larger question of what a pastor is (since there’s a question as to whether the pastor-led church is the NT model). Is he a teacher? Is he a leader? Both? Neither? If he’s a teacher, then seminary becomes somewhat less important. For the ministry side of things, I can definitely see the value, though.

    • http://manofdepravity.com Tyler

      Good points Seth.

      I think it is a church’s job, when hiring, to determine whether someone is qualified to be a pastor or a specific type of pastor. It is also that person’s job to determine where their giftings lie.

      The role of the pastor to me could be any of those things. I think we need to come up with a new word though.”Reverend” makes me gag, and “pastor” makes most non-Christians think that person has a stigma.

  • Bryan Dormaier

    Seminary is a great thing. I’m glad I went, because it gave me a chance to interact with views I don’t hold, and to get inside of a variety of theological perspectives, etc. I don’t think that I would be able to be charitable to people who hold views different than mine if it wasn’t for having a place like seminary to interact with people coming from different traditions.

    There are some ways that seminary needs to continue to evolve. For one, we are moving more and more to understanding that church needs leadership along an entire APEST (Apostolic, Prophetic, Evangelistic, Shepherd, Teacher) structure, and not just ST’s. I think part of that process of evolving for seminary means learning how we equip and educate those that are primarily gifted as APE’s.

  • http://dhcosbyfamily.blogspot.com Daniel

    Okay, going to tread VERY lightly here, considering it looks like I’m talking to a group who’s been in, or is currently in, seminary…

    …”Seminary is the one place where a student can give full devotion to learning about theology and the Bible in an accredited process.”

    What does that say about our Church bodies? Why is it that we don’t see them as places where one can adequately learn about the Truth of the Bible?

    If the goal of going to seminary, is to become equipped to teach others to become mature in the Faith, to teach others to be able to be handle the Word effectively, to teach others to do “ministry”, then how is that possible, if it was necessary for the TEACHER to learn all this through an “accredited process”? (and why did the early church have absolutely NO correlary to any kind of “accredited process”, for several hundred years…?)

    If one spends thousands of dollars, spends countless hours studying, writing papers, doing internships, etc., in order to come to a place where one is “ready” for ministry, then do we really believe that person will just turn around, and then pass all of that knowledge and training on to someone else who cannot invest the time or money into such a process? Wouldn’t doing so conflict with the original investment made by the seminary grad?

    Okay, I guess I’m about to step over the “treading lightly” line now, but here it is… The real reason for funneling all this studying and training (which are in and of themselves great things, for sure!) through an ACCREDITED process, is this: To get people jobs

    The reason why the church has historically resisted (and will continue to resist) a transition to an “APEST” structure, (or five-fold ministry, as described by some) is because that can only really happen, in the healthiest sense, when no one is elevated above the rest of those gathered due to a professional position. Either your group will be led by trained professionals, or led by the Spirit, through the distribution of the Gifts throughout the ENTIRE body. You cannot have both. You may see glimpses of the Spirit’s leading under a professional clergy, but it will never take on a life of it’s own, because it will inevitably conflict with the mentality of those who see their livelihoods as being dependant upon them have extra-importance within the body…

    This is why I would have great difficulty in accepting a statement like: “The process of a seminary education has been tested and proven effective…” What do we mean by “effective”? Do we mean seeing churches “planted” (i.e. filed as a 501c3), and then seeing it “grow” in numbers, programs, staff and budget?

    Or do we mean… “that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” ?

    Because those are two very different concepts of what it means to have effective leadership, growth, and ministry…

  • http://ash-nits.blogspot.com ash

    i don’t discount benefits you may get out of seminary. however, what seminary really implies is “theological study.” it does not however really teach you to be w/ people, and learn how to pastor people…being with people on a real face to face basis will teach you how to pastor them, love them and lead them- not theology. theology is just ideas, not the basis for relationship w/ christ or his people.

    i agree w/ daniel here: accredited processes, such as the “official seminary” is about getting people jobs, not really teaching them to teach others. different people learn differently and if you ultimately want to know how to treat, teach and be among the people as a pastor is called to do- look at exactly what jesus did and i think you have most of your answers.

    again, i don’t discredit the valuable things you can learn in seminary, but i don’t think it’s “relevant” or “necessary.” i know several pastors who’ve never attended seminary, but began a church anyhow.

    daniel- this was a good statement: “If the goal of going to seminary, is to become equipped to teach others to become mature in the Faith, to teach others to be able to be handle the Word effectively, to teach others to do “ministry”, then how is that possible, if it was necessary for the TEACHER to learn all this through an “accredited process”? (and why did the early church have absolutely NO correlary to any kind of “accredited process”, for several hundred years…”

  • http://manofdepravity.com Tyler

    I’ll say a couple things, and certainly my words are not gospel, just my opinion.

