I’ve been struggling to come to a firm stance on what I believe about theological education and training for ministry.
On the one hand, I loved seminary, and sometimes wish it had been even more rigorous. My graduate degree in history at a public university was much more demanding and intellectually stimulating than my seminary study. I appreciate the specialization and expertise of biblical scholars, theologians, and ministry veterans alike.
On the other hand, I know that it’s not Christendom anymore. I also recognize that Christianity is expanding–even exploding–in the southern hemisphere, where the church’s growth is outpacing its institutions, pressing many more people into ministry before they have what is more and more coming to be seen as a luxury, namely, a seminary education.
I blasted into church planting mode with a firm conviction that ordinary Christians could do just about everything that I could do. I didn’t quite think, as Alan Hirsch does, that “ordination is the doctrine of the devil.” But I nevertheless came to believe that I was just like every other Christian, except with a handful of skills and gifts that I picked up or became endowed with along the way.
And so I was very quick to pass off lots of church roles to people who I thought were just as well-equipped as I was. I did this in defiance of what I perceived to be an unbiblical elevation of the clergy class above the rest of the body of Christ. In my Reformed tradition, many believe that none but the ordained minister should lead in public prayer. I ditched this notion and any others that reeked of spiritual elitism.
Time, the teacher
Two years in, however, I’ve realized that it’s simply naive to think that I should expect uneducated, untrained Christians to be able to do those things I’ve only learned to do because of my education and training. I have some chops, and it’s okay to use them. I don’t need to be embarrassed about my learning and competencies.
But what I haven’t been educated and trained to do, unfortunately, is what Paul wants to see Timothy doing. I have only just begun to learn how to pass on to reliable people what I have myself learned, so that they’ll be able to pass them along to others (2 Timothy 2:2). This is the single biggest struggle of my ministry. It is my biggest source of bashfulness. It is the thing that I know I must do, but the thing which I feel least competent to do.
What we can’t not do
Whatever your view is on the role of the clergy relative to the rest of the body of Christ, you’ve got to face the same thing I am facing. Can you make a disciple? Can you replicate yourself? Can you pass on to others the understanding and competencies — and, maybe most importantly, the confidence — that you have gained? Do you know how to press both the grace and the truth of Jesus upon particular people with humble authority?
There are chops that are really helpful to have. Greek and Hebrew. A spiritual imagination. Literary sensitivity and exegetical prowess. Oratorical skills. Ability to gather and mobilize a crowd. Guts to face criticism and to overcome the fear of failure.
But there are chops that are indispensable. The ability to make disciples. If I cannot learn to do this better… If the people I disciple cannot pass the Jesus Way on to others… then I’m a failure as a church planter, whatever other chops I might have.