Seminary Still Needed?

It’s Friday and tomorrow many seminaries will graduate their 2011 classes. I graduated from two seminaries: Southwestern and Gordon-Conwell. And I’ve served Rockbridge. A question I’m asking today is this: “Is seminary necessary to pastoring a church? ” I have a good friend who pastors a large church who never finished seminary (but he’s a serious scholar). TD Jakes never finished seminary. Joel Osteen has not finished seminary either (many would say, “it shows” :). Is seminary required?

I say yes for the following reasons:

While there are some star players in the pastoral landscape who are mega successful, this is not a reason to not go to a Bible college or seminary for preparation. Paul believed in preparation for ministry (Gal 1:17-18) . When I surrendered to the ministry my pastor told me, “a call to preach is a call to prepare.” He was right. Three years of preparation is not that difficult if you focus on it.

Seminary is definitely required in a Western market where education is highly valued. Would you go to a doctor who didn’t go to school? Would you let an unlicensed electrician work on your home? I didn’t grow up in the church and so I absolutely needed to go away from three years (more like ten when you go from undergrad to doctorate) and let professors who have “been there done that” and who “know that” teach me. I would have never learned Greek on my own.

Seminary is not only about knowledge and classes. It’s about process and life skills. A friend of mine quoted a famous NFL coach who was asked, “what do you look for in a new quarterback coming from college?” He said,

  • I look for someone who has a degree — that means he’s a finisher
  • I look for someone who started 24 games — that means he has experience
  • I look for someone who has a GPA of 3.0 — that means he’s willing to study

Seminary taught me how to lead (in part because I went from US Army to seminary campus) . I didn’t get everything in seminary. That’s not the purpose of a seminary. The word seminary means, “seed bed.” We plant seeds in preachers and Christian leaders. The seeds grow, but not all the way. That is a lifetime journey of fertilizing and watering.

Dr. Ken Hemphill used to tell us, “85% of your success in the ministry is related to your ability to build healthy relationships. 15% is related to your technical ability.” I’ve found this true. Greek, Hebrew, evangelism, pastoral care, etc. are important, but they are not the main thing. People are the main thing. Yet I’m glad I’ve got the 15% in the tool box. The 15% brings depth to preaching, maturity in small groups, and focus to the church in outreach. Seminary taught me how to teach, serve, and build up people.

Congratulations to all of you seminary graduates. While people say “seminary is not required” to serve in the pastorate, most churches require it. They do it for good reason. You’ve done well. Good job.

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