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Thoughts on Church Based Ministry Schools

Over the past several years there have been several mega-churches (and giga-churches) that have started ministry schools out of their campus(es) which are seeking to train young adults in their specific ministry model while also providing them with a college level education.

Of course, this movement isn’t anything new. In fact, it is quite old-school. 

Earlier today I saw a leader in evangelicalism send out a tweet promoting the new ministry school his church was starting. As I ruminated over this, it got me thinking about some of the old fundamentalist Bible institutes and colleges which emerged out of the cultural isolation resulting from the Scopes Monkey Trial. In the period from the 1930s to the 1950s (and a bit beyond) many disenfranchised fundamentalists withdrew from the larger cultural conversation and began to promote and support their own ministry programs and educational systems.

George Marsden has noted about this period in his marvelous Fundamentalism and American Culture (Revised Edition):

Since dispensationalists lacked and clear view of the organized church above the local level, the Bible institutes played a major role in giving them some unity. They arose in response to the demands of urban ministries and the desire to train lay leader for evangelism. They also served as centers for training for foreign missions – always a prominent concern. A wide variety of local evangelistic agencies, local congregations, Bible conferences, publications, and independent national agencies for missions and other types of evangelism was informally united by common ties to various Bible institutes…Of these, Moody Bible Institute was preeminent, not only because of its connection with the late evangelist, but also because of the leadership of two of the outstanding spokesmen for the movement, Reuben A Torrey, first superintendent (from 1889 to 1908) and James M Gray, who served from 1904 to 1934, first as dean and later as president. (128-9)

Now, though the old fashioned institutes were crafted with the idea of training young men for ministry (and women for support roles) and focused primarily on evangelism and missions. These new Church Based Ministry Schools continue an evangelistic purpose, but have, as their primary focus training in ministry leadership and church growth models. 

It is a palatable difference.

torrey09However, the aim seems to be the same. In the early part of last century as these institutes arose there was a general mistrust for seminaries and universities with the influx of German Liberalism and modernist professors. Now, it seems, the mistrust continues to a degree, but it is not about the failure of theology, but the failure of adequate ministry preparation.

It is hard to find a seminary graduate, even from our best evangelical seminaries, who is “ministry ready” upon graduation. For many of these mega and giga-churches, training young leaders in their models is a better investment (for so many reasons) than prioritizing seminary graduates as staffing options.

What is striking isn’t this last paragraph, but that history is, once again, repeating itself. The next several decades will be fascinating to watch. The way that evangelicalism is poised in America the wings of fundamentalism, progressivism, Calvinism, and church growth model are re-creating the grounds that led to the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversies of this same era one hundred years ago.

May we find a better way than division and isolation. The true challenge is that while 100 years ago Christianity remained the dominant cultural spiritual expression in America, we have many other growing voices today.

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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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The Cooperative Program: The Genius of the SBC

This week is sort of my “Ode to the SBC” week with their annual gathering in Houston. Today, I want to focus on what I believe is the genius of the SBC that rarely isn’t talked about enough.

W.W. Barnes1 once wrote, “The Cooperative Program is the greatest step forward in Kingdom finance Southern Baptists have ever taken.”

The Southern Baptist Convention (also SBC) was founded in May of 1845 as a group of autonomous churches who voluntarily cooperated to do missions and spread the Gospel from their local communities to the ends of the World. For many years following its founding, the Convention used established forms of designated and undesignated giving, as well as a former society based model of giving to fund missions and denominational ventures. This society model proved ineffective and was part of the demise of early boards and agencies (Bible Study Board and first Sunday School Board are examples) along with some other logistical issues.

In 1917, the SBC initiated a program called the “Seventy-Five Million Campaign” that sought to fund  ministry initiatives and expand receipts. The Campaign was a mixed result, but also led to some financial challenges related to a debt burden it carried. So in 1925, the SBC adopted a Co-operative Program of giving that sought to provide a systematic framework to support and fund the denominational ministry.

JE Dillard was named the chair and the program moved forward. Since that time in 1925 the Cooperative Program has remained unchanged in its fundamental principles and operations. It is also the genius of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Cooperative Program provides the funding arm from each of the local churches (all 45,000 of

This is how the CP works out as percentage of giving.

This is how the CP works out as percentage of giving.

them) to missions and denominational agencies. As our chart shows, the process is fairly straightforward and funds move from the pew to the field with little hindrance.

Since the primary focus of the SBC has always been Gospel centered missions, the Cooperative Program has provided a stable funding source that scaled with the growth of the Convention itself. In keeping with the intent of the founders of the Convention, “The Cooperative Program brought the goal of the original constitution of 1845 closer to realization…”2 The Cooperative Program also provides a linking of the local church to the state conventions and the larger denominational programs and agencies that facilitates a growing unity and focused purpose.

Regardless of the challenges and controversies that have gone on within the Convention over the years, the steadfast commitment to the Cooperative Program has been a point of unity within the denominational work. It allows churches to see how their dollars go straight to funding the missions and ministries that they value.

This is the process of funding. Click for more detail.

This is the process of funding. Click for more detail.

Another aspect of the funding is that it has enabled Southern Baptists to create seminaries to train their pastors and missionaries at a reasonable cost. When I was considering seminary, it was an easy decision to choose an SBC seminary over other attractive options as I knew I would receive a qualified education at a cost that was reasonable and allowed me to graduate with no student loans. Most seminarians in the ATS system cannot say that; Southern Baptist should be reminded and be proud of this.

In the latest stats on the Cooperative Program, in 2011 the Cooperative Program received $500,410,514 in funds with $308 million going directly to Convention interests. That money is divided up according to an allocation budget (affirmed by the Convention meeting.) For the 2012-2013 year the proposed budget saw $94,376,000 go to International Missions and $42,845,200 go to North American Missions for a total of $137,221,200 dedicated to missions. I don’t know of a Protestant denomination that provides a more secure method of funding their missionaries. Along these lines, the seminaries (all six of them) received $41,209,600 for theological education.

These numbers, which are all public, aren’t meant to brag about size but absolutely meant to show how God’s people provide and remind us of the task before us. The Cooperative Program is a genius system that allows each member of our churches to directly fund the work of God at home and abroad. 

From a strategic vantage point (since that is a focus of this blog), the Cooperative Program provides a consistent and scalable funding arm to support and sustain prioritized ministry activities. Its simplicity (relatively speaking) is its genius. For the many new missions and church networks that are growing, mostly among free church ecclesiological models, this is the kind of funding program that would help them grow.

One of the many things that I am proud of as a Southern Baptist is how the Cooperative Program works. I remember to this day putting my $10 bill into the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering envelop, placing it in the offering plate, and knowing it went directly to funding missions across the world. That is a great thing for the Kingdom of God.


  1. 1. The Southern Baptist Convention 1845-1959, 1954 pg 230 

  2. 2. Robert Baker The Southern Baptist Convention and Its People, 1974 pg 404 

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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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