Recently, a young man who is considering attending Heritage Seminary sent me a good question. He asked for my top reason why “a man called to be a pastor [should] study at a seminary, rather than just commencing pastoral apprenticeship in a congregation straight away.”
Here is the response I sent to him–a response I would give to any who are considering seminary training as part of their preparation for pastoral ministry.
You raise a legitimate and important question when you ask why a man called to be a pastor should “study at a seminary, rather than just commencing pastoral apprenticeship in a congregation straight away.”
My answer would be that we should not look at this as an either/or choice. I would argue for a both/and approach. Both seminary training and church experience.
I’m convinced that a healthy partnership between the seminary and the Church most effectively prepares pastoral leaders. While the Church ultimately holds the responsibility for raising up pastors, a theologically-faithful seminary can be a great help to the Church.
In 2018, The Gospel Coalition published a book with the provocative title, 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me. The contributing authors spoke of the value of their seminary training but highlighted aspects of ministry they didn’t learn in a seminary classroom. Interestingly, the forward to the book was written by Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Seminary. He agreed that the seminary, by itself, cannot adequately train godly pastors. But that doesn’t mean the seminary is extraneous to the equipping process. While it can’t do everything, it does some things quite well.
My years in seminary provided me a sturdy, biblical foundation that has served me well for the past 35 years. I’m particularly grateful for the way I was pushed to learn biblical languages (Hebrew and Greek), taught how to do careful, rigorous exegetical work, given a greater understanding of Church history and trained to exposit God’s Word with clarity, accuracy, and impact. On top of all this, the godly professors I studied with shaped me by their attitudes and actions.
After the book 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me came out, The Gospel Coalition website carried a post by Greg Lanier entitled, 15 Things Seminary Teaches Me That My Busy Pastor(ate) Can’t . The pastor/professor who wrote the post came at the issue from the other angle; he highlighted things that are difficult to learn in a local church apprenticeship.
That’s why at Heritage, we see ourselves as partnering with local churches to train up godly, faithful and fruitful pastoral leaders. That’s why we require ministry internships of our Heritage seminary students. That’s why we want our students embedded in the life of a local church while they complete their studies.
To sum it up, it doesn’t have to be either/or when it comes to seminary or church apprenticeships. Both/and is the best option.