Seminary and the Church
There is a movement afoot to change the way seminary students are educated. Dissatisfied with the results produced by some schools, some congregations have begun their own in-house seminaries on the ground that sending students away to seminary take them out of the local church. Yes, sending students to seminary does take them out of one local church, but sending them to Westminster Seminary California means that they will find themselves right back in another local church. It does not take them from "the" local church. Rather, sending them to seminary shifts students temporarily from one local congregation to another during their education.
Another objection asks, "Is not the local church the primary place for the training of ministers?" Of course the church has been given the primary responsibility in the calling and forming of ministers. The question is not whether, but how? Remember, seminary is a three-, and sometimes four-year commitment. The role of the local church in raising up future pastors is to prepare them well for the first two and one-half decades she has them.
If our local churches are really concerned about the welfare of their seminarian sons, they can do many things to help. First they can pray for them. She can also provide an invaluable service to the student and to the church by teaching her children the catechism. Many of our students now come to seminary with virtually no knowledge of the Westminster Shorter Catechism or the Heidelberg Catechism. The education of seminary students would be enhanced greatly if students arrived on campus already having memorized the catechism.
Further, the local congregation can also support students financially. Think of those whom you know who have attended medical or law school. The demands of a WSC education are comparable to those of the best professional schools in the nation. It is a simple equation: the less time the student must spend working, the more time the student can spend studying. The more time the student spends studying, the better prepared he will be for ministry.
It is wrong to assume that a local congregation or even a Classis can replace a seminary. Which local congregation (or any combination of them) has the necessary time, money, human and capital resources to train men for ministry? The WSC library holds tens of thousands of books, dozens of journals, and thousands of back copies of magazines and journals. Few local congregations could or should spend funds needed to provide such resources. This list does not even include the computer hardware and software (which need constant upgrading) and the valuable experience constituted by a learned faculty, all gathered in one place.
The home-grown, do-it-yourself, learn-as-you-go model neglects another very important fact of education: time. Seminary is a time to come away from the typical schedule of ministry demands to think, learn, reflect on the Scriptures, and pray. Any pastor will tell you that if there is anything he misses from his days at seminary, it is the luxury of time away from the telephone (or email), time to read and access to the latest (or oldest) journals and books.
More next Thursday!
First published in Evangelium, Vol. 5, Issue 3.