Why Pastors Make Great Seminary Professors
What I write is not meant to disparage, in any way, the men who have given their lives to train pastors in the institutional seminary. Every pastor who has been trained in an institutional seminary can give testimony about professors who made a meaningful and lasting contribution to his life and ministry. Nor is this meant to suggest that God doesn’t give gifts that are best used in an academic setting, or with an academic aim in mind. There are greatly gifted men who will never serve as pastors and whose abilities are strategically and meaningfully used in the lives of those who will.
But what I’m writing is meant to suggest something. After many years of ministry, I can say that I have observed that pastors best understand all the issues that must be considered in the training of men who will shepherd God’s people. I know that this is a statement that might offend and receive pushback by some, but I am convinced of it. And I would further observe that this affects how you think about and teach theology. The truths of Scripture don’t change, of course, and in that sense, the teaching of theology is fixed. But helping men know how best to steward that Word in the life of the local church does become a matter for skill and experience.
The church is not the academy. That’s why men who have given their lives to local church pastoral ministry make great seminary professors. They are living what the seminary is meant to prepare pastors to do. They are practitioners not theoreticians. The academy can’t afford to forget that, and neither can the church. When the academy forgets this, you have men who are accomplished in many ways but with very little true pastoral experience—and in some cases failed pastoral experience—serving as the primary guides to young men regarding a work they don’t really understand. When the church forgets this, young men, fresh out of that kind of seminary preparation, are chosen for pastoral roles without regard for the pastoral preparation that goes beyond book training. In many cases, those men have a head full of knowledge but lack the maturity, character, and wisdom necessary to be a good shepherd. In some cases, young men enter pastoral roles with a severely under-developed idea about what exactly it is that they are charged to be and do. They love to kick around ideas and talk theology, but they lack the soberness that comes with a sense of the gravity of pastoral ministry.
The church is real life all the time. It is ministry to common, precious people, in need of clear answers from God’s Word. The pastor can’t treat theology in a speculative way, because where he lands on the subjects addressed by Scripture will dictate one course of action or another, one pathway of decision-making or another. Most people in the local church are not thinking about God’s Word to answer curiosities or merely bat around various scholarly interpretations, but to make decisions and live in a way that honors God. To use one example, when a previously divorced person asks a pastor to perform a wedding ceremony, one’s view of divorce and remarriage is no longer academic. In addition, how he ministers to that person in that moment and following that conversation is no academic matter.
The pastor’s work doesn’t end with instruction from a pulpit, a Bible study class, or a counseling meeting. He must attend to the close personal results of his preaching. His role is far more than heralding truth—he must come alongside the sheep as the messages expose the heart. A pastor is not like a paid lecturer or a weekend conference speaker. He cannot give a talk and then walk away, leaving the spiritual repercussions of his teaching for others to work through.
That is why I would even draw a distinction between a man who has given his entire life to the ministry of the local church and a full-time seminary professor who preaches on Sundays. Even a faithful man who makes the seminary classroom his full-time work and then is the “Preaching Pastor” on Sundays usually has a very different situation from what the average local church pastor deals with. That is especially true in a seminary town where much of his congregation consists of seminary students. It just isn’t the world that almost any other pastor will be living in.
That is why I love the TES model of training pastors. You have practitioners in the classroom. You have men whose lives are wrapped up with the congregation. This is not a choice to reduce academic rigor. A church-based seminary model understands the seriousness of scholarship. Any faithful pastor understands the sobering responsibility of handling the Scriptures and would insist on a rigorous preparation for ministry in the realm of knowledge. But those same pastors understand the need for what the Scriptures promise—perspicuity. As one of our speakers recently said in a conference on the sufficiency of Scripture: “The Bible is not a muddy river.” Amen! Indeed, it isn’t. And yet, as I have listened to many who spend their life in the academy, it seems as if the greatest virtue in a preacher (lecturer) is “nuance.” It seems that the only place where one can speak with firmness is in those matters that “everyone” can agree on. Unless, of course, we are firm about how wrong it is to be firm. That seems to be acceptable.
