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Wise words about the ministry

April 14, 2008

I really enjoyed this blog post over at ReformedCatholicism.com.

I found that many of these points resonated with me and where I’m at now in my life. One of life’s strange little paradox’s is the appreciation I have for the Bible College and Seminary that I attended in showing me how ill-equipped these institutions were in preparing me for ministry. I don’t say this to bad mouth the people there – I wouldn’t trade my time there for anything. The friendships and memories made there are worth the time alone. But I noticed during the last year or so there how backwards this education can be. A lot more value was placed on scholasticism than service and mentoring. The majority of men were putting off starting families and having children for school. They’re wives were working full-time jobs to support them. Many of the students had never worked a real job, much less been successful at one. These are some of the things I struggled with. After four years, I felt I had a ton of book knowledge but no life knowledge. I hated that my wife had to work full-time to support me – especially after having Molly. I felt like I was stuck in a community where everyone looked the same, thought the same, and experienced the same things. I watched as a number of young men took ministry positions and failed miserably or took ministry positions “for the experience.” I thought that maybe I was just afraid of failing, or maybe I was afraid that I’d wasted my time only to find out that I wasn’t truly called to the ministry. But then in my readings I ran across two statements that made me really think about what I was doing. The first one was about “calling.” I forget where I read it, but the statement was something to the effect of “your calling is confirmed over many years of service to the church, by the church, despite your repeated attempts at rejecting this calling.” In other words, my calling was not confirmed because one or two people told me I should go to seminary. It wasn’t confirmed because I made National Dean’s List every year I was there. It wasn’t confirmed because that’s what I wanted to do in life. This began to make sense to me when I met two men in their 40’s who had been successful in another career, but had come to seminary because this type of calling had occurred in their lives. What’s funny is I had been a little insecure about being a few years older than the average student, when I really wasn’t old enough to be there in the first place! The second thing I read was in a George MacDonald (I think) book where he made the statement that a requirement of the ministry should be 40 years old and already successful in some other career. Although I believe he was saying this somewhat tongue-in-cheek (somewhat), it made a lot of sense to me. One of the things that I struggled with was how to grow our family, yet still continue pursuing the ministry. After all, it would be almost impossible for Denise to stay home with the children (which is a non-negotiable in my book), and for me to provide for them in a church that I didn’t have to compromise my integrity to serve in (i.e. megachurch). The solution is simple now. I find a career that pays well, has good benefits, and enable me to provide well for my family so that Denise can stay home. I do well in this job, bringing glory to God, building friendships with all different types of people, and gain valuable life and relationship experience while continuing to serve in the church and study on my own (or even more importantly, under my pastor’s watchful eye). When my children are older and if I am called to the pulpit  – or some other ministry – then maybe I pursue it, knowing that I have a nice pension or retirement set aside, so that I am not totally dependent on the church for my well-being. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are certainly some pastors who are an exception to the rule and I never want to make the mistake of being dogmatic or legalistic about such things (after all, I didn’t reject the rampant legalism of one tradition just to latch on to another brand.). But I don’t think it would be a bad thing if 80% of our Bible colleges were disbanded, and the number of seminary students were cut down by about half – mostly from the 20 something group. But more importantly, know that this is mainly how I feel about myself, my family, and my ministerial calling, and that its a blessing to know someone else out there feels the same way.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. John Super permalink
    April 17, 2008 8:48 am

    Ditto, Brian.

    Even now I go back and forth sometimes thinking, “What about my schooling and stuff?” and then wise words like these refresh me and make me realize that this is God’s good work for me now and it makes me love what I’m doing. Knowing that I could probably be doing a hundred other things, driving a big brown truck is where God has planted me, it is supporting my family, and helping provide for our future. There is GREAT satisfaction in this…and the chicks dig it, too! (I’m sure all your chickies do)

    John super

  2. April 20, 2008 8:43 pm

    John,

    You know what’s funny? I remember Danny Aiken pretty much saying similar things when he was at Southern… ticked off a lot of people. While I disagree with him theologically in many areas, I always appreciated his candidness and his insistance that every student put his family first… even if it meant dropping out of school… unfortunately the majority of students didn’t heed his advice.

  3. John Super permalink
    May 3, 2008 10:49 am

    Hey! Please call me again since I lost your numbers!!!
    Hello? Anybody out there?
    Can you here me now?
    Hello. Hello…

    John

  4. Glenn LaRue permalink
    May 15, 2008 1:29 pm

    Brian, Brian, Brian,

    I am just reading this post. All I can say is that I am afraid that you have become the king of hasty generalizations – especially about Baptists. You do tend to come back with softening statemenst like, “I’m just speaking about what I found is best for me,” or “I don’t mean to say . . .” but I frequently feel like these are not nearly enough to balance your comments. This is similar to what I said to you in a different post about being too polarized.

    1. You tend to criticize Baptist legalism from a pretty closed perspective yourself on what I would argue are tertiary issues, such as how and where one should prepare for ministry and stylistic features of church ministry. I’m not sure you realize how legalistic you sometimes sound to me.

