When I was a kid, I remember waking up one special Christmas morning, running downstairs and seeing everything that Santa had brought laid out all around the Christmas Tree. There, laying on the couch, was a brand new first baseman’s mitt. Next to it, my very own, and my very first, shotgun.
Wow! As an 8 year-old, these were two things that really excited me. I was just starting to play baseball, and the new mitt was a rite of passage. The shotgun, a .410, was long and sleek…a bolt action with a three-shot magazine. Like Ralphie on The Christmas Story, I imagined all sorts of things I could do with my new shotgun.
But, I soon discovered, this was not a toy that I could keep in my room and get out whenever I desired. This thing came with rules. Lots of them. Even more, I began a lengthy training of how to use, and respect, a gun.
The Guns of a Seminary Education
I was fortunate to receive a seminary education. It has been invaluable to me in the ministry. I can’t imagine beginning ministry without attending and fulfilling the requirements. Nor can I imagine a long, effective ministry without the education that a seminary provides.
Here’s my observation, though. On this side of seminary, my education was akin to getting a gun with bullets, but no one to tell me how to use it or what to do with it. It was a lot of information packed into four years, and when it was finished, I was actually let loose on the local church.
A gun with bullets, and an idiot with his finger on the trigger.
My First Hospital Visit
The first pastor I worked with was a “pastor’s pastor”. He was the real deal. His aim, his focus, was to minister to the people. He was tireless in his ministry, too. He was always there, always consoling, always praying, always holding a hand, always leading the charge to meet people in their pain, suffering, and joys.
He would visit the hospital every day. Didn’t matter if you were a member of the church. If someone in our church mentioned a family member or friend or co-worker in the hospital, he visited them. And, he took me with him every time.
The first time I went with him…which was my first day on the job…we drove 60 miles to the hospital in Jackson, MS, to visit a church member whose mother was in ICU, dying. Literally. I had no clue who the church member was. Never met the family.
I was relieved to see the sign outside ICU that only two people could go back. So, my pastor accompanied the church member back to pray for the mother and the family. I waited outside. Relieved. Until my pastor came out and held the door for me to go in. On my own. To minister to this family.
I was woefully inadequate in my ministry to that family. Seminary hadn’t even begun to address that.
The Real Education
So, I learned on “the fly”. I thank God for the pastors that guided and mentored me those first years. They taught me what to do with my seminary education. And, they taught me a very great deal about ministry. Not a theory of ministry, but how to do ministry.
I learned, too, that in spite of the knowledge i gained in seminary, and the accompanying youthful pride that partners with it, I needed to watch, listen and learn from those who had been doing ministry faithfully for years and years. They were my real teachers. They were the ones who taught and demonstrated what a shepherd is. In essence, they were the ones who showed me what to do with the gun and bullets I was given in seminary.
If I were to do it over, I’d find someone who would mentor me. And, I’d make sure I did that in the beginning. From the get-go. I’d count it as important as my class work, and I’d be faithful to seek, ask, learn.
I’d go to meetings. To the hospital. To the funeral home. Watch. Observe. I’d ask questions of my mentor. I’d listen…soak it all in. And, most of all, I’d keep my mouth shut and my opinions to myself, never questioning the faithful shepherds who were actually doing ministry.
So, while a seminary education is important…I’d say, indispensable. It’s not the only education you need. To read a really good discussion regarding the pros and cons of seminary, Tim Challies and David Murray offer in detail what I’ve alluded to in my post.