The church is not a world for “nuance.” I do not mean to suggest that in the church we pretend that good brothers have no areas in which we differ from one another. I don’t mean that in the church we would suggest that we have all the answers for every issue where Christians have differed. I mean that in the local church we must land somewhere concerning what we believe. Why? Because we are shepherding the souls of a blood-bought people and we should never teach someone something that we don’t believe to be true or introduce speculations that make murky what the Scripture’s bring into sharp relief. “Here is what I see. Here are the conclusions I have reached. Here is what my careful study has told me the Bible is saying about this. Here I stand.” That is the attitude of the pastor in the local church. Certainly, it is teaching characterized by humility. Certainly, it is not teaching that claims inerrancy. But what it is, is teaching characterized by faith in the perspicuity and authority of Scripture.
It is the certainty and clarity of Scripture that explains Paul’s exhortation to Timothy in Titus 2:15. There, Timothy is exhorted to declare the instruction he has just been given, and to do so with all authority (lit., “command”). This is true as he exhorts and rebukes with God’s Word. The preaching of God’s Word is not a kicking around of ideas that people are free to simply muse about. Proclamation in the church should never leave the impression that the Bible is a matter for mere academic interest. The Word of God has such clarity and authority that it comes to the people of God with the power of a command. We are called to make changes. We are called to obey. We are called to put God’s truth into action (exhortation), and to repent of all that is out of step with it (rebuke). Paul ends that verse by telling Timothy, “Let no one disregard you.” The word translated “disregard” means “to have disdain for, look down on, despise.” Timothy must present the Word of God in all its own clarity and then insist that it is heeded in the life of the church. He must not be disregarded in the church because his authority is that of apostolic doctrine (Scripture). He has no authority outside the careful, sound, handling of Scripture, but to the degree that his teaching is faithful to God’s Word it carries the very authority of God Himself. Because the Bible is not a “muddy river” the preaching of that Word must not sound like the river is muddy.
As a side note, it is instructive that the teaching that immediately precedes Titus 2:15 involves matters that are often talked about in contemporary evangelicalism, as if we don’t have a clear Word from God: the roles of men and women in the church (2:1-6); the submission of a wife to a husband and the eternally significant work of being a homemaker (2:4-5); the need for young men to live self-controlled lives and to pursue holiness (2:6-8); the truth that grace instructs its recipients to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions (2:11-14). These were the very things that Timothy was to insist on with all authority. Using just one example, Complementarianism was something considered clear and undeniable, something to be insisted on in the life of the church with all authority, not debated as if we don’t have God’s truth about these things.
Because a pastor understands the challenges associated with “watching for souls,” he is best prepared to train the men who will be engaged in that very work. The men being prepared for the pastorate will not land in the halls of an academic institution. They will not assume a role in which they can afford to preach and teach or deal with souls as if Scripture is not clear. They will not be spending their time in a way that an academic life is sometimes portrayed in movies—sipping tea and debating about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. They will be knee-deep in spiritual mud, with sleeves rolled up, going into battle every day for the sake of souls, with the one instrument sufficient for that work—the Word of God. And they will know that the people of God need a distinct sound from the trumpet. The Bible is not a muddy river.
They will say with the apostles, “We also believe, and so we also speak” (2 Cor 4:13). In addition, they will be assuming an office that isn’t measured by academic degrees and doesn’t exist in some lofty tower (metaphorically speaking), but one that consists of the hard and humble work of shepherding. Without a humble heart, without a sincere self-assessment that says, “I am nothing” (2 Cor 12:11), a man will prove to be worthless for the very work he went to seminary to be trained for. The best men to train men for that work are the men who do that work, who live and die with the spiritual condition of the sheep.
Richard Caldwell is one of our nine TES campus pastors, having served as the senior pastor of Founders Baptist Church in Spring, TX since 1998.