Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Training Pastors in the Local Church: Introduction and Overview (Part 1 of 7)

by Doug Smith

(This article was originally published at Said at Southern.)

The church is called “a pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Tim. 3:15 ESV). The model of theological training presented in the Scriptures is one that directly involves the local church, particularly as qualified men train others to teach others (2 Tim. 2:2).

I began seminary classes in the Spring of 2007, by distance education. I am not very far along in the M.Div. program as yet, having completed only 14 semester hours. My status is still that of an Internet student, but I did enjoy my first on-campus class this past summer in a one-week module. I am hoping in the near future to move closer to Louisville or one of the extension centers for Southern Seminary.

Even before beginning seminary, I was beginning to see the importance of theological education being solidly anchored in the local church. This is a conviction that has only increased. I have had numerous conversations with others about this topic (including SBTS blogger, graduate, and Ph.D. student Matthew Wireman, who has given much thought to this matter as well). I am encouraged that our school’s president, Dr. Albert Mohler, also desires to see churches become more involved in training pastors (see his recent article, “Training Pastors in the Church”).

This series will examine various ways that a local church can become involved in the training of pastors. These methods can (and often should) overlap, so they are not necessarily cut-and-dried approaches. However, they are a suggested starting point, especially for those thinking through this matter or seeking to implement church-based theological training of some sort. I submit these ideas to the reader, not as an expert on this concept, but as one who is zealous about this topic yet still thinking through these issues. My goal is to stimulate others to consider the place of the local church in training pastors and how they might encourage or participate in this noble task.

Five Models of Theological Education

There at least five models of theological education that can involve the local church in training pastors. I have listed them in order of most direct to least direct methods, although they can be combined and overlapped. The unifying theme of these ideas is that the church in some way, directly or indirectly, is attempting to take seriously the call to train pastors.

The first model, mentoring, involves a pastor pouring his life into an aspiring pastor, preferably over an extended period of time. Its central place in the diagram is fitting, since an ideal theological education would include this aspect along with other methods. The second model, the internship, would involve some mentoring, but it would be for a more defined period of time and likely be in a group setting. The third model is a church-based seminary, where the school is a direct extension of the ministry of one particular church. Churches could also partner with other churches or ministries to combine forces to offer training (the fourth model). The fifth model is the traditional seminary that is accountable to churches. Not all traditional seminaries are accountable to local churches, and I would argue that such institutions would, in effect, overstep their bounds and assume a task that they cannot legitimately claim.

I personally have benefited in some measure from a mentoring relationship, a church-based seminary, a ministry which partners with churches to train pastors, and a traditional seminary accountable to local churches. My articles, in part, will draw on my interpretation of these experiences, but will also point the reader to specific examples of these sorts of models. The final article will give some practical suggestions on thinking through and implementing church-based theological education, to help us apply a biblical approach to training pastors.

What do you think? Are there some other ways to anchor pastoral training in the local church?


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