Book Review: 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me, Edited by Collin Hansen and Jeff Robinson
I don’t remember much of the content from my university days when I studied commerce. (It was almost 20 years ago!) But a few things do stand out vividly. A rather alarming statement was made in the first week of orientation classes: “Unfortunately, there aren’t enough Steve Jobs and Bill Gates for all of you to shadow . . . because that would be the ideal training for future business-people.”
No doubt, the rigors of university study are rarely a waste—many necessary skills are gained through the classroom. But the point was well made: classroom learning has severe limits in preparing one for the real world of work. Much of the skill in any vocation—ministry or otherwise—is only acquired on the job after years of experience.
And it’s this conviction that underpins this new book 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me.
Edited by The Gospel Coalition’s Collin Hansen and Jeff Robinson, this volume provides a collection of wise, short, and practical chapters from a number of pastors. Together, the contributors trace an impressive number of issues that pastors face—from leading your elders to leading to your wife to dealing with your own ego to exploring ways to shepherd your church through seasons of suffering.
Throughout the book, readers will find precious counsel for pastoral ministry. Allow me to highlight just two pieces of wisdom. Juan Sanchez, in his chapter “How to Lead My Leaders,” gives sound advice: “When we model faithful handing of God’s Word, this increases listeners’ confidence in the Bible, and their confidence in our competency to handle Scripture will grow. Faithful exposition week in and week out models character, competency, and a care the congregation” (60).
Matt McCullough’s chapter “How to Raise My Kids to Love the Church” might get my award for the most important piece of advice on pastoral ministry. McCullough writes, “The local church must be the people you share life with and belong to before it is a place you go to work.”
Now, before you think the book totally dismisses the need for the seminary, you should know that the presidents of two seminaries also contributed to this volume. Albert Mohler of Southern Seminary wrote the foreword, and Danny Akin of Southeastern Seminary has penned the chapter “How to Shepherd My Wife.” Without downplaying the crucial value of the modern seminary, this book offers a helpful corrective to the zealous and perhaps over-confident theological student.
Furthermore, the chapters are short, the language is accessible, and the various contributors write with warmth and humility, which makes for an edifying read. Though I’ve been in the ministry for almost eight years, there were many occasions when the book moved me to reflect and pray over my own ministry.
Out of the 15 chapters, three were of special benefit to me: McCullough’s, John Onwuchekwa’s ‘How to Shepherd My Congregation through Seasons of Suffering,” and Vermon Pierre’s “The Need to Fight for My Relationship with God.”
At this point, however, I want to raise a small weakness in the book. The overall thesis is sound: seminaries can’t teach us everything. True. But this made me ask myself again and again: “So where do I go to get learn these lessons?”
At certain points, the authors answer this question. For example, Mohler was right when he writes in the foreword: “In the best context, this means a senior pastor is taking younger pastors under his care and teaching” (12). Similarly, Hansen points in the right direction when he ends his chapter and the entire book with these words: “only the local church under the authority of God can make a man a minister” (145).
Indeed, a careful reading of the New Testament reveals much on the way ministers are to be trained. Consider how Jesus spent three years of intense, life-on-life training with his 12 apostles. Later, we observe Paul following suit. He would regularly take along young men not only to assist him in his ministry, but to train them for their own. Add to this the New Testament teaching on the centrality of the local church in the life of a believer, and what you get is banner flown high over the local church as the training ground for future pastors. In fact, when one studies Ephesians 4:11ff and 2 Timothy 2:2, it would appear that God’s school for training pastors is the church, and the appointed lecturer is the local pastor.
I suspect that most if not all the authors of this volume would agree with this analysis. Unfortunately, such agreement should have been made more explicit in the text. Essentially, Hansen, Robinson, and their team would have served us better had their book laid out more fully the biblical model of training pastors in local churches—perhaps by surveying church-centric internships around that world are succeeding in this task.
As much as this book is full of wise counsel from faithful men, God directs us to look beyond the books of faithful ministers and to seek out real-life mentorships with such faithful men.
Despite this, 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me remains an instructive volume on pastoral ministry, one that will particularly serve young men upon their entry into the pastorate.
* * * * *
 The names originally used in 1999 were that of well-known South African businesspeople, Raymond Ackerman & Anton Rupert.