Tag Archives: ministry issues

Benefits of Going TO Seminary

Brian LePort has a post where he laments the financial cost of going to seminary. He suggests that online education may be a way to alleviate some of the cost. Brian makes this point:

If seminaries want their students involved in ministry why would you ask them to leave their pastorate in Wyoming to move to attend your seminary in Oregon so that they can train to do what they are already doing in Wyoming? That doesn’t make sense. Sure, being in a classroom is superior in many ways to watching a recording of a class, but watching a recording of a class while continuing in your present ministry is better than quitting that ministry to attend classes on campus.

In my education, I have done both in class, and online courses, and I have had positive and negative experiences in both formats. To further the conversation a little bit and interact with this critique that removing a person in active ministry to have them go to seminary to train them for the ministry that they’re currently doing doesn’t make any sense, I thought I would re-post my article on the benefits of going to seminary:

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There has been much discussion over the move to offer M.Div degrees in such a way that the person in ministry does not have to remove themselves from their current ministry position. This has an advantage because going to seminary often means the uprooting of a family and taking a significant paycut while attending school fulltime.

Christianity Today had a cover story on the rise of online offerings and the shift to seminary education that allows the student to remain in their ministry context while getting a degree.

Some schools have moved to a modular format, where classes are week-long intensives. This allows the student to come for a week, participate in class and then when back home, to work on the papers, exams and other assignments. (This is the model at Briercrest, though there also are semester-long courses occasionally offered).

While it can be a sacrifice to go away to seminary, I would like to suggest some reasons why going to seminary can be advantageous.

1. A New Perspective.
Sometimes we become so embedded in our current ministry context that we cannot see anything other than how “we do it.” To go away to seminary, to join with a different community allows us to see the forest rather than just the individual tree that we have lived and worked in. This can lead to a humbling realization that how we do church is not the only way to do church. As well, it can give us a new perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of the congregation that we serve.

2. A Time of Refreshing & Healing.
With the threat of pastoral burnout an ever constant danger, going away to seminary can be a time of refreshment. It can be a time to be ministered to, to learn, to grow and to be filled up so that we can remain effective in ministry.

3. A Time of Exploration.
A pastor begins to wonder about how to read Genesis 1-3 and wants to wrestle and ponder and deconstruct his theological presuppositions. To do this while in a ministry setting can be dangerous. The congregation could begin to wonder if the pastor has “lost it” or is destined to become an apostate, or worse, a heretic. Going away to seminary can provide the pastor the time, space, privacy, and community to question and explore. This can be especially true if a seminary is chosen that is non-denominational, inter-denominational or at least open to academic and theological inquiry (as opposed to some seminaries that focus on training pastors to have the “right” answers).

4. A Time to Discover New Gifts.
A pastor has spent 10 years in congregational care and chaplaincy. In going to seminary she discovers that she loves wrestling through Hebrew and text-critical issues. A new passion emerges, and the pastor respecializes, going on to doctoral studies with the goal of becoming a professor of Old Testament.

Likewise, a preaching pastor goes to seminary and discovers a gift of listening, and chooses to pursue a degree in biblical counseling. By having the experience of being a preaching pastor, and now learning how to provide pastoral counseling, the pastor feels equipped to provide wholistic ministry to a small congregation that cannot afford to have a multi-staff configuration.

5. A Time to Network and Develop New Friendships.
It is said that 80% of ministry postings are never advertised, but are filled through the search committee having a list of “recommended” candidates. Particularly for churches that are non-denominational, the invitation to candidate at a church comes because of “who you know”.
The same can be said for invitations to speak at conferences or retreats. It is often based on friendships and relationships at seminary where fellow pastors and professors have opportunity to see a person’s giftings, ministry, and calling.