    2. I would not begin to generalize the students at Southern as typically neglecting their families and true callings as fathers and workers. Certainly, there are those that do, but I don’t believe you have any real information that could possibly back-up such an assessment.

    3. I would not begin to say that the typical seminarian should be forty-something, as if that construct for understanding Bible and ministry training should be considered as normal. There are so many personal, spiritual factors that come into one’s calling. I rejoice that many young men, like Timothy, are concentrating on the call to ministry. There can be much wisdom in doing seminary training as a young man.

    4. I would also not begin to criticize – or insinuate criticism – against men who gain their full financial living from full-time ministry. I praise God for such men. They are fullfilling a needed role that is endorsed by the New Testament.

    5. And I would never wish a conservative, Bible-believing Bible college or seminary to close. Some of your statements are frankly, amazing to me.

    I’m concerned that you are not being a very fair analyst for the Church. If you are going to do regular posting about the Church, I pray you will use less and less generalizing.

    I love you, brother, but I am truly frustrated by your characterizations. I do understand that you are not necessarily spending hours composing your post and that you are merely seeking to express your personal thoughts, but once you post something on the internet, it is there for all to see. So I encourage you to support your statements in more concrete ways. Then, if someone agrees or disagrees, there can be a basis for it.

    Glenn

  5. May 17, 2008 7:09 am

    Glenn,

    I’m sorry if you’re offended, bro, but I don’t feel that any of you’re accusations are founded. My experiences obviously are from a Baptist perspective, but I was careful to not say “baptist” because I feel the same way about all denoms – so I think you’re off on that point.
    As far as your other points:

    1. I already mentioned above, but, I think you need to give specifics of legalism if you’re going to accuse me of it. I see none. In fact I was careful to make the point that this does not include everyone.

    2. Do I need to give specific examples? Call people out? My real information is things I saw with my own eyes. Are you going to dispute about what I saw and felt?! There were more people there whose wives were supporting them than not. We have mutual close friends whose wives were miserable because of the work they had to do. I had a number of friends who were putting off families because of school. Whatever. I have a problem with it and it caused me to make some life adjustments. If you disagree, that’s fine, but the facts are there.

    3. Again, this is an issue of disagreement. In fact, I wouldn’t really disagree with you – except on your definition of what “many” is. If you have a different opinion, that’s fine.

    4. I’m not sure I did this, so I’m not sure what you’re getting at. Maybe you’re confusing what I said about my life with what I expect from everyone else.

    5. This may be the one instance of generalization that I can be accused of. My frustration is aimed more at the number of kids who attend these institutions rather than the institutions themselves… I would certainly not wish someone to lose their job due to a school shutting down.

    I appreciate your concern about my blogging… honestly I do. I always reread my posts after you respond because I tend to write things that I regret, and certainly I would probably say things differently on this one. But I think about what I am going to write a long time before I write it. Usually I write a post because its something I’ve been thinking about at work all day or all week, and I even think about how I want to say it. Again, I’m sorry you’re offended, but this is an example of how my worldview has changed since I left. I hope you don’t take it personally because every exception I made in my post is due to you and Kyle. I truly am pleased with what you guys are doing and i think you’re doing the right thing.

  6. Glenn LaRue permalink
    May 18, 2008 11:48 am

    Brian,

    I apologize for coming at you pretty hard on that comment. I would like to know how you think the biblical Timothy fits into your assessment concerning age and calling.

    Glenn

  7. May 18, 2008 6:22 pm

    Glenn,

    Apology accepted 🙂 I think I understand why you reacted the way you did. Anyways, as far as Timothy goes, I thought I was pretty clear in my original post that there is room for exceptions. To be sure, Timothy is ONE example of an extraordinary young man amidst many older, wiser, experienced men in the ministry. Of course, we’re talking about different times, cultures, needs, and experiences, but aside from that, I think it is vital that the church continue to groom many Timothys. That said, I still stand by my statement that our seminaries are full of young men who need to rethink their calling or take a number of years off/ find another career before tackling seminary. Even though I feel I could have made some pretty accurate assessments of why we have so many unqualified young men pursuing ministry, I chose not to go that direction. I don’t want to question anyone’s motives and I’m content to assume they have upright motives. I expect, though, that part of the problem with the evangelical church today (maybe a small part) is the influx of young ministers with no real life experience, not to mention all the difficulties that come with trying to raise a young family while similtaneously shepherd a church. Does that mean some can’t do it? No. But for every young man who is excelling in his studies, supporting his growing family and allowing his wife to be at home while serving his church in a non-pastoral role – i.e. ministering to college students…. I think you know where I’m going with this – there are a number of young men who are putting off starting a family, putting school first, making their wives work to support them, and trying to pastor a church before learning how to serve the church. Maybe you disagree, but I saw numerous examples of this while at seminary, and as I said before, it made me reconsider my current calling and make some life changes. Again, I’m not trying to be legalistic about this, hence the title: Wise words about the minstry, which really has more to say about the article I linked than anything I said, which was mostly based on my own personal experience. Out of curiousity, did you read the article and if so, what did you think?

