A Seminary President’s Forum

Article
03.01.2010

We asked a roundtable of seminary presidents the following two questions:

Why is your seminary needed? What’s an exciting example you have seen being done in a local church that would encourage pastors to think of raising up the next generation?

Answers from

  • Daniel L. Akin (Southeastern)
  • Bryan Chapell (Covenant)
  • Dennis P. Hollinger (Gordon Conwell)
  • Paige Patterson (Southwestern)

Daniel L. Akin

I believe our seminary is needed because of its clear cut agenda: to be a Great Commission Seminary! At Southeastern Seminary we are committed to training Apostle Pauls. We want men and women with keen minds and theological conviction balanced with a passion for missions and evangelism. Theology and missions should never be divorced. Indeed, each will be impoverished without the other.

Our churches overall are grossly anemic in their basic knowledge of biblical and theological truth. Many have lost their Great Commission passion as well.

At Southeastern we do not want our students to become ivory tower theologians who are “no good” to the common people. Therefore, we seek to balance our biblical/theological curriculum with strong emphases in missions, evangelism, leadership, biblical counseling, and expository preaching. We have developed “interim partnerships” with local churches who teach our students what they can learn only in the context of a local church. We want to expose our students to various models and approaches to ministry, always critiquing them in light of Scripture.

I believe the best ministry preparation takes place where there is a partnership between the seminary and the local church. Some things are well learned in a classroom. Some things are best learned in the dynamic of a local church. Several churches across our nation have distinguished themselves with outstanding internship programs of varying length and intensity. I am very excited about what I see being produced in these “on the field laboratories.”

Translating biblical and theological truth into real life is what genuine and significant ministry is all about. My prayer is there will be a growing partnership between seminaries and local churches that are authentic and effective for training the next generation. I think it can and will lead to better ministers for the churches.

Daniel L. Akin is the president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

Bryan Chapell

We often think of “mission” as taking the gospel across geography. A seminary is about the mission of taking the gospel across generations. By its seminary support, a church maintains gospel faithfulness with future generations. It helps to ensure that they will have pastoral leaders who faithfully proclaim God’s Word.

The pastors we respect did not spring fully formed from the dust. They were trained somewhere. I would never suggest that there is only one right way of preparing pastors, but a seminary education is one right way. By supporting training that collects experts in areas of pastoral responsibility, the church provides responsible preparation for its future leadership.

An apprentice model has the advantage of on-the-job training, but the disadvantage of training with only one man’s perspective and capacity. Seminaries have the great blessing of “the multiplier effect,” preparing many students under the best minds in their fields of study. And the best seminaries do this with field-service requirements that will also involve students in the real life of the church.

No system is perfect, but the blessings of a good seminary education are seen both in the ministry retention rates of well trained graduates as well as in the increasing availability of first-rate seminary training in the developing world. Such training will do much to curb the destructive health-and-wealth gospel that passes for Christianity in too many nations.

Bryan Chapell is the president of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri.

Dennis P. Hollinger

Seminaries only exist as a servant of the church. They have no right to exist apart from the church. If seminaries become graduate schools of theology alone, they will not serve the church in its varied needs.

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary is needed to enable the church to carry out Christ’s mission by training leaders who are biblically and theologically grounded, spiritually mature, and pastorally prepared to deal with the complex challenges facing men and women in the twenty-first century. We want the next generation of leaders to grow in rigorous biblical thinking, passionate hearts renewed by the Spirit of God, and Christ-centered living that brings glory to the triune God. Seminaries are needed because the church needs thoughtful, wise, passionate leadership that reflects the very character of Christ.

One of the best ways to develop leadership for the church of tomorrow is for churches to help young people to discern the call. The call of God to ministry is always both individual and communal—the call of a person to the ministry of the gospel, but a call which is recognized, affirmed, and enabled by the local church. A friend recently described a program in his church that provided summer internships for college students to specifically test their call to ministry. Young people were tapped by the church and given a broad array of leadership experiences in the summer internship. Each intern was mentored spiritually and pastorally by a pastor and a lay leader. At the end of the summer they together discerned the intern’s gifts for ministry. If there was a green light, the intern received guidance on seminary education, the next steps, and personal spiritual preparation for God’s call.

Dennis P. Hollinger is the president and professor of Christian ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.

Paige Patterson

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, like all of the Southern Baptist seminaries, is unique in the world. Together with our five sister schools, we combine an emphasis on biblical truth and high standards of disciplined learning with intense evangelistic and missionary zeal.

The apostle Paul arguably had been a student in his home town of Tarsus before gaining the equivalent of a seminary education under Gamaliel in Jerusalem. But when he was saved and called of God, he did not jump immediately into “full-time” ministry. Before he unleashed himself on the churches, he went into Arabia for three years, apparently to rethink all of his theology as he walked with God in the quiet place.

While I do not believe everyone has to go to seminary, I am convinced that most are not better than the apostle Paul. Spending time in the “lonely place” with God, carefully reflecting upon our theological and biblical understanding, is among the more important things a young minister can do. This is especially true in our post-modern era.

Whenever a pastor models Christ-likeness, evangelism, and systematic teaching of the biblical revelation, it almost always follows that God raises up a coterie of disciples who follow in the footsteps of the man of God. So it was with Elisha in the steps of Elijah. So it has been with the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Johnny Hunt, who across the years has witnessed a steady stream of young men and women committing their lives to vocational Christian service. Some of those have served in missions. Many of the men have become pastors. But all have attempted to reduplicate in their own ministries, given their own uniqueness, the general godliness and generosity of their pastor-father, Johnny Hunt.

Paige Patterson is the president of Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

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