Skool, Part 3 (Or, "Back to School, Back to School")
Skool is an (allegedly) on-going series in which I reflect on my experience in the Pastor's School of Sojourn Community Church here in Louisville, KY. Beyond that experience, I hope to challenge the mode of pastoral training in America, now exported throughout the world. As a former staff member of an undergraduate ministry training college (and an honors graduate of that same college), I want to write with sensitivity yet honesty, asking first, "Is our system biblical?" and second, "Is our children learning?" (;-), W 43). Previous posts can be found here, here, and here.
This morning marked the start of the second semester of the first year of Sojourn's Pastor's School. I don't know if I've ever been so excited to be somewhere at 6 am. (Usually for me, excited and 6 am aren't in the same sentence.) Last semester's three modules of study featured eldership/leadership, preaching, and biblical counseling, with biblical theology reading being assigned throughout the semester. We returning students had homework due today, a manuscript for a 5-15 minute sermon explaining the Gospel. Pastor Nathan Ivey will teach us first, as our first module is Missions, Mercy, and Evangelism, the area in which he provides pastoral leadership within our body. I expect to get my guts kicked in over the next five weeks. I have a very convenient way of hiding behind my busy schedule, making excuses regarding getting to know my neighbors and preaching the gospel to them. Nathan took that head-on today. I can only expect more of the same over the coming weeks.
My training for leadership in the Church (something in the pastoring/planting/missions spectrum) will look a little different this Spring, not because of something new, but rather, something old. As planned, I am returning from my grad work Sabbath and have re-enrolled at Southern Seminary, my once and future (Lord willing) alma matter, a school of no little importance. I am also taking a further academic step by becoming Dr. Carlton's Garrett Fellow, grading for/assisting him in the Missions program at Boyce College.
Am I a hypocrite, then? Am I abandoning the concept of church-based ministry training? Am I biting the hand that's fed me for many years and now, yet again, will put me through school? No. I certainly hope not. For starters, I've come to learn that blind loyalty is not loyalty at all. It's a passive form of selfishness, seeking to serve oneself with a conflict-free relationship when good relationships call for open, honest, conversation that will often look like conflict. Also, personal attacks and slander are sins that I desire to keep far from me. The leadership of the school, including those who laid me off, are my brothers in Christ and I harbor no bitterness towards them. That said, I have several thoughts on why I am returning to Southern Seminary and what I hope to gain from my experience there.
- First and foremost, I hope to gain a degree. I do believe that it is regrettable that the Master of Divinity has become a sort of prerequisite to pastoral ministry and work, especially since 1 Tim. 3:1-7 sets up a much more strenuous and exacting standard than any seminary could ever set. But, there we are. This is the system that is firmly ensconced. The system must change if the church is to rapidly and powerfully expand. Systems, however, are only successfully and sustainably changed from the inside. Period. The best revolutionaries are the ones who studied at the universities of their colonial occupiers and learned to see the defects in the system. How much more so can Christians of differing viewpoints learn from each other?
- Secondly, I hope to gain helpful auxiliary knowledge. There is no better place than the church to learn the preaching of the Word, to learn the inter-personal preaching of the Word that is Biblical Counseling, to learn evangelism, to learn worship, to learn leadership, etc. Helpful things like biblical languages, Church history, and some of the finer points of academic theology, though, are more easily learned in the academy. Seminary can help supplement, and it is a fine supplement. The problem comes when people try to live off supplements. Vitamins are not food!
- Thirdly, I hope to enhance my experience of the church Catholic. Christ's church consists of more than just mine, fortunately! Many of (and some of the best) professors at Southern are elders in their churches, for instance, and many sweet people are students there. I do hope to make (some) new friends, but I am ultra-wary regarding this as I'm not in college anymore. Life is lived in the real world, and my relationships within the covenant membership of my church and with my co-workers and neighbors must continue to receive the priority.
- First, don't be a jerk. This cannot be overstated. While I don't think I'd go about intentionally insulting people, stealing lunch money, or stuffing nerds in lockers like your classic jerk might, I must be careful in how I speak in conversations especially regarding church life. A friend of mine used to live in the dorms at Boyce. It was related to me that he was having a debate with a hall mate over some issue, and the hall mate snapped at him: "Get off your Sojourn high horse." While unequivocally condemning such an ungodly response, I must be careful to not espouse me and my viewpoints as being authoritative.
- Second, don't over commit. There's a thousand things to do at SBTS. As Billy Madison would say, "I'm here to learn," and that means disciplining myself to avoid distracting student groups.
- Third, do utilize the resources available. Libraries, free gyms, beautiful scenery, all these things can be helpful and beneficial.
- Fourth, don't overemphasize my seminary status. My name is Paul Butterworth and I've been saved by Jesus Christ. That is my identity. My status does not come in any thing, and thus, I have no need to boast in being a seminary student. I'm not ashamed of it, mind you. It just doesn't need to be on the tip of my tongue. I'm in grad school. Tens of thousands of Americans are in my same place, be it in law, medicine, business, education, et. al. Being in seminary does not make me special.