    1. I’m not understanding the comparison between the ancient church and today as far as seminary goes. 2 very different cultures and situations.

    2. Seminary is much more than just about a job. That is most negative spin you could take. Seminary is building upon the calling someone has.

    3. What I mean by the seminary process being “effective” is that for hundreds of years, seminaries have raised up Godly leaders. It has nothing to do with church plants.

    4. “You may see glimpses of the Spirit’s leading under a professional clergy, but it will never take on a life of it’s own, because it will inevitably conflict with the mentality of those who see their livelihoods as being dependent upon them have extra-importance within the body.” I’m not seeing how this has anything to do with seminary. If a pastor chooses to avoid conflict in his position, that is his or her choice not something he/she was taught in seminary.

    5. Yes seminary is theological study, but there is no accredited seminary that does not include a ministry focus and classroom interaction. The idea that seminary is just listening to a professor and reading books is overdone.

    • http://dhcosbyfamily.blogspot.com Daniel

      Seminary is much more than just about a job. That is most negative spin you could take“…

      Well let’s ask ourselves, if there was no such thing as “professional ministry”, no such option of ever receiving financial compensation for serving the Body of Christ, then would seminaries still continue to exist? Would it would still be possible to justify charging people thousands and thousands of dollars to learn, what is actually free to all? Of course, it’s a hypothetical question, but one that I think basic economics would show has an answer that is pretty plain to see.

      …”What I mean by the seminary process being “effective” is that for hundreds of years, seminaries have raised up Godly leaders. It has nothing to do with church plants.

      Well then I’m curious to know how you think “Godly leaders” are defined, because from my experience within Christian culture, it is always by the “ministry” over which they preside, it’s growth, it’s “impact”, etc. Men who define their “leadership” by their official position in an organization will inevitably be appraised based on the outward performance of that endeavor, the “success” of their organization… But I don’t see that mentality anywhere in the New Testament, all credit should go to God, not a man, or a group, or an entity…

      As far as the difference between the first several hundred years of church history and now, yes, they are different cultures and different times. But I don’t see how that really matters, unless we adopt the thinking of the Catholic Church, where what was originally given to us after Jesus’s ascension (the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit) is considered inadequate, and we think we must be ever “improving” upon the original design for the Body of Christ, with our methods, our traditions, our structures, and our intellects…

      I thought all believers were called into “ministry”…. Where does this idea that certain followers of Christ are called into a deeper level of ministry come from? In scripture I see different giftings amongst the entire Body, but no secondary “callings”… There is only one calling, the call to pick up our cross and follow HIM… I recognize the weight of a statement like that, as this idea of a secondary calling is more or less the foundational premise for seminaries in the first place. It is the assumption under which everyone who enrolls in one is operating under. (and after saying this, I will understand if I you wish for me to withhold from commenting on your blog again) peace…

  • http://www.pdxweb.wordpress.com Chris Webster

    Interesting topic Tyler,

    I agree that just going to seminary to get a job is foolish. There are a lot of jobs that you can get that pay a whole lot better and not be under a mountain of debt. I think what makes seminary great is that it is a pursuit of a calling that the Lord has put on someone’s life.

    You can be called into ministry and not attend seminary and many do that because of lack of finances or time. This may put you at a disadvantage though. During my time in seminary, my knowledge and understanding of who God is has grown tremendously and I am further equipped in my area of ministry. Even though it is expensive and has taken three years of my life, I would never take it back.

    Maybe I am unique because I am not going to be a pastor, but God definitely had a unique purpose in mind for me when he brought me and my family to Portland.

    I think a good consensus is if you feel called to be in ministry and you are thinking about seminary, go to seminary. You can take a class here and there over time that will further aid and equip you in the scriptures and practical ministry. If you feel called to be in ministry but don’t want to go to seminary, don’t go. You may be more of a disciplined person who can learn more on their own, just make sure you are sticking to sound doctrine.

    Finally, I don’t think it is healthy to have an anti formal theological study attitude. Seminary may not give you all of the practical experience that is needed for ministry, but I don’t think that is the intended design. Instead, it gives you a sound theological foundation and framework in which to minister out of. All action is filtered through doctrine.