6. A Time to Focus.
One of the downsides to taking classes while still in full-time ministry is that our attention can be divided. The night before a paper is due, a congregant has a family crisis, and the pastor is forced to put aside the paper to deal with the congregant. This can result in a) the pastor choosing to hand the paper in late and thus taking a penalty, or b) not giving the paper the care and attention that it requires. Very often a congregation does not understand the amount of time and study that is required in coursework, and thus when they hear that the pastor is “only” working on a paper, they think that it is okay to interrupt them with more “practical” concerns. (Of course, this can be remedied by having a board of elders who can take on some of these distractions which then allows the pastor the time to focus on the classwork).

On a personal note, while my coming to Briercrest was precipitated by Chuck getting a job out here, I am very grateful for this chance to “go” to Seminary. I had been taking classes while in ministry in Hamilton, but it was a different experience. Being at seminary has given me a chance to refocus and rest. It wasn’t until we moved out here that I realized how burnt out I was from being in ministry. I have a new perspective. I have a new passion and I have a renewed desire to help people get excited about God’s word.

Balancing Act

There has been quite a bit of blog activity lately about “gospel” groups: The Gospel Coalition and T4G. Scot Mcknight posed this question to the TGC this week: How close to the gospel is complementarianism? And I think it turns around too: How close is the gospel to egalitarianism?

Will Lee over at Anwoth is looking at whether T4G is really “together for the gospel” given that their doctrinal statement starts with Scripture rather than Jesus, and includes a whole bunch of non-essentials as being foundational to their mission.

Brian LePort picks up this thread, and looks at both TGC/T4G and Big Tent Christianity, and suggests that both are just rebrands: TGC/T4G as rebranded fundamentalism, and BTC as rebranded emergent church.

It’s all a fascinating discussion, and I find myself in an interesting position because I have linked to material from TGC and have participated in the Big Tent synchroblog.

Now I don’t agree with everything in either of these camps. If I only read things that I agreed with I’d be a pretty cloistered person. And I will admit that I struggle with some of what both these groups hold dear.

For example, TGC is running a “Ordinary Pastors” series on the main page. People can contribute to it, and the brat in me wonders what would happen if someone were to submit a “yay for my pastor” that happened to be about a female pastor. Would they accept it? Publish it?

On the other hand, while there were many great things coming out of the Big Tent Christianity conference earlier this month, I struggle with people like Brian McLaren and his understanding of the Christian faith. But the whole point of the “Big Tent” is that there is room enough for Christians from all stripes. (Whether they can/did actually accomplish this is a matter for another time).

And here I am straddling two worlds. I’m not complementarian/reformed/conservative enough for the TGC crowd.

But I’m definitely not progressive/liberal/egalitarian enough for the Big Tent crowd.

I’ve had TGC type people tell me that being a female pastor means I’m being disobedient to God, and one well-respected scholar suggested a few years back that being “willfully” disobedient called into question a female pastor’s salvation.

I’ve had Big Tent type people tell me that if I’m a female pastor I should understand and sympathize and fight for equality of rights for all people wanting to be in ministry.

So I have people telling me what I can’t do, and people telling me what I should do. It can be tiring.

So what’s a wesleyan-leaning, reformed-inspired, big tent-participating gal to do?

As I concluded in my contribution to the Big Tent Christianity synchroblog, I conclude the same in this post now. This is where I’m at:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Random Blog Posts and Stuff

Come join the conversation over at Scatterings, as Eric ponders “Artistic Participation in the Death of Christ”:

…But I can’t help wondering if there’s more. Without denying the “cease from sin” interpretation or drawing false dichotomies, the death of Christ, while centrally concerned with substitutionary punitive expiation and atonement for my sins, surely isn’t limited to that, right? God the Son is taking the whole human predicament on himself and redeeming it. The curse of the covenants – which itself echoes the curse on the man, woman, and all creation in Genesis 3 – is being realized to the fullest possible extent on Christ’s head. And his resurrection is as the “firstfruits” from the dead – which has various connotations (both as head of a group and as the first of a new harvest). So perhaps our participation in the death of Christ means that all these various dimensions of the meaning of his death touch our lives as we are baptized into it? That, in some infinitesimally smaller way, we are drowned in the abyss, under that creation-wide curse, too? Luther said that when someone first comes into Christ, God damns him: God makes the person feel the full weight of their condemnation before the law. Then grace hits them.

