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Recommended Books for Recent Seminary Grads

Every spring, and often in the fall, our seminaries are turning out new crops of graduates who hope to enter some role in pastoral ministry. Hopefully, during seminary, each graduate has developed some reading habits that will last them for the rest of their lives.

What are some particularly helpful books for recent seminary graduates to read to help make the transition from academic life to pastoral ministry?

After having read some substantial theology for the last several years, there are five recommended books that some of my fellow ministers have recommended for recent graduates:

A Little Exercise for Young Theologians by Helmut Thielicke. This was one of the first books recommended by a seminary professor for graduates. It is the classic text that, in a concise 57 pages walks recent seminary graduates through the transition from academic discussion to application within local church ministry. Others have attempted to match it but this is still the classic text.

Brothers, We are Not Professionals by John Piper. Arranged in 36 chapters, Piper’s text develops a practical pastoral ministry for pastors who are both new to ministry or are veterans. Piper’s paradigm for pastoral ministry seeks to rediscover the shepherd’s task and heart and move ministers away from the professionalization that has lost its connection with biblical ministry.

They Found the Secret by Raymond Edman. Moving towards a more devotional topic, one of the questions that I’ve had for established ministry leaders when I am able to take them to lunch or sit and talk with them, is “What books impacted your life the most?” One of the books that I’ve consistently heard from so many was this one by Edman. It is a classic on finding the “exchanged life” that can help each of us focus our ministry trajectory at an early stage.

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell. Seminary does many things well, but one of the challenges that we see all too often is that there is a lack of actual ministry preparation. We learn plenty of wonderful things about theology and biblical studies, but actual pastoral ministry has less to do with those and so much more to do with leading people. Maxwell’s text is, in my opinion, the best at helping us understand several key leadership rules to will help us, along with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, motivate people to life change.

Good to Great by Jim Collins. Obviously this list is less theological, but as we all find out in ministry, the pastorate is less theological than we hope. When I first sat and read this text, in my first church out of seminary, it shook my world and help refocus my leadership goals. Collins has brought together some of the best practices of making good organizations great. When I’ve asked that question about who pastors read, Collins’ text has also made that list of some of the most dynamic pastors who have built Jesus loving, God glorifying churches of all sizes.

Certainly there are a number of other texts I could put on this list, but I wanted to keep it slim. Every year when I organize my yearly reading schedule (outside of seminar and research texts) I try to read three of these five.

Seminary prepares us so well for the rigor of ministry and these texts will, hopefully, add to the practicality of ministry. While some might decry the lack of substantive theologies, in reality for most seminary graduates we need a dose of reality in our first pastoral role that familiarizes us with the beauty of our parishioners.

So, what other books would you add? What practical texts have help mould you for ministry?

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The Challenge of Seminary: an initial post

Over at the Gospel Coalition, there is a great short reflection about the challenges of seminary written by Donny Friederichsen pointing out that seminarians often forget that their time in school should be developing them both theologically by pastorally.

One of the paragraphs that seemed to stand out is this:

I also would have spent more time with real people in my neighborhood and at my church instead of gravitating toward people who liked to read dead Dutch guys and use phrases like “hypostasis,” “hapax legomenon,” and “the chthonic thralldom of sin.” I need those people too, but in seminary it’s entirely too easy to get lost in the academic world and lose contact with why you are there. (emphasis mine)

This is a good point and worth exploring. Seminary, in its current form, is presenting substantial challenges to ministry and ministers. As a quick observation, many of my peers in growing, dynamic churches are becoming increasingly wary of hiring seminary graduates who are both 1) recent graduates and 2) don’t have a lot of outside experience under their belts. For many of us, we find that seminary does a good job of preparing a student theologically but there is a massive shortfall in actual pastoral training and ministry execution.

Having graduated from seminary 8 years ago, I saw this challenge worked out. Thankfully a gracious professor of mine put several key texts into my hands while I was in my earliest days of seminary that reconfigured my outlook and steps for preparation. For what its worth, I thoroughly enjoyed seminary. It was a kind of intellectual and spiritual renaissance for me. Though there were some institutional pressures and challenges which cloud a bit of last days at my seminary, I am the minister I am because of my time in seminary.

