Churchmen Training Churchmen
With centuries of tradition we’ve grown accustomed to the institutional model of seminary training. But the longer I’ve shepherded the flock of God, the more persuaded I’ve become that churchmen should train churchmen. History has proven that the truth isn’t safe in the institution. Scripture declares, however, that “the pillar and support of the truth” is “the church of the living God” (1 Tim 3:15). The seedbed of churchmen is the church!
Paul’s 2 Timothy 2:2 mandate to make replicating disciples is a pastoral charge. It doesn’t allow for discipleship in the life of the church to be stripped away from the academic component. The institutional model of seminary training is foreign to the 2 Timothy 2:2 mandate. It is the responsibility of shepherds in the church to train its future shepherds.
With over a decade of training churchmen at The Expositors Seminary, I have the profound privilege of laboring alongside fellow shepherds in the trenches as we train men for ministry. The four-year Master of Divinity curriculum is integrated with hands-on learning of ministry skills in the context of the local church. As the course catalog attests, the formal instruction emphasizes the indispensables of the biblical languages, expository preaching, exegetically-derived theology, and shepherding. This intensive coursework combines with in-the-field experience for robust, real-world training.
In the first year we focus on mentorship as shepherds get to know new students to decide which areas of ministry they should get involved with. In this mentorship process we look for areas of giftedness and areas to grow, and we watch for patterns of ambition and idols of personal significance. Progressing into his second year, the shepherd-in-training receives increased exposure to the demands of church ministry where the rigors of the classroom run side by side with his education “in the field.” In this apprenticeship he serves practical needs, sits in on leadership meetings, goes along on visitation, observes counseling as appropriate, and teaches as assigned by leadership. These contexts provide opportunities to evaluate his strengths and weaknesses, and to identify mistakes. The third year begins an internship where the pastoral student is challenged further as he takes on more leadership and begins to compose correspondence addressing ministry issues, counseling concerns, and theological questions. The fourth year of preparation culminates in a pastoral residency designed to provide the highest level of supervised ministry experience. Close-range shepherding and practicum are built into the fabric of the training environment. The pastor-professors at The Expositors Seminary are in the practice of drawing in men for ministry opportunities and evaluation.
The early days of Princeton Seminary was a time when apprenticeship was inseparable from scholarship. After Archibald Alexander was chosen by the church to be Princeton Seminary’s first professor in 1812, he began meeting with
his little class of three students once a day. They worked their way through a long list of subjects which included Hebrew, Old Testament, Bible history and geography, Greek, and English Bible. Six more students arrived by the next spring, and another five joined the first-year class in the summer. Alexander’s modest home was the library, chapel, and classroom. The students studied there and shared meals and family worship (David B. Calhoun, Princeton Seminary, 1:59).
Shepherds shoulder the responsibility to train up faithful men. Because of the sobering weight of ministry leadership, we foster a setting where men are taught to get in the flow of discipleship, to humbly submit to the elders, and to joyfully serve wherever there is a need—without regard for being noticed or being obscure. By so doing we protect the flock of God from the spiritual vulnerability that comes with unprepared shepherds—and we protect the pastoral student from his own inclination toward self-significance. Apart from the sobering demands of church ministry and the accountability of close-range oversight, shepherds-in-training tend to lose sight of the call of Scripture to shepherd the flock of God with eagerness and humility as we anticipate the appearing of our Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ (1 Pet 5:1–4)!
Jerry Wragg serves as the Pastor-Teacher of Grace Immanuel Bible Church in Jupiter, FL and President of The Expositors Seminary. This article was taken from his new book, Courageous Churchmen: Leaders Compelling Enough to Follow (The Woodlands, TX: Kress Biblical Resources, 2018).