The notion of seminary education and how to train men for the ministry is something that has changed throughout the history of the church. More recently there’s been an uptick in the idea of independent seminaries becoming academic institutions.
This raises the questions:
- What is the relationship between the church and the seminary?
- What is the interest that the church has in the seminary?
The product that the seminary seeks to produce is men to fill the pulpit in the churches. The church has a real interest in that work.
There needs to be a close relationship between the church and the seminary. The church must be involved with oversight of the seminary. The church must understand the product the seminary is producing when the church is going to be looking to the seminary for its future ministers.
Is a seminary an academic institution or is it a vocational training institution? This is also an important question. It seems to me that a seminary needs to be both.
There is an academic component, and it must remain very academic. There is a non-academic movement going on in many seminaries today, and that’s troubling.
But at the same time, a seminary is not merely an academic institution. It is also, for lack of a better term, a vocational school. It is a training opportunity for men to learn how to do the ministry. In other words, a seminary should have men who are proven ministers, who know how to do ministry based on solid theology, who have solid academic backgrounds, and who are now showing other men how to do what they’ve been doing and trained to do.
At Heidelberg Seminary, we have addressed the need for a combination of academic and vocational training. As a full-time professor at Heidelberg Seminary, I’m able to be involved in a number of different aspects of the ministry of the church, here locally in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where the seminary is located.
Adjunct professors at Heidelberg Seminary also embody this combination of academic excellence and vocational experience. Most of the courses that students take at Heidelberg are taught by adjunct professors. Heidelberg’s adjunct professors are men in area churches who are full-time pastors, who are established pastors, who are actively doing the work of ministry. At Heidelberg, we see the theoretical and also the practical together as ministry.
All ministry is based on good academic work, exegeting the scriptures, researching, and then applying that in ministry. All good ministry must be based on good theology. All good theology must ultimately become good ministry. So we combine those things.
You may be in a classroom speaking about the sovereignty of God and the conversation will go into a very practical sort of implication. For example, when you are visiting with someone in your congregation who has just had a hailstorm which has wiped out his crop, or has had a tragic accident in his family, you have an opportunity to make practical applications of the theology you are learning to ministry in the life of the congregation, in the life of people in the church.
Pastoral ministry must first of all be based solidly on the preaching of the Word of God. Now the preaching of the Word of God has come into disfavor in many circles today. But that is a sad development, and we need to continue to promote, very strongly, the preaching of the Word of God.
We also need to continue to promote other aspects of pastoral ministry.
- How do we catechize the youth?
- How do elders function in the church in their role of shepherding the flock?
- How do we go about preaching the gospel to the lost?
These practical aspects of ministry grow out of theology. God calls to himself the people he has chosen from eternity through the mediator Christ, his Son, who was sent to accomplish his task. And now Christ calls men to be fellow shepherds with him to fulfill that task: That the lost would be called, that none will be lost, and that all of God’s people’s needs will be met.
At Heidelberg Seminary, we believe that this approach to ministerial training is very effective: combining theological study with practical, vocational training. This method of training will not only help you to become a good pastor, but it will also be effective for the church.
If you are interested in pursuing the ministry and you believe that the Lord has laid it on your heart to call you to the ministry, and if you are interested in knowing how to be a pastor to a congregation, we would invite you to consider Heidelberg Seminary. We’d be happy to sit down and talk with you about what we can offer and how you can begin to pursue that ministry.
Prof. Maynard Koerner, M.Div., D.Min. is Professor of Ministerial Studies at Heidelberg Theological Seminary in Sioux Falls, SD.