Raising Up Pastors Is the Church’s Work
THE CHURCH’S RESPONSIBILITY
9Marks: Why do you think raising up the next generation of pastors is the local church’s responsibility?
Mark Dever: To begin with, we see this in Scripture. In the book of Acts, Paul and Barnabas were sent out by the local church. Paul tells Timothy, the pastor at Ephesus, to entrust gospel truths to other faithful men who will teach others (2 Tim. 2:2). Jesus gives the church the keys of the kingdom, and he promises that the church will prevail (Matt. 16:18-20). At no point does he make the church’s victory contingent upon financially viable and doctrinally faithful seminaries (and I hope they are viable and faithful!).
I’m not opposed to seminaries, although they are unknown among Protestants before the eighteenth or nineteenth century. I’m simply saying that in the Bible, the local church—a community where people are known, their conversion is testified to, and their gifts are witnessed—is the appropriate place to make that kind of heavy statement about God’s gifting and calling in somebody’s life. Raising up leaders is part of the church’s commission.
9M: What resources does a local church have that a seminary doesn’t have for the purposes of equipping ministers?
Dever: A 360-degree view of somebody’s life. Friendships. Multiple people who relate to a person differently, as opposed to being one of 62 people in a class for a professor to know. The local church has been the place where God has committed the clarity of his Gospel, both in the preaching and those who are admitted to the Lord’s Supper and removed from it. Schools have no such ability and no such commission.
Also, you have in the local church a whole series of lives that affect the person in question. So he’s seen the examples—as it says in Hebrews 13:7—of the elders or leaders. He’s been able to consider them and they him. So there’s a natural life-on-life experience of learning.
9M: Are a pastor and a church being irresponsible by not taking measures for equipping future pastors?
Dever: Well, my basic answer is “Yes.” I want to be gracious and realize that there are some churches that are too small or are not equipped. But basically, yes, you should realize that raising up future ministers is an opportunity the Lord has set before you; and you should aspire and pray toward this work.
9M: When you talk about the importance of a church having a 360 degree view of person’s life, you are relying on a certain philosophy of ministry. What assumptions are you making about how ministry and Christian growth work? Why not just train me in Greek and homiletics and put me behind a pulpit, like a seminary can do?
Dever: That’s a great question. I’m assuming that ministry is more than simple proclamation. Simple proclamation is essential to ministry—it’s a non-negotiable. But then that proclamation takes place in the context of a community of people who know each other. They’re geographically in the same place; they assemble regularly together; and, as a consequence, they know each other.
There seems to be the presumption in the New Testament of pastoral authority accompanying pastoral relationships, as in Hebrews 13, where the members are told to consider the lives of the leaders (in verse 7) before they are told to obey those leaders (in verse 17).
The importance of knowing one another also fits with what we hear the Lord say in John 13 about our witness: that the world will know we are his disciples by the love we have for one another.
I in no way want to denigrate the centrality of preaching the Word. But if we just preach the Word without having this relational web or context for ministry, which is the local church, then we don’t know how to do membership, how to do discipline, how to disciple; we’re not going to be a very good witness either (or if we are, it’s accidental).
The fruits of the Spirit that Paul talks about in Galatians are virtues expressed to other people. There’s a relational context in the reality of the church which is absolutely perfect for identifying who is gifted to be a minister, for challenging such individuals, and for raising them up. So, if I can be personal for a minute, listening to you teach a Sunday School class taught me some things about your ability to be a pastor. Watching you disciple other people, watching you inconvenience yourself, watching you take your Bible study down to Helen’s room when she was recovering from her stroke—that lets me know more things about you and commends you to me as a pastor in a way I would never know if you were merely a student in a class I was teaching.
ON THE UTILITY OF SEMINARIES
9M: It would be interesting to consider the implications of what you just said for multi-service and multi-site churches. Anyhow, how then are seminaries best used?
Dever: Seminaries are great gifts of God to us to for transfering specific content-heavy information about language study, systematic theology, and the history of Christianity concerning which the average local congregation probably won’t have sufficient expertise.
So I don’t at all mean to suggest that seminaries therefore are bad or worthless. It’s just seminaries are often used for the wrong purpose. I would even say they are “usually” used for the wrong purposes. When a young man evidences gifts for the pastoral ministry, many churches simply send him off to seminary to make him a minister. And, well, God help the seminaries that that happens to, which is I think just about all of them. They’re not made to make pastors. Churches make pastors.
9M: In a contemporary urban context, is the seminary “necessary,” “advisable,” or something else for a young man who feels called to the ministry?
Dever: It is certainly not necessary. And it is not necessarily advisable. So I’d have to say something else. It is sometimes advisable.
We’ve sent brothers from this congregation out to pastor churches who do not have the benefit of an M.Div. from a seminary, but who themselves know the Lord, know his Word, evidence it in godly lives and families, and are wise about the world as well.
Now, I think a seminary education would have benefited any of these men. But there are lots of practical questions that come in view: the person’s age, the opportunities for ministry that come up, and so forth. So I would say it’s a case-by-case call.
Generally speaking, if you’re younger, go to seminary. I’m more likely to say to a 22-year-old than a 32-year-old, “Go get your M.Div.” But even then, you might be better served in your particular case by hanging around your congregation longer, developing deeper relationships there, and spending more time ministering among them.
THE CHBC INTERNSHIP
9M: When I compare it to other pastoral internships, the Capitol Hill Baptist Church internship is fairly unique. You don’t even give guys opportunities to preach or teach! What are you trying to accomplish in the CHBC internship? What are you not trying to accomplish?
Dever: I’m trying to accomplish what we call a “boot camp” in ecclesiology: introducing young ministers to a history of Christian reflection on what the Bible says about the church.
Today in North America, we tend to be very pragmatically oriented. We have visible, immediate success in mind. Yet when we begin talking with Christians who lived in previous ages and who lived elsewhere, we find centuries’ worth of reflection on what a church should be and do that doesn’t conform to leading a church by what’s immediately and outwardly successful.
So we want to fundamentally affect ministers in their understanding of what a church should be, and teach them from the Word that God cares about things that they might not realize he cares about. Christians in the past have largely recognized this; ours is a comparatively recent amnesia—maybe the last century.
What are we not trying to do? We’re not trying to single-handedly create pastors. As you said, we don’t give brothers the opportunity to preach during this time (though we as a church do this for our members who are here longer than a few months).
Rather, we formally play with their brains by giving them all of this stuff to read and make them write a lot of papers. And, we give them a taste of the church: by sitting in the elders’ meetings and by experiencing being a member for five months.
9M: Could I sum that up by saying you are attempting to give aspiring pastors a “church-centric” or a “congregationally-shaped” view of the Christian life? That you’re trying to accomplish that worldview or paradigm shift in their thinking?
Dever: Precisely. And we intend to do it cognitively, by the reading and discussions, but also experientially, as they join such a church for a few months.