Is Seminary Becoming Obsolete?

Lately I have been listening to the excellent podcast, Together For the Gospel. In one of the panel discussions Al Mohler said that his goal as president of a Seminary is “to put the whole institution out of business.” Mohler jokingly reminds us that seminary president isn’t one of the five-fold gifts Paul specifies in Ephesians 4:11; so where do theological seminaries fit in the big picture of the Church?

If seminary is designed primarily to train pastors, it only makes sense that they train in the context of the local church in which they will one day serve. Mohler comments that what we need to see are “more Godly, Biblically grounded, gospel-driven, local churches [which] begin to prepare pastors.” Perhaps seminaries will help pastors finish the training they begin in their local churches, but the reality is that too often churches are not raising up pastors at all. Instead what has happened is that the whole pastoral office has been professionalized, so that churches think they can just get a pastor from a seminary.

It is in this context that Mohler said something which has been seared into my brain: Southern Seminary has “to do the very best we can with students who are sent to us [by churches] which haven’t trained them to be pastors, and evidently have no inclination to do so …  we want to make certain that the graduates of our institution go out to replicate themselves like the apostle Paul with Timothy.”

Mohler’s comments caused me to remember a book I finished a while ago called Real Life Discipleship by  Jim Putman. This book argued that the biggest problem with our current training model for training pastors is that:

Every time a church hires from the outside, it reinforces to its people that they cannot become what is needed for their own church to succeed … God has placed leaders within every church because He cares for the people the church needs to reach. These leaders often sit in the pews, waiting to be developed, to be released into ministry, but often they never are. Our churches are filled with diamonds in the rough, and when pastors and church leaders begin to take seriously our mandate to disciple our people, these leaders will emerge.”

Putman does ask why “most American churches [don’t] tap into the hidden talent buried on their benches?” His answer: “I believe it is because they do not focus on making and training disciples. They spend so much time putting on a show that they do not have the time to know or invest in their people.”

If I were to suggest a less cynical explanation, it might be that perhaps American churches simply don’t know how to raise up pastors anymore. If this is true, everyone involved in Higher Biblical Education must make it their goal to find ways to actively encourage people in our local churches to move towards the gifts God has given for ministry. When the church is creating an atmosphere where people are eager to be pastors, and are already moving in that direction before they arrive at Bible college, we will begin to see churches who are hiring pastors from within their own congregations.

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