  8. Glenn LaRue permalink
    May 19, 2008 1:38 am

    I read it, and I think it is clever, insightful, and convicting in many ways. I now feel miserably disqualified for the ministry. I’m not kidding. At least I know I can always just teach school. I’ve said many times that I might get through all this seminary and still just wind up teaching Bible in a Christian high school. Then if my local church develops a need, who knows?

    Much of the article rightly reflects the point that Jesus comunicates in the “seat of honor” parable, or Paul in Romans 12: “Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought.” Amy and I have talked several times recently about that “seat of honor” parable because I read a famous sermon by Francis Shafer that had some great points for ministry that were based from that parable. The sermon is called “No Little People, No Little Places.”

    As I recall, he encourages ministers always to choose the position of least “honor” unless just absolutely compelled to take a bigger role in ministry. He wants his hearers to understand that no role is insignificant in God’s kingdom.

    I do want to say one final thing about my seminary experience though. I have been consistently impressed with the quality of young men that comprise my campus. From day one, I have felt honored to witness the preparation of men (and women) who will be ambassadors for Christ all over the world. Every class has a couple of jokers for sure, but I have always believed that mostly I am studying with truly godly men who have tremendous potential for the ministry.

    In addition, I have talked to many older ministers, who encourage the completion of seminary training while a man is young because of the difficult realities of attempting to do such a thing later in life. Their typical advice is, “You will only get more busy as you get older and more tied down and you will have less energy, so finish now if you can.” So one reason I have determined to do this training in my twenties and now early thirties is I pray not from presumption but from following wise advice.

    In addition, I think we could find many, many examples of historical church leaders who started their training in their 20’s or before. Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, and Andrew Fuller just pop to mind. Oh, and you said that Timothy was the exception. Is this really the case in the Bible? How old was Paul when he was called? Or John the Baptist? Or John the Apostle? Or Jesus?

    It seems to me that the primary criteria for honorable service is calling, not age. And I believe that God calls many men in their youth to his full-time service. I see it in the Bible. I see it in church history. And I see it today.

    Glenn

  9. May 19, 2008 4:51 pm

    “It seems to me that the primary criteria for honorable service is calling, not age. And I believe that God calls many men in their youth to his full-time service. I see it in the Bible. I see it in church history. And I see it today.”

    I guess I don’t really disagree except for the fact that we were mainly talking about preaching and I think the calling of many young men to this profession is up for debate. We are all called to full-time ministry in a sense. I think churches would do well to encourage their young people to follow the examples of the many young men in the Bible who proclaimed the one true God via their “secular” callings (David, Daniel, Joseph, Gideon, etc.), rather than assume that every young man who shows an interest in the Bible needs to go to Bible College and then straight to seminary.

    While we’re on the subject, I’m not against seminary… I wish I could afford to go back. I loved it! I also think that most the men there are godly, talented men like you said. I’m not questioning they’re motives, but I am questioning their calling. I would say that a sure sign of one’s calling can be seen in one’s current life situation. Like I said, if you’re putting off starting a family (or even looking for a wife), making your wife support you, etc… then you’re probably not being currently called to the ministry (or at least seminary training). I think you made a good point about doing your training as a young man – if you can do it. Of course, I would say that serving in the church and training under a pastor is 10 times more profitable than any seminary training, and in many instances, while some form of higher education is probably necessary to be an effective preacher, seminary training is not always necessary. The best preacher I’ve ever sat under has a BA in Biology and an MA in Philosophy and only took Greek and Hebrew at the local Bible College.

    Finally, a good discussion might be about “calling.” I think the surest sign of calling would come from the church you are serving – preferrably after a long period of time. At the very least, someone who wants to get his training out of the way while he’s young should probably spend at least 5 years and closer to 10 years serving under a pastor before he becomes one hisself. While not doubting the motives, or even the talents, of many of the men in seminary today, I wonder how many of them have been sent by their church rather than gone because it something they wanted to do.

  10. John Super permalink
    May 21, 2008 9:02 pm

    Well, it was not until age 30 that priests were aloud to serve in the tabernacle (Num 4.3) and it seems that maybe they apprenticed at age 25 (Num 8.24) or even 20 (1 Chron 23.24).

    Jesus was 30 when he began his ministry and John the Baptizer must have been about the same age (since he was 6 months older than Jesus). Timothy was not a teenager, no doubt, but probably in his thirties (or even forties).

    Besides, “elder” seems to carry the connotations of age and wisdom, not youth and vivaciousness. These are attractive qualities to us, maybe, but it doesn’t seem to be God’s standard (cp. 1 Tim 3.1-7; esp. not a recent convert and all that being a husband and having faithful children thing). I seem to remember that in Hebrew, elder meant bearded one, denoting age and experience.

    But alas, these are not necessarily conducive to seminary enrollments and projected growth plans. It’s much easier to get the youngins to come since they don’t have all the baggage. Gee, it’s weird how that works. Never overlook the bottom-line.

    John Super

  11. May 22, 2008 3:58 pm

    Glenn,

    John’s words must be devastating to you and your minstry aspirations, due to the fact that you’re not able to grow a beard, or at least one that doesn’t resemble Shaggy 🙂

    I’d never heard that about Timothy, John. Where did you get that info from?

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