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Mark Roberts is doing a series on Church conflict. Check out: How NOT To Solve Conflicts Part 1 and Part 2.

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J.R. Daniel Kirk summarizes the latest Christian war that is brewing, this time between Albert Mohler and Biologos. He concludes by asking: Is it possible that diversity is inherently good? Can we, should we not, celebrate that there are people to both our left and our right in any circumstance, and that these will be able to truly draw people to the true God even though they (like ourselves) do not have the truth completely worked out.

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Chaplain Mike has a helpful reminder of what the Ancient-Future Faith IS and IS Not:

But I’m afraid people may have the wrong conception of what I’m talking about when I refer to the Ancient-Future path. I understand some of the confusion, because those who talk about it (including me) make regular reference to such things as historic churches, liturgical worship, and other traditional practices. It’s important, however, to realize that there is no single uniform way of walking the Ancient-Future path…

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Great video: Is the Bible about you and what you must do? Or is it about what Jesus has done. (HT: Evangel)


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On the geek front, Joss Whedon talks about the new Avengers movie; and rumour has it that Marvel is gearing up to make an Iron Fist movie.

Training Up Pastors — Issues for Female Pastors

When I took Pastoral Theology in college, the professor really didn’t understand why there were so many women in the class. Of about 15 students there were four women. We weren’t there to debate egalitarianism vs. complementarianism (and that is not what this post is about either), we were there to learn how to be pastors. As I wrote earlier:

Third, he didn’t really know what to do with women in the class. Included in our “textbook” were articles about “being a pastor’s wife.” And when a friend of mine asked if there were any articles about the experiences of women pastors, or about “being a pastor’s husband”, the professor’s response was “well, in all likelihood you will end up being a pastor’s wife rather than a pastor yourself.”

Whatever one’s views on women in ministry, the reality is that there are female pastors. Some are full-time senior pastors. Others are associate pastors. Some are filling the exact same function as a pastor, but to preserve the prescription that only men be elders, their titles are “director of such and such ministry”, “ministry coordinator” or some other clever rebranding.


Does being a female pastor require different training? Are there different expectations? Are there different tools that we need that male pastors do not?

Consider the following scenarios:

1. At Hip & Cool church, it is normal for several of the pastors on staff to stay until late in the evening working on various ministry projects. Very often the only people in the church past 8pm are two associate pastors, one male and one female. Both have spouses and families who have no problem with this arrangement, but several parishioners have seen the two them leave the building together, and the gossips in the church have begun to talk. If both pastors were the same gender this would never make the gossip mill. The pastors are oblivious to the gossip but it is beginning to affect the life of the church. Should there be boundaries for the sake of perception? (or even to prevent something inappropriate from developing?)

2. First Bapti-costal Church of Hello Town has just hired their first female pastor. In the past, it was always assumed that though the church was hiring the pastor, his wife would give the church much of her time by leading the ladies’ bible studies, playing the piano, and chairing the Sunday School committee. The church is not quite sure how Pastor Kate’s husband will feel about leading the ladies’ bible study and it turns out he’s never played an instrument in his life. What are the expectations of a pastor’s husband?

3. Secular research has suggested that women leaders are more negatively perceived even when they engage in the exact same leadership behaviour as their male counterparts (Eagly & Karau, 2002), especially when they engage in the more stereotypically-male leadership tasks such as the enforcement of discipline (Atwater, Carey, & Waldman, 2001). Perceptions of effectiveness as a leader are influenced not only by leadership style (task- versus people-oriented) but also by the gender of the leader who uses one particular style or the other, as well as the group members’ attitudes towards women in leadership (Forsyth, Heiney & Wright, 1997). What tools are there to help female pastors be aware of the perception of the congregation of how they lead, how they pastor and how they preach?