  • http://ash-nits.blogspot.com ash

    chris, i don’t think it’s about being “anti formal theological study” at all! – but i do think that going to seminary is a personal thing not the “ultimate” training ground to do what God has called you to do.

    tyler- i don’t nec. just refer to “church planting,” but the principle of running a church and being a pastor on the emotional/spiritual level: which is a far greater demand than theological knowledge. and while you might get “practice pastoring” at school- you’ll get far greater exp. in the church, @ someone’s house, on the street, at the coffee shop, sitting next to a bum in the alley way. those are places we learn to be jesus…pastors, worshippers, teachers, evangelists, disciples….

    theology IS interesting. i personally find theology fascinating. but it should never be the requirement.

  • http://www.pdxweb.wordpress.com Chris Webster

    Ash-Good point. It is a personal thing that God places on someone’s heart to do, not a hoop you must go through to be a pastor. I think seminary has room to grow as you say “on the emotional and spiritual level.” This is something that can only go so far in the classroom and needs to be learned by living the daily grind we call life.

  • http://mwalcher.auzigog.com Michael W

    Let me preface by saying this:

    1. I would cut off my right arm to go to seminary.

    2. I will not go into thousands of dollars of debt to go to seminary.

    3. I am very jealous (not always in the godly way) of those fortunate enough to go to seminary

    4. I think too many people go to seminary (college for that matter).

    If I were financially able to go to University, then Seminary, I would love to. I have prayed a lot, and know that for now that isn’t where I should be. I attended a Christian school last year and studied Theology, racked up some debt from one year, and pulled the plug on that idea before racking up more debt, which I am thankful for.

    I am very much a cynic, and to be honest, SO MUCH of me wants to be successful (whatever it means), just to prove to my friends that currently think less of me for not going to University. I would really love to prove to everyone, that a college degree ISN’T the only way to go. Yes, it is a pride thing also, I am aware of it, not necessarily proud of it.

    I see huge value in all of the reasons listed for going to seminary, but I still don’t think those things can only be attained via seminary.

    I wouldn’t say that a good supplement for seminary is to just ‘read a bunch of books’, but I don’t see why I am limited to just that. I am still able to do internships, interact with pastors/teachers (teachers not as much), and be mentored.

    I would say however, that too many people go to college, and seminary.

    I know of so many people that enter seminary after their undergrad with the thought pattern of “well I don’t know what to do, and my youth pastor was cool, so i’ll do that”

    I also think there is something very valuable to be said for NOT going straight from high school, to university, to grad school, to a job you got because of a connection in grad school….etc.

    I am currently 21, and I am doing something most of my friends that are 21 still haven’t had to do yet.

    Pay bills.

    Get to work on time.

    Look for a job.

    Pay my own health insurance.

    Etc.

    It isn’t that I have a problem with Formal education, so much as I have a problem with my friends who aren’t paying a dime of their education, but look down on me because I don’t have it that easy.

    So yeah, chalk it up to being bitter I guess. :)

    Real quick, one thing I would say is great about the formal education, is that it does give you great respect even in the secular world. Something Christians don’t get in a lot of other ways.

  • http://www.aworshipfulheart.typepad.com jan owen

    As a pastor (admittedly not a lead pastor) without a seminary degree, I’d have to say that I believe you can certainly serve in ministry without a seminary degree. But that wasn’t your question.

    I’ve never been to seminary so I can’t answer but let me say this: I believe there is wisdom in learning from those with experience and those who have gone before us. (church history, etc) I believe seminary can be a great place to know WHY you believe what you believe. It can undergird your foundations of faith and challenge you.

    To be honest, there are days I’d love to go to seminary. I’d love the opportunity to study more, to think more deeply and in a focused manner with others desiring to learn how to pastor more effectively. I’d love to dig into studying about the relationship between worship and spiritual formation. I’d love to know more……

    So yes, I believe seminary can be relevent. Like all things it might depend on the student and the teacher and even the material….

  • http://justingunter.wordpress.com/ justingunter

    I think it depends entirely on the person brother! But I totally agree on how the combination of the interaction AND the literature all combine for the overall erudition of the heart for the service of God. Funny though how your #3 ended up referring to Leland, which I’m just assuming (and I could be wrong) was an author’s take on Seminary, from a book you read. So, from a book you read, you gathered you can learn more than just reading books. Just thought it playfully humorous, although I completely understand your point of view.

    Sounds like, at the end of the day, Seminary if entirely relevant for you. And since you are accountable for you more than anyone else to God, it sounds like you are in the right place.

    I think it was Mark Twain who said, “There is no difference between the man who can’t read, and the man who reads all the wrong books.” SOak up your schooling good and well, and then unleash it without relent for His sake!

    Blessings.

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  • http://www.zdrw.org Chris Zodrow

    Great list. Love ‘em. Here is something else: having a degree from seminary shows that you are willing to do the hard and lonely things. Also, it goes far in proving that you are not a lazy bastard who just wants to be a pastor because he couldn’t succeed at anything else!