Now, back to Friederichsen’s point. Too often our seminaries are a kind of “Sunday School 2.0” that fail to maneuver their students to interact critically and practically with pastoral ministry situations. We are seeing a substantial rise in post-seminary ministry failure rates in new graduates over the past decade, and its not because of moral failure. It is often due to burnout, firings, underperformance, expectation issues, among other factors. While not every seminary graduate is going to end up in pastoral ministry (a fairly new concept by the way), for those who do go into pastoral ministry one of the first tasks that must be accomplished is to sort through what was helpful and what was not helpful for application in the local church ministry.

The very real issues at Friederichsen brings up in his post are matters which, as I recall, were rarely addressed in seminary classrooms. They were talked about in my undergraduate instruction. For too many seminarians there is a need to balance this intellectual maturation with practical equipping tools. At this point too many of our seminaries are ill-equipped and ensconced in “church of last century” ministry models to provide a substantive change to the ministry training culture. Another challenge in the seminary model is professors who have never served a day in a church, yet are given opportunities to train and equip future pastors for ministry. While there are certainly individuals and fields where we can make margin for the academic only scholar, I wonder if we are pressing the mark too hard in continuing to elevate and place individuals with no local church experience in the midst of the training and equipping institute for future pastors.

Final thought: In Houston we have radio ad for a local law school that promotes itself by producing “practice ready attorneys.” Perhaps if we can start to get our arms around the realities of ministry and begin developing seminaries that produce “ministry ready pastors” we can see some things begin to change. Seminary is a vital part of training men and women for a lifetime of ministry. I’m looking forward to seeing how this important conversation continues.

25
Jun 2013
POSTED BY Garet
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Education

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Seminary: What is it Good For?

Millennials are challenging many facets of our social expectations. It should not be surprising that as they approach traditional educational avenues they will seek out different goals and applications of their degrees. Of course, approaching continuing education with a non-traditional goal is not limited to Millennials.

Recently, a survey of seminary students by the Association of Theological Schools reveals that only 41% of seminary graduates (of their accredited institutions) plan on pursuing pastoral ministry upon graduation. This is down from 51% in 2001 and obviously far below the 90% recorded in the 1950s.

This is more data about the changing face of ministry training. Seminary is becoming increasingly seen as ancillary for vocational ministry but also a reasonable alternative for individuals who want a deep theological training as they pursue a vocation outside of a traditional ministry role. There are two sides to this coin, but it is noteworthy to point out that for many seminarians the MDiv isn’t the requisite degree for pastoral ministry. Other degrees (MACE, MRE, MAT, etc) provide just as qualified a theological education and, for many evangelical churches, they simply are looking for candidates with a Master’s degree from an appropriate seminary. Now, the study should give us pause. One of the things to celebrate is that, perhaps, this data reflects a growing missional movement among seminarians who want to receive world class theological education and then go apply it in secular marketplaces. This is a kind of tent-making industry view that allows them to advance the Gospel where traditional ministers cannot reach. If this is the case this is a good thing.

One challenge though is that a clergy which lacks appropriate theological bona fides (I’m not saying an MDiv automatically provides this) can create churches that lack theological depth and inquiry. I doubt there are few serious ministers who would say we need more shallow, consumeristic, cosmetic Christian churches in America. To be a pastor, or church leader, requires that one be well rounded theologically (Titus 1:9; 1 Tim 3:2, 6.) While seminary provides a platform to advance in our theological growth, I’m not entirely certain it is solely the place for this and nor am I convinced our seminaries (by and large) are developing ministry-ready pastors.

 

However, I’m going to give some push back on these numbers as reflecting the actual ministry environment for seminary studies across the United States and even globally. Since the ATS survey is limited to only its member institutions it does not take into account non-ATS schools which are accredited by another agency (TRACS, SACS, etc) or are unaccredited. Many ATS schools are affiliated with mainline denominations which are seeing lower numbers of members desiring to enter the ranks of their clergy. The true growth of pastoral minded seminarians is likely outside ATS schools and inside these other schools. I would venture to guess if we were able to tack all of these seminaries we would find the numbers of students planning on entering pastoral ministry would jump, maybe as high as 60%.

Perhaps more clarification will come. We can certainly look forward to that, and in the meantime celebrate the possibility that there is a move afoot to take theologically trained leaders into the marketplace to grow the Kingdom of God in significant ways.

What do you think? How is seminary education changing? How are students changing seminary education?

05
Jun 2013
POSTED BY Garet
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Education

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