4. While the women at Community Church of Cowabunga are loving having a female pastor to talk to, the men in the congregation are feeling uncomfortable about approaching the pastor to talk about issues and struggles in their life. What can the female pastor do to serve the men in her congregation?

Feel free to answer any or all of the questions above. Or post your own questions that you have struggled with.

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This is part of a series on Training Up Pastors. Previous Entries include:

Training Up Pastors
Training Up Pastors — Continuing the Conversation
Training Up Pastors — Or Not
Training Up Pastors — Going to Seminary

Training Up Pastors — Going to Seminary

There has been much discussion over the move to offer M.Div degrees in such a way that the person in ministry does not have to remove themselves from their current ministry position. This has an advantage because going to seminary often means the uprooting of a family and taking a significant paycut while attending school fulltime.

Christianity Today had a cover story on the rise of online offerings and the shift to seminary education that allows the student to remain in their ministry context while getting a degree.

Some schools have moved to a modular format, where classes are week-long intensives. This allows the student to come for a week, participate in class and then when back home, to work on the papers, exams and other assignments. (This is the model at Briercrest, though there also are semester-long courses occasionally offered).

While it can be a sacrifice to go away to seminary, I would like to suggest some reasons why going to seminary can be advantageous.

1. A New Perspective.
Sometimes we become so embedded in our current ministry context that we cannot see anything other than how “we do it.” To go away to seminary, to join with a different community allows us to see the forest rather than just the individual tree that we have lived and worked in. This can lead to a humbling realization that how we do church is not the only way to do church. As well, it can give us a new perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of the congregation that we serve.

2. A Time of Refreshing & Healing.
With the threat of pastoral burnout an ever constant danger, going away to seminary can be a time of refreshment. It can be a time to be ministered to, to learn, to grow and to be filled up so that we can remain effective in ministry.

3. A Time of Exploration.
A pastor starts reading RJS’ blogposts on Bible and Science and explores the Biologos website, and begins to question the nature of Genesis 1-3. The pastor begins to wonder about how to read Genesis 1-3 and wants to wrestle and ponder and deconstruct his theological presuppositions. To do this while in a ministry setting can be dangerous. The congregation could begin to wonder if the pastor has “lost it” or is destined to become an apostate, or worse, a heretic. Going away to seminary can provide the pastor the time, space, privacy, and community to question and explore. This can be especially true if a seminary is chosen that is non-denominational, inter-denominational or at least open to academic and theological inquiry (as opposed to some seminaries that focus on training pastors to have the “right” answers).

4. A Time to Discover New Gifts.
A pastor has spent 10 years in congregational care and chaplaincy. In going to seminary she discovers that she loves wrestling through Hebrew and text-critical issues. A new passion emerges, and the pastor respecializes, going on to doctoral studies with the goal of becoming a professor of Old Testament.

Likewise, a preaching pastor goes to seminary and discovers a gift of listening, and chooses to pursue a degree in biblical counseling. By having the experience of being a preaching pastor, and now learning how to provide pastoral counseling, the pastor feels equipped to provide wholistic ministry to a small congregation that cannot afford to have a multi-staff configuration.

5. A Time to Network and Develop New Friendships.
It is said that 80% of ministry postings are never advertised, but are filled through the search committee having a list of “recommended” candidates. Particularly for churches that are non-denominational, the invitation to candidate at a church comes because of “who you know”.
The same can be said for invitations to speak at conferences or retreats. It is often based on friendships and relationships at seminary where fellow pastors and professors have opportunity to see a person’s giftings, ministry, and calling.

6. A Time to Focus.
One of the downsides to taking classes while still in full-time ministry is that our attention can be divided. The night before a paper is due, a congregant has a family crisis, and the pastor is forced to put aside the paper to deal with the congregant. This can result in a) the pastor choosing to hand the paper in late and thus taking a penalty, or b) not giving the paper the care and attention that it requires. Very often a congregation does not understand the amount of time and study that is required in coursework, and thus when they hear that the pastor is “only” working on a paper, they think that it is okay to interrupt them with more “practical” concerns. (Of course, this can be remedied by having a board of elders who can take on some of these distractions which then allows the pastor the time to focus on the classwork).

