Currently I am reading through Paul Tripp’s latest book, Dangerous Calling. It is a diagnostic book about the anemic culture surrounding the pastorate. The marketing for this book piqued my interest. While it is targeted mainly for pastors, it also invites anyone who is concerned with a healthier environment for our pastors to read.
Some of the stories that Tripp shares are devastating. He spends some serious space on the whole environment of seminary. I was amazed by the struggles that he reveals many of his students were having with serious sins as they were about to graduate and become pastors. Tripp argues that seminary has become so academic that students are being deceived that right knowledge equals spiritual maturity. He makes some very good points in this area, asking the question, Have we accomplished our training task if we produce generations of graduates who have big theological brains but tragically diseased hearts? (52). At first I thought that was a rhetorical question, but as I read the rest of the paragraph I began to wonder, What is the specific training task of a seminary professor?
Tripp suggests that seminary professors should also have a pastoral role with their students. In some ways, I agree. In others, I shutter at the thought. Many professors, like Tripp, were also pastors at one time. It makes sense to me that they will always be “pastoral” in some sense, and that isn’t a bad thing. I totally understand his concern that these professors are merely pumping heads with knowledge for the pastorate while ignoring the heart. But is it the professor’s job to pastor a student’s heart? Should it be?
What scares me is the professor replacing the actual pastor. These students should all be connected to a local church where they are being pastored. One valid concern that Tripp raises in this area is that most likely, the students are new to the church in the town of their seminary, and this is only a temporary membership anyway. The next thing you know, they are being sent to pastor a church of their own. That made me wonder about the purposefulness of the pastor and congregation that the student belonged to when they received the call into pastoral ministry. Shouldn’t they keep this parishioner under their wing and continue to shepherd him—even with a physical distance? This would involve the pastor from the original church staying in contact with the seminary student in a very intentional way. It would mean getting to know the new pastor that will be shepherding him from the church in the town of the seminary. And these new, temporary pastors of students in seminary towns have quite a responsibility. But isn’t it a very noble one? Isn’t it the mission of the church to be ambassadors of the gospel?
And yet the sphere of the seminary is a tricky one. They don’t operate under the same institution as the church, and yet they are to help equip ministers for the church. I thought their role was mainly educational, but Tripp does reveal some major holes. My estimation is that the holes are primarily in the church itself. If the church was faithful in it’s responsibility, a seminary student should be receiving plenty of spiritual care. Seminary should be the specialized, educational cherry on top.
But I’m only kidding myself if I say that the education that you get in seminary is mere knowledge. How can you teach the beauty of God’s Word without worshipful praise? How can you study God’s Word without either growing in grace or being hardened by rebellion? There’s nothing neutral about it.
So what do I do with Tripp’s assertion that seminary professors must preach and pastor their students? In some ways, even secular teachers take on a shepherding role. It goes with the job. When Tripp says, “I am suggesting that seminary professors become committed to making community with their students and that they always teach with the heart in view and the transforming power of the gospel as their hope” (56), I certainly don’t disagree. But a good teacher of anything should be committed to making community with their students. So this should be a “duh statement” for a seminary professor. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be the case.
All teachers should be shepherding in some sense. Shame on those who don’t. My husband teaches fourth grade in the public schools and his cares extend well beyond each child’s ability to turn a fraction into a decimal. Nonetheless, a seminary professor is handling the Word of God. What is their connection to the church? Whose shepherding their heart?
What do you think? Should churches be more involved with the seminary? Should a seminary professor also pastor their students? How can we make a better culture for an aspiring pastor in training?