I was called to ministry in a rather dramatic way. Maybe I will tell you about it sometime. The pertinent part of the story is that I did not want to become a pastor. I had packed my life’s bags, complete with map, itinerary, and trail mix. I had a plan. Oh I was going to change the world for Christ, just not as a shepherd of His sheep. King Jesus, however, had other plans for my plans. Thus, here I am.
The first thing I did after submitting to His call was enroll in seminary. It was a well-respected, high-octane academic school. I loved it. I was training to be a theologian because, after all, every pastor is a theologian. I purchased and read many books, essays, articles, and papers on every theological nuance imaginable. When I finished my time there, I had a solid grasp on the most significant theological debates of both church history in general and recent decades in particular. I had also taken a few New Testament survey classes, one spiritual formation class, and one pastoral ministry class. I was almost ready to be a pastor.
The only problem was that church needs and challenges did not match up well with my training. In over fifteen years of pastoral ministry, I have dealt with several theological controversies and taught solid classes for which I am thankful to have been properly equipped. But I discovered that seminary was little help for most everyday issues in ministry. I agree that every pastor is a theologian, but there is a reason Jesus did not send His disciples to seminary.
I am now persuaded that shepherds are best taught how to shepherd by being with other shepherds while they are shepherding. That means they have to live with the shepherds and the sheep. “Live with,” not “do an internship with.” If the Bible teaches anything about theology, it is that theology is to be lived out. There is no abstract theology because there is no abstract God. Jesus is a person who should be known, loved, and obeyed. The Bible is not a textbook, it is a story. And pastors should be trained by men currently living as pastors in the story. Who would you rather have as an obedience trainer for your dog, a person who trains dogs every day, or someone who went to a remote university to study “competing dog theories and controversies” (but they did have one semester of “practical dog training” in which they read several great books by folks who actually train dogs every day)?
Don’t get me wrong, theological errors have significant implications. The church needs rigorous academic minds. But the shepherd’s goal is to feed, protect, and lead the sheep. Like Paul, our objective is love (1 Tim. 1:5) because love is the Chief Shepherd’s objective (John 15). When pastoral training is removed from the church, students tend to develop a love for study, books, authors, doctrines, and debating. But if training is done in the church, students get to watch men who love the Shepherd and His sheep deal with the real church problems like despair, self-centeredness, lust, pornography, bitterness, backbiting, laziness, sexual abuse, apathy, worldliness, and idolatry, things the Bible actually talks about a lot.
This is why we started the New Covenant School of Theology (NCST). We wanted to establish real pastoral training, not just pastoral theory. Our students are up to their eyeballs in church ministry. They live in the church (not the church building) learning how to love people who don’t always want it. They learn the challenges of leadership by actually leading and being challenged. They study diligently and robustly in a curriculum which has the Bible (not systematic theology or historic confessions) as its primary textbook. We cover every book in the New Testament, with a few core theology classes added in (rather than covering all aspects of theology with a few Bible books added in).
I could go on and on, but I won’t. You can find more information on our NCST page. If you are considering pastoral ministry or know someone who is, contact us. We would love to talk to you about how we might help prepare you to serve Jesus and His people.