*****

On a personal note, while my coming to Briercrest was precipitated by Chuck getting a job out here, I am very grateful for this chance to “go” to Seminary. I had been taking classes while in ministry in Hamilton, but it was a different experience. Being at seminary has given me a chance to refocus and rest. It wasn’t until we moved out here that I realized how burnt out I was from being in ministry. I have a new perspective. I have a new passion and I have a renewed desire to help people get excited about God’s word.

As we gather and learn and worship and explore we may not all agree or come to the same conclusions. But we all press on with the same goal: to proclaim Christ crucified and Christ glorified.

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For previous entries on “Training Up Pastors” see here, here and here.

Training Up Pastors — Or Not

This post is a continuation of Training Up Pastors, and Continuing the Conversation.
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I went to Bible college specifically to learn how to be a pastor. I took classes in Bible, theology, homiletics, counseling, Christian education, etc. The quintessential class that was to prepare us for ministry was Pastoral Theology.

It failed.

First, the textbook. Well, we didn’t have a textbook. Instead, the professor photocopied a bunch of articles out of pastoral magazines (like Leadership). That was our material.

Second, the professor was a local pastor who was heavily invested in the Seeker Sensitive movement. So much so that he actually told us to not have people read Scripture from the pulpit that had long or foreign sounding words, because the congregation won’t understand it. [of course when we suggested having the big/foreign words explained, he said that Sunday morning was not the time for that.]

Third, he didn’t really know what to do with women in the class. Included in our “textbook” were articles about “being a pastor’s wife.” And when a friend of mine asked if there were any articles about the experiences of women pastors, or about “being a pastor’s husband”, the professor’s response was “well, in all likelihood you will end up being a pastor’s wife rather than a pastor yourself.”

At the end of the first semester, the class was frustrated. We really hadn’t learned anything, and because it was a two semester course, we still had another 13 weeks to go. So, we got together and drafted a very nice letter to the professor (and cc’d to the dean) which outlined what we felt we needed to learn in order to jump into pastoral ministry.

The list included things like:
1. What are our legal obligations to report abuse or illegal activity? How far does pastor privilege go?
2. What are the tax implications or benefits for clergy? [for example how do we claim living expenses, or what do we do if we live in church-provided housing?]
3. What are the tax implications for a church? [no property taxes, but how does GST work?]
4. If a couple wants to be married through the reading of Banns rather than with a marriage license, how do we apply for the Banns paperwork from the government?
5. Are there resources in Canada for pastors to network, to get support if needed?
6. What is required when doing a funeral/wedding? [now, in homiletics we did learn how to write a sermon for a funeral, as well as a homily for a wedding ceremony]
7. How do we train and equip a healthy church board?

The list was full of practical, hands-on advice that would equip us in ministry. He took the list, thanked us, and then the following semester didn’t teach us about any of the things on the list. Instead it was another semester of reading magazine articles.

Two semesters of a class that was vitally important became an utter waste of time. [I will admit, my attitude in the second semester soured, and I refused to give 100% in the coursework, which for me is unheard of].

All the things on the list we ended up having to learn on the job. It was a frustrating experience.

What did you wish you had learned in the classroom that would have prepared you for ministry?

Training Up Pastors – Continuing the Conversation

On Saturday I blogged about TGC’s article on “What One Thing Would You Change About Seminary?”

I noted that in my experience, seminary does focus quite a bit on training pastors, and that maybe, if we keep this contemporary model of pastor, we should use Bible college as a place to learn the basics (how to preach, how to manage church budgets, how to do weddings/funerals etc) and seminary as a place to delve into the deeper theological issues. I have observed that most seminary M.Div students come from a secular BA education rather than having a BRE/BTh degree, and asked what would happen if a student went to Bible college first, and then on to seminary.

