I was excited when Dave Jenkins, the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries informed the contributor team that he wanted to shift the focus of Servants of Grace toward the seminarian for a season in order to produce articles that were full of God-centered advice for those training and aspiring to be in full-time ministry. I immediately knew what I wanted to write about and was excited to have the opportunity to do so.
Over the course of my ministry and life, I have constantly been attached to the seminary. I’m grateful to God for providing that opportunity for me. I have studied at three different seminaries and have studied broadly in my field. In addition to that, I have had the opportunity to serve the local church for much of that time.
One of the things that has always been a concern of mine is how easily many seminarians detach themselves from serving the local church during their years of study. I’m not sure what the reason is, but I think somewhere down the line some students buy into the lie that they must spend time in extensive study before they commit to serving the church.
I have seen first-hand the type of seminarian this produces and I’d like to caution you against it. I believe that the seminary should be deeply connected to the local church. I also believe seminary classes should be taught only by ministry practitioners. Theology, Bible, church ministries class, etc. should never become a theoretical area of study. The seminary should be highly practical and should require its students to be deeply involved in the local church. As a matter of fact, the seminary should be an extension of the local church and accountable to the local church.
You see, in the theoretical world of ministry, the seminarian begins to believe that he or she is the expert. The aspiring pastor begins to critique his pastor’s sermons. The aspiring children’s ministry director gossips as they tell their friends all the things they will do differently when they graduate with their degree. The list goes on and on. I want to briefly give you several common characteristics of those in seminary who are not actively engaged in ministry and then I will conclude with some practical ways to avoid falling into these pitfalls.
Seminarians not connected and serving the local church:
- Criticize the ministry of those serving the church.
- Become consumers on Sunday morning instead of worshippers.
- Are a drain to the pastoral and ministry staff of their local church.
- End up burning out quickly once they graduate and take a staff position at a church.
- Rarely break the cycle of being cynical and critical.
The seminarian is a sponge (and should be!) for they spend much time absorbing information. The problem is that information without transformation and service is not honoring to the Lord who laid down His life for the bride that you are criticizing.
The good news is there is hope for you, seminarian. James 1:22-24 states, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.”
A few things from this passage of Scripture:
- The Word of God requires action.
As a believer, you have the responsibility to serve your local church TODAY. God has allowed you to be a good steward of today, not tomorrow, not yesterday, but today. Therefore, glorify God in His local church now. Become a member of a local church that takes God and His Word seriously and submit yourself to the leadership of that church and serve that church.
2. Doers of the Word see themselves biblically.
James includes this strategically and I believe it is so relevant to the seminarian. A seminarian who is not a doer of the Word fails to see himself biblically. This means he fails to see his sins and easily points out the sins of others. One mark of spiritual maturity is an increasing awareness of your sinfulness (Romans 7) and an increasing gratefulness of the salvation God has provided for you in Christ (Romans 8).
3. Being a doer ensures that you love others.
It is difficult to criticize someone that you are serving. If you find it hard to love others, allow the Word of God to wash over you, repent of your critical spirit and learn how to faithfully serve that person in a way that honors the Lord who died for your sins.
If you take to heart, James’ exhortation, the Lord will be faithful to bless and expand your influence for His glory.
Joey Tomlinson (DMin, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a husband, father, and pastor at a local church in Newport News, Virginia. He blogs regularly on broadoakpiety.org and hosts a weekly podcast called The Broad Oak Piety Podcast with another local pastor in the community.