Why Do I Need Seminary?
Here are a couple of quotes you may have heard before: “Why do I need to spend three years at a seminary when I have the Holy Spirit?” or “If Jesus can use illiterate fishermen to start His church, why do I need to go to seminary before starting ministry?” A newer quote that is surfacing in this discussion is, “With so many digital and web-based theological resources, why go to seminary?”
These quotes come out like “gotcha” moments. Someone throws one of these comments out, then they drop the mike and walk off in triumph! But I say, “not so fast.” The question “Why do I need seminary?” deserves a better answer than that.
First of all, I agree that the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit is a nonnegotiable for ministry. If fact, I would rather have a Spirit-filled person proclaim God’s word, than a person with a seminary degree but void of the Holy Spirit. The issue here is that both are accessible. There is no doubt that God uses the total composition of a person’s life for ministry. That means whatever past experiences and education you have had, once redeemed, become material that God can use in your life and ministry. You may think of them as tools in God’s hands. In this analogy, we can say that the seminary experience fills a person with tools that become useful in God’s hands. As an example, consider what Paul’s training under Gamaliel added to his preaching and letter writing ministry.
How about the second objection: Jesus used illiterate fishermen. First of all, we know that they were not all illiterate and they were not all fishermen. That aside, Jesus called the 12 into discipleship. The commitment he called them to is expressed by Peter when he said, “Lord, we have left homes and families for you…”. The twelve left everything and followed Jesus; every footstep; every prayer; every miracle; every sermon; for three years! Without doubt, they had a fuller seminary education than anyone else on earth. When Jesus was done equipping the twelve, he filled them with the Holy Spirit before sending them to Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth. Seminary is an intense time of equipping where one spends three years with Jesus! Then the anointing of the Holy Spirit will provide the power for ministry.
With the third objection, I agree that there are so many great resources available today that were not just ten years ago. The problem is that there are almost too many. Anyone who can write a convincing blog can sound like an expert in a field. Seminary training will not only show someone how to access available resources, but also how to know if they are quality resources from a subject matter expert. Additionally, our (and other) seminaries are incorporating digital and web-based content into the classroom so that students learn how to properly interact with those resources.
As a retired veteran, the military has taken me all around the world and I have been a part of many churches. One common thread in the churches I have attended where the pastor has not been to seminary, is that the sermons all start to blend together. It is clear that the pastor’s theological well is only so deep and running out of water is a constant threat. One notices that Sunday after Sunday, no matter the Scriptural starting point, the message always ends up at one of the pastors three or four favorite themes. The body of Christ needs solid food and seminary training is one way for pastors to deepen their personal theological wells.
Another common theme among untrained pastors is shallow theology. They may know about the Penal Substitutionary Atonement of Christ’s sacrifice, but they have probably not dealt with the competing views of the atonement such as Christus Victor, Moral Influence, Scapegoat or Ransom Theory. They may be able to speak on the Trinity, but they have never studied the many heresies of the early church (Arianism, Unitarianism, Modalism, etc.) and don’t realize how easily heresy can creep into that doctrine. Finally, people with little or no training tend to miss the point of the passages they preach. Instead they focus in on a key word, or again, a favorite theme, while doing injustice to the plain meaning of Scripture. If we truly believe that God communicates through the Scripture, we should at least allow ourselves the training necessary to find the meaning God wants to communicate.
There is usually more to the claim, “I don’t need a seminary education” than the pat answers stated above. I am not saying that seminary is a “must”, because I know successful ministers who do not have a seminary education. On the other hand, seminary training is a fantastic time of equipping, growing closer to Christ and networking with like-minded men and women who are passionate for ministry. If the pat answers about seminary are not working for you, please give me a call and we can talk about an affordable seminary education.