TGC has posted a follow-up reflection with Ric Cannada of Reformed Theological Seminary. And even more interesting, Ben Witherington has weighed in on the conversation over on his blog.

Dr. Witherington makes a very interesting point, when he says:

What intrigues me about this article is two fold. First of all, the people being asked are connected to Reformed Seminaries, it isn’t a representative sampling of seminaries to start with, and what is being said, by and large is things that Wesleyan seminaries have long been doing— integration of the practical with the more cerebral stuff, and commitment to Social Gospel type experiences for the seminarian.


So is there a difference? Is the reason I don’t really see a lack of integration or focus on pastors in seminary because I’m not attending a Reformed seminary? Are non-denominational and non-reformed seminaries doing a better job at integration?

Training up Pastors

The Gospel Coalition has a post in which they ask four pastors and educators what one thing they would change about seminary.

As someone who went to Bible college and is now at seminary, having taken graduate classes at two different institutions, I can’t help but wonder if there is a better way to train and equip pastors. I have found that seminaries are very focused on training pastors, which is a good thing. But I can’t help but wonder if a masters degree should be about more than training a pastor. I wonder if a bible college should be the “boot camp” basic training for a pastor and then a seminary degree should be about further enrichment and allowing for a deeper level of scholarship.

In general, bible colleges cater to 19 year-olds straight out of high school, while the seminaries cater to older adults. What if a BRE or BTh were required for entrance into an MA or MDiv program? The bachelor’s degree could be the place to learn how to preach and how to counsel; how to manage church budgets and officiate weddings/funerals. The master’s degree would then be an extension of that, allowing the pastor to become a scholarly pastor, wrestling with Greek and Hebrew and examining text-critical issues; exploring Church history and debating theological controversies. This, I think, would allow for a greater diversity at the bible college level, having young adults and seasoned adults to come together and learn with each other.

Of course, this is assuming the current model of what it means to be a pastor. But I can’t help but wonder if we haven’t poorly redefined the role of pastor in our church culture.

Walter Brueggemann tells the story of a rabbi who laments the current definition of pastor, because it has made being a rabbi difficult. Where the rabbi was a teacher/scholar, now because of the western church’s redefining of the pastor, the rabbi is expected to be counselor and social workers and manager. Check it out here.

What if we were to encourage our pastors to be scholars/teachers/preachers? I think it would mean that all those other duties that have been heaped onto the title “pastor” would become the responsibility of the church as a whole. What would happen if we freed up pastors from the counseling, budget managing, program-building, and allowed them to focus on the Word?

Would allowing our pastors to be preachers/teachers while having the congregation (elders and laypeople) assuming responsibility for the day to day functions of the church increase the intellectual and spiritual depths of our churches?

VBS Volunteers –An Opportunity for Evangelism?

Hypothetical Hip Church in Hootenay Town is hosting a VBS for kids in the community. Being a small church, they only have a handful of volunteers. The coordinator calculates that they will need 8 more volunteers to make all the stations run smoothly and to have enough group leaders for each age group.

As the VBS approaches, they still do not have enough volunteers. So a person in the congregation recommends some people that could help. But these people are a) not members/adherents of the church and b) not believers. The person recommending them says that it’s okay, because this would be a way for them to learn about Jesus as the kids learn about Jesus, and thus would make a great outreach/evangelism opportunity. Besides, it’s just kids. They’re not going to be asking deep theological questions, they are just going to be playing games and doing crafts. The suggested volunteers are all police-checked so the church would not be liable for any kind of hanky-panky, so as long as the church has covered its bases for insurance purposes, there should be no problems.

Is VBS more than playing games and doing crafts? Is having volunteers more than just having warm bodies to watch the kids? Are there relationships being built between the kids and the volunteers that would last outside the week-long VBS? Is having non-believers serving as volunteers a “seeker-sensitive” way to introduce them to the Gospel?

What direction would you give if you were pastor in this church?