June 21, 2016
Just had a conversation with an old friend who after a career as a lawyer is now stepping out in faith and pursuing a life of vocational ministry. Part of his plan includes receiving theological training at a seminary, so he can serve as a pastor.
The conversation brought to mind a very important fact, and I’m sharing it with you:
Seminary for me was not just game changing. Seminary ruined me.
From having grown up Irish Catholic and Greek Orthodox, then attending a very legalistic traditionalist Baptist church in the south (I was just there for the pretty girls from my high school), then getting saved at a pentecostal church and beginning my ministry life with an interdenominational parachurch ministry, then a post-charismatic church plant (pentecostal but focused on evangelism while downplaying the sign gifts), and serving with a wide variety of denominations and associations before my pastor at the time encouraged me to train in seminary, I didn't think all these differences in doctrine or theology mattered that much.
I was ecumenical to a fault. You love Jesus? Great. We're good. I don't care if you also believe in x, y, or z. That was my approach.
Seminary ruined that in me. It absolutely wrecked that sloppy agape, anything goes mentality I formerly had. Previously I’d happily recited that St Augustine quote, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity,” but I’d never actually examined what made up essentials and non-essentials. Seminary forced me to become a Berean, a student of the Word, to careful examine and determine whether these things were so.
That's a good thing. I learned what I believed and why. It caused me to closely examine all the ministry groups I partnered with, and break away from those I didn’t agree with. It made for such uncomfortable and radical change in my life, it was honestly devastating. It did force me to end my working relationship with a church I dearly loved, as I realized I was diametrically opposed to their stances on several things that became theological non-negotiables for me.
With seminary training I became someone who values exegetical interpretation rather than the eisegetical approach, and I couldn't stand in agreement with that church with their stance on such matters as whether or not speaking in tongues is the only initial sign of salvation, or if every believer must speak in tongues, or if a believer could lose their salvation. (None of which I agree with.)
All those doctrinal stances prove indefensible when you place the Bible as the supreme authority, with understanding the Bible in its clear, plain meaning as the original hearer would have understood as your rubric for interpretation. Proof-texting or reading things into the Bible that historically and culturally aren't accurate or intellectually honest, twisting the words of Scripture to imply something it doesn't actually say in context... it's the breeding ground for a great deal of false teaching and has been since the beginning. Satan proved that in the garden and we're warned about it over 50 times in the New Testament alone.
The funny thing is, I began my theological training at a seminary that many pentecostal churches rely on for raising up their pastors, one which several charismatic pastors I knew recommended. I found myself very quickly in the minority of graduate students whom actually believed the Bible was wholly reliable, inerrant in its original form, the verbal and plenary revelation of God to people. I found myself in the Reformed Theology camp, in agreement with folks whose views I’d probably never have considered valid before. And I found that most seminarians were not as serious about fine tuning or overhauling what they believed – they were just about getting a piece of paper so they could get to the next step, whatever that was. A better position, more respect, qualification for a job, etc.
To be honest, I was initially in that group - I wanted my MDiv so I could be ordained and serve as a Navy Chaplain, and somewhat to earn my place among "real pastors"... having been spurned as "only a worship leader" for many years, and what’s more – having my wife be told by other pastors’ wives that she wasn’t a real pastor’s wife because I wasn’t a real pastor* ** – I wanted to prove myself to others. Not really the right attitude to approach training with. 180* from where it needed to be.
Fortunately, God worked that out of me. The piece of paper became less and less significant, as did others' opinions of me, and I became confident in my role in serving the Body. The training I received and the doctrine I was challenged with became far more intense and the implications of that training far more important.
And I suppose it’s a really good thing that the piece of paper became less important, because after clocking in 115 units for a 90 unit Master’s degree, I still haven’t officially received my MDiv. But I received invaluable training.
I have no idea where you are at these days in terms of your theological development. I want to both encourage and warn you that training at any seminary worth it's salt will force you to confront theological constructs you may have held onto without question for many years. It may force you to make changes that could be inconvenient and challenging in a variety of pragmatic areas. It may ruin you.
And it will be absolutely worth it.
*btw – if you are the wife of a worship pastor, youth pastor, associate pastor or _____(fill in the blank) pastor, you need to know two things:
1) He is a real pastor. A shepherd, called by God to serve, love, feed, protect, train, and equip the saints for ministry. Doesn’t matter if he only serves the church part time, whether he’s paid at all, whether he gets to teach the message Sunday morning, has an office with his name on it, has his name in the bulletin or on the church business card. Your husband is a real pastor if the Lord has given him the responsibility to be a steward of others and shepherd them. Period.
2) You are a real pastor’s wife. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Such people are fools, and if they are pastors’ wives themselves saying you’re not, they’re probably puffed up with arrogance and definitely not walking in the grace of the Lord. Pray for such people, forgive them and love them – and if you have opportunity, correct them so they don’t hurt others with their ignorance.
** if you’ve ever told someone that their husband isn’t a real pastor for any of the aforementioned reasons, especially if you’ve excluded such a woman from being in the fellowship of other pastors’ wives, you need to:
1) Repent, because that was sinfully wrong and hurtful. I’m putting you on notice now.
2) Seek that woman out, apologize and seek reconciliation. Check out Matthew 5:23-24 and Romans 12:18. It’s on you to make this right. Do it for reputation of the Bride of Christ and to glorify God, and most of all because it’s the right thing to do.
3) Share openly with others once you’ve done all this, because it will build up the Body of Christ. Authenticity and reconciliation are the best.