    In Christ,
    Chris

  • http://www.zdrw.org Chris Zodrow

    PS- want an inexpensive but rocking seminary education? Go to Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. If you are under care of a presbytery in the PCA or OPC, it is free. If not, it is still incredibly inexpensive. Really.

    Chris

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  • http://mattcleaver.com Matt Cleaver

    Hey Tyler, this post spurred some thinking in my head, because my gut reaction was to disagree with you. So I put my thoughts together and am writing a two-part post on why I think seminaries are irrelevant. You might want to check it out.

    I’m writing to just reassure you that this isn’t trying to be a slap in the face at you or anything. I’m just respectfully disagreeing. I know sometimes on the internet it’s easy to seem like you are attacking someone, and I want to go out of my way and make sure you know that’s not the case here. In fact, I would value your opinion.

    Thanks for your thoughts. Nice theme by the way, I use Vigilance, too.

  • http://mikeymo1741.blogspot.com Mike Mahoney

    I think seminary can be completely effective, and can be totally relevant. For some. Let’s face it, there are some bad seminaries out there. Just like there are bad colleges.

    Is in necessary. Of course not. God will place people where He wants. The biblical model is discipleship, not formal learning. That’s not a condemnation of formal learning, but it certainly implies formal learning is not a requirement for leadership.

    Seth questioned the pastor-led church model. I guess the more “biblical” term would be “elder-led” but then we’re talking semantics. “Pastor” is certainly a valid biblical office, according to Ephesians 4.

    As a pastor myself (a volunteer one, BTW, no 600k for me!) I have no formal theological education beyond college theology courses. Were I to enter full-time ministy, I might seek to change that, but for now, the discipleship model of 2 Timothy suits me fine.

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  • http://realityofchrist.blogspot.com Kurt

    I believe the education within a seminary is relevant. However, it’s not in the Bible. It would be awesome if churches were training leaders. Some are, of course. I will somehow get a seminary level education but I don’t see how spending $30,000 and 4 years is a good idea. Not to mention, I got my bachelor’s degree in Bible and theology. I’m interning at a large, solid leadership church. Oy, I am frustrated.

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  • Brie

    YES!!! Seminary is more than just relevant but indispensable! The pastorate is a very important position and shouldn’t be gone into lightly because someone has a “call” but doesn’t want to do the work necessary. These 2 year “the easy way to become a pastor” programs are a disaster, its like sending out nurses to perform heart surgery. Yes you may be able to do many things to help and prepare for surgery and have an understanding of what the surgery entails, but you are not a surgeon! I am a person who does read a lot and studies biblical topics in my spare time, and I have moved and been looking for a new church. I found one where I like the people, but the scholarship of the pastor is appallingly shoddy, and in a theological discussion group topics were brought up in soteriology and church history that this “pastor” had appeared to have never studied! I was disturbed and looked into what seminary he went to and, of course, he had never been to seminary! He had gotten a 2 year degree straight out of high school, and sadly it showed. I am pretty educated and my pastor should know more than I do, and seminary prepares a pastor to also answer questions and teach to the more educated people in his congregation, which seminary prepares you for. By saying seminary isn’t necessary we are basically saying that it is OK for nurses to practice medicine, can you imagine the disasters in the health care system, and sadly due to the diminishing importance of education for a pastor we are seeing disasters in churches which I have witnessed first hand. Isn’t our spirit more important than our body? You wouldn’t feel comfortable with the nurse practicing medicine on you, how can we allow “nurse-pastors” to practice in the pastorate?

    • http://ludosomnus.blogspot.com Rob

      “Nurse pastor” – I like that. Need to remember that next time I talk with my friend who’s serving as a teaching elder with zilch seminary experience.

  • Brie

    I just want to add that there are plenty of areas in churches to minister to people where a seminary degree is not required, and I would urge anyone who has a call in ministry but does not want to pursue seminary to pursue any number of these opportunities, but the pastorate would not be one of them.

  • Greg

    The apostle Peter would not be considered qualified by many to lead a protestant church today. Can you imagine his horror arriving at the Vatican to meet the “holy father”? Theology is everything. Wrong theology = wrong worldview. If we have the wrong worldview then we will find ourself working against our Creator. Of course, no seminary advertises that it teaches bad theology. Nearly all of the doctrine that divides the church today was developed in seminaries by “well-educated” men. Jesus warned us about this very thing in the parable of the woman hiding leaven in the meal. At this late hour, many “scholars”, some with Masters degrees in theology, are disbelieving and critical of the very idea that the Lord Jesus could return today. Praise the Lord that He warned us in advance!

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