Those of you who have been following the Blue Collar Theology (BCT) series remember that the purpose of this emphasis is twofold: to recover a theological emphasis by raising the bottom shelf, and to encourage theological education in the local church as its primary context. Blue Collar Theology argues that theology is meant to a priority and pursuit of all Christians. It also argues that the best and most natural setting for theological education is in the local church, not colleges or seminaries.
This leads me to a very candid confession and encouraging word from Dr. Mohler, who happens to be president of the largest seminary in the United States. In the Fall annual meeting of the Board of Trustees of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Mohler argued that, while courage and boldness are needed in seminary students for an age of theological apostasy and opposition from within and without, “the greater challenge for us is to inculcate in them the gentleness to be with Christ’s people.”
I think Dr. Mohler’s challenge is certainly not unfounded. Seminary administrations and churches alike are hearing disappointing news that students fresh from the seminaries are becoming more and more unsuccessful in their first tenure in the local church. This, however, is usually not due to their inability to exegete and exposit Scripture or provide a robust apologetic to some of the most important questions facing Christians in our postmodern culture. Rather, it is in their inability to lovingly and sacrificially give themselves to God’s people–a giving that includes hardship, pain, longsuffering, and criticism.
As I proceeded to read through the initial paragraphs of the Baptist Press article, I found myself thinking, “Dr. Mohler is issuing a challenge to the trustees of a seminary that neither he nor the seminary can meet.” It was only a matter of seconds after that thought where I read Dr. Mohler admitting to just that reality.
The article states,
While seminary teaches budding pastors how to interpret Scripture accurately and how to preach the Gospel clearly, Mohler said local churches must teach seminary students by example how to love and tenderly care for the people of God.
Learning both sound doctrine and loving pastoral care is imperative for the present generation of students, Mohler said, because nearly half of the pastors of the Southern Baptist Convention’s 40,000 churches will reach retirement age in the next 10 years. Mohler challenged trustees, many of whom are pastors, to be mentoring future ministers within their churches.
What Dr. Mohler addresses is one of the major impetus for the upstart of Blue Collar Theology. Seminaries cannot train ministers for success in local churches for the simple reason that much of the cause for success cannot be attributed to a diploma or initials but a towel and bucket. I have written earlier about the disconnect between seminaries and local churches, and lest be too quick to cast all culpability upon freshly trained seminary students, the fact is that many are led into church contexts in which they are entirely unprepared. Many will go to churches who have never heard expository preaching. Others will find themselves in churches who have a form of church government comprised of committees or deacon boards contrary to the prescription of God’s Word and counterproductive to any new visionary ideas that may change the traditions the church has long held dear. These are just a few examples of issues that raise the crucial question of how we can best train and equip young ministers for faithful, enduring, and successful ministry in Southern Baptist churches.
Dr. Mohler confesses,
“I want to remind you that there is a great stewardship that has been entrusted to this seminary and a great deal which we can and must do, but we cannot make a minister. Only Christ can do that.
I believe that He does it more in the local church than in the seminary by far. We need to pray to have churches across the world that are training pastors to be pastors and nurturing the gifts of ministry. I don’t think in a classroom you can learn what it means to love people the way the Apostle Paul talks about it [in 1 Thessalonians 2].
I think you have to learn that in the local church. You have to learn that at the bedside of a saint who is going home to be with the Lord, you have to learn that in talking to a couple that thinks divorce is an option and you’ve got to tell them it isn’t. You have to learn this the hard way.”
Dr. Mohler is right on, and I am really encouraged to be hearing this from my seminary president. I am hopeful that greater emphasis of theological education in the local church can be reached as leaders such as Dr. Mohler recognize that the greatest needs of seminary students cannot be met in our seminaries, and the lessons students like myself must learn can only be taught in the classroom where there are no walls and where the tests will not be whether we can analyze the semantic range of agape in various exegetical contexts but whether we have showed it in the giving of ourselves to God’s people.