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Friday, March 30, 2018

"15 Things Seminary Couldn't Teach Me" (C Jeffrey Robinson Sr, editor)

TITLE: 15 Things Seminary Couldn't Teach Me (Gospel Coalition)
AUTHOR: C. Jeffrey Robinson Sr, editor
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2018, (160 pages).

Seminaries serve the Church and not the other way round. Seminaries do not call pastors. This calling belongs to God alone. Seminaries do not produce pastors because pastors are formed by God through churches. These are some of the things in which perspectives are important. It is easy for young seminarians, even professors in theological institutions to have an ivory-tower perspective that is utterly disconnected from church reality. A prominent academic and theologian even acknowledged that "ministry studies" is the "weakest component" in theological studies. In driving the point home, education is important, but the application of it is equally important. Like letting our bodies being operated on by a surgeon. Would we prefer a well-educated medical graduate without practical experience or an experienced doctor? Indeed, the school of hard knocks is where young seminarians would have to enroll after their graduation. This book shows us 15 things that we can learn from experienced practitioners.

First off, Jeff Robinson Sr sets the stage by saying, "knowledge and credentials aren't enough." Having a good theological qualification is not the end product. It is just the beginning of the next stage of education. He gives warnings about expectations. From the self, credentials do not necessarily translate into competence. He talks about spiritual warfare, the complexity of ministry;  the need to depend on God; and many more. Mark Vroegop deals with an increasingly relevant issue: What to do when the Church is dying? Highlighting one of the flaws of the contemporary Church, that they are more know for what they are AGAINST instead of what they are for, he supplies seven lessons out of his ten years pastorate experience, every single one of them bathed in real-life experiences not for the faint-hearted. Daniel L. Akin relates the story of his own marriage, how he came from a good home while his wife struggled with a painful childhood. Getting married also means he learns to shepherd his wife who needs to deal with her own issues. He provides seven ways how pastors could love their wives. That said, this matter of marriage and ministry could spawn several books as there are way too many different kinds of marriages, ministries, contexts, and struggles everywhere. On relating to people different than us, Jeff Higbie's solution is to recognize the three categories of differences: Cultural; Demographic; and Theological differences. Cultural could be unique meanings in a particular context; demographic in geographical context; while theological in faith persuasions. Higbie reminds us the importance of being sensitive to differences so that we could be peacemakers as much as possible. Matt Capps touches on the unique challenges of ministry: When we disagree with our lead pastors. Mutual respect is key. He gives four questions to ask ourselves; steps to reconciliation with others; and what to do when things become unbearable. Juan Sanchez teaches us on how we could lead our leaders biblically and practically. Matt McCullough writes a chapter about how we could love our kids to love the Church, touching on the unique challenges of ministry workers who often had to struggle between what is work and what is play. John Onwuchekwa shares about leading and shepherding congregations going through awful times of suffering. People go through really dark moments when tragedies strike hard and sudden. His four lessons teaches us about being prepared emotionally; to be ready as a place of refuge; to build a team; and constantly pray. Harry L. Reeder covers the area of discerning when is the time to leave. In fact, if joining a church is considered a calling, so is leaving. His ten "lines of guidance" is worth pondering about. Jay Thomas addresses the area of conflict, arguing that pastors should deal with them constuctively; believing that the gospel heals; and that Christ-centered love is not about taking flight but loving one truthfully. He deals with four different types of conflict; between church members; between congregation and leaders; between congregation and lead pastor; and between church leaders. In the midst of unending work and rising expectation, Vernon Pierre exhorts us to fight for our relationship with God. Dale Van Dyke preaches patience that it takes time to become a good shepherd. That we need to be humble to learn; to let the Word be authoritative in our preaching; and to care for the flock like Jesus cared. Scott Sauls warns us not to use the ministry for self-serving purposes. His two lessons to learn and to re-learn keeps us from such a temptation. In an age where the average pastorate lasts only 2-3 years, Phil A. Newton encourages those of us serving a long tenure. Finally, Collin Hansen shows us what we can do when no church hires us.

Three Thoughts
First, this book is soaked with pastoral wisdom. All the contributors are pastors or are closely linked to pastoral ministries through their seminaries or gospel-centered organizations. They have this common goal: To fill in the educational gaps that seminaries often are unable to teach. The school of hard knocks is not an easy place to be in. Very often, pastors are lonely and do not know what to do in their unique circumstances. No books or manuals could tell them what to do. Even the best seminary programs would not be able to prepare one to handle the most peculiar cases. This book offers a step forward to bridging this gap.

Second, one can disagree with the specifics but don't miss out the principles of ministry: Speaking the truth in love. What is the difference between speaking and practicing? For the most part, they are the same because the pastoral ministry mostly revolves around speaking. In preaching or in teaching, we speak. In praying, we speak. In counseling and encouraging, we speak. In board meetings and leadership gatherings, we are expected to speak. Knowing how to speak the truth is one thing. Discerning when is another. All of these is basically about wisdom and love in practice.

Third, there is always room for more resources like this. For there are many more issues that could have been addressed. Issues such as financial considerations; academic qualifications and theological training; guiding a Church through a building project; selecting programs and activities wisely; how to balance family and church; administrative challenges; etc. In fact, I would posit that every pastor would have his own set of 15 things seminary couldn't teach.

To all young seminary grads. You may have a great GPA, a meaningful practicum, and a spiritual high experience of a newly minted degree/diploma. Remember with great humility: All your knowledge and qualifications are simply there to kick-start your ministry. Your journey has only just begun. To readers or potential ministry workers, this book would give a needed reality check before you even begin.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Crossway Publishers and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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