Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Strange Lives of Seminarians: Wannabe Professors

Professors cast a large shadow over the seminary community. They are often the reason that seminarians come to a certain seminary over others. Professors have the opportunity to hugely shape the thoughts and actions of future pastors.

The relationship between professors and seminarians is an interesting one, because most seminarians are not going to become professors. Yet when coming to seminary, many students begin to look up less to their former mentors, who are usually pastors, and instead begin to prize their academic tutors. Some seminarians observe their favorite professor and over time lose their love for the pastorate. Some are doubtless intended to do so by the sovereign will of God. They are moved by Him to want to be an instructor of pastors or other students. But other seminarians who are not gifted to possess one of the very few academic teaching positions turn away from the pastorate to their folly. I hear too many young men who are not exceptional thinkers, communicators, and writers desiring the professorate. This is an unfortunate byproduct of spending three to five years in seminary. It is ironic that in seeking to prepare oneself for church service, we seminarians distance ourselves from it through our intensive seminary courses. Though this situation need not redirect our passion for the pastorate, I am afraid that it does for too many of my fellow seminarians.

In my experience, a professor is a man who has exceptional intellectual gifts. He communicates with clarity and ease, he writes with insight and elegance, he thinks with depth and range. Most seminarians, simply put, do not fit this bill. Most of us are not gifted in this way. We have not been made by God to teach future pastors their doctrine. This is one of the unfortunate effects of the larger, less personal seminaries. One is able to live according to pipe dreams that never get popped. I meet too many men who delude themselves on this matter. They think that because they get As on their papers and 95s on their finals, they're professorial quality. But most of them are not. They should instead direct their love of learning and teaching to the local church. God's church needs far more pastors than scholars. We don't need many Carsons, frankly. We do need a whole lot of pastors, and we need pastors who are intellectually inclined--not exceptional, mind you, but inclined. And we need professors and pastors of seminarians to get involved in the lives of young men and to say hard things to them. Sometimes feelings need to be hurt, and hopes need to be dashed. In the end, the man who says a hard word to an overly ambitious seminarian may bring great good to his life, for it will cause that seminarian to chart a better course than he would have otherwise. Yet I do not observe this sort of thing going on very much in our local churches.

Seminary professors are wonderful tools of God. They have a unique call and a special privilege. But they are a small group. Most of us will not and should not enter their number. We need courageous pastors and professors to tell seminarians this hard truth and to direct them away from struggle and needless pain. Young man, aspire to the pastorate. Seek it out--it is a high and solemn calling. If you're tapped to be a professor along the way, great. But unless you are especially gifted, and that is especially clear, let someone else do the tapping. Admire your professors, learn from them, and put their teaching to good use in the local churches that together comprise the earthly Kingdom of God.


Blogger KC Armstrong said...

Hey Owen,

We have never met and I am new to your blog (via churchweblogs/sbts - fellow church member is the developer). As an aspiring seminary student (to begin in January), I sense that I have a calling to teach, but not necessarily to pastor. My drawbacks are many, poor leadership skills and lack of experience as the beginning. However, something within me indicates a desire to teach at the university level, but, having never attempted the feat, unsure if I am or will be ever qualified for such. How would you suggest an individual honestly evaluate himself to see if the professorate is indeed the appropriate line of ministry?

2:00 PM  
Blogger blake white said...

Owen, good post, but I have to disagree with one statement. I personally think we need many, many more Carson's, as it is rare to find one with such exceptional academic gifting and love for the church.

6:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen, Owen. How did someone as young as you become so wise? I wish more of our fellow students saw this as clearly as you do. I was very surprised, then saddened to learn how many men here are not preparing for the pastorate, but for the proffesorate. I agree with blake to a point, but we need as many carsons in the pulpit (if not more)as we do in classroom.

2:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Men? Women are professors in seminaries as well as students! Geesh. Sexist much?

11:14 AM  

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