Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My First Trip to Seminary

I have been in ministry for 15 years.  I have been a senior pastor for 13 of those years.  Until yesterday, I had never been to a seminary.

I grew up in rural Missouri.  Of the 30 churches in my local association, probably only five to six of those had full-time pastors.  The rest were bi-vocational, and very few of those guys had any seminary training.  This was normal to me.  (I was in middle school before I ever had a pastor that had been to seminary.)  Most of the pastors I had growing up were great men of God, that did a fine job shepherding our church without formal training.  So I always figured, "What's the point?"  Honestly, the only times I heard seminary discussed were with disdain.  Seminary was where good young preachers went to be corrupted by liberal professors in ivory towers.

While I didn't pursue formal training the first several years of my ministry, I like to think I continued to grow as a Christian and as a pastor.  I have always been an avid reader, and have been blessed with good mentors who helped me along the way.  But about four years ago, I became aware of an opportunity to pursue a master's degree online through Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City.  I signed up for my first grad class and, since that time, I have worked (very) slowly and steadily toward a master's degree in theological studies (all online).

While I have completed several hours of grad work, I had never actually been to a seminary until yesterday.  I attended the "For the Church" conference at Midwestern these last two days, and just want to say that I was greatly blessed by the experience.  The worship was rich and Christ-centered, and the sermons were biblical and stimulating.  (I also got to attend an impromptu theology lecture, which was fun.)  One visit doesn't make me an expert but, based on what I saw, good things are happening at Midwestern.  There is a good spirit on campus, and the seminary community seems genuinely excited.  I really enjoyed the atmosphere.  Dr. Allen has cast a tremendous vision with his "For the Church" emphasis, and people are buying in.

Southern Baptists should be proud of their seminary in Kansas City.  It won't be 15 years before I come back.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Toward a "Kinder and Gentler" Blogosphere - An Observation

“Oh, my brethren!  Bold-hearted men are always called mean-spirited by cowards.” – C.H. Spurgeon

Much has been said in recent weeks, among evangelicals, about the tone and content of our discussions with one another, particularly on blogs and social media.*  While I agree with the overall sentiment for a “kinder, gentler" blogosphere, I do wish to make an observation regarding this matter that troubles me.

My observation (and my question) is this:  In our zeal to promote kindness and civility in our interactions with one another, are we silencing our prophetic voices?  I don’t mean prophecy in the sense of the biblical office, or foretelling the future, but in the sense of “telling forth” what is right and wrong.  Some may disagree with me but, in my view, we need brethren who are willing to call a spade a spade.

Many of us pastors are political by nature.  Our very survival in ministry has conditioned us to be this way.  We measure our words carefully.  We weigh the consequences before we speak.  We strive to make peace between sides.  When we do take a position, it’s often qualified in some way so as to soften its edges.  I know this is true, because it describes me to a tee.  I hate to make waves or think that I’ve offended someone.  I’m a people pleaser, and so are many of you.

This, of course, is not entirely a bad thing.  After-all, Scripture does say “as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”  However, this kind of personality becomes a drawback when there are legitimate issues that need to be tackled head-on and we don’t have the spiritual backbone to confront them.  On a denominational level, this could be anything from unbiblical nonsense peddled by our publishing arm, to unethical behavior in our leadership.

This is where the prophets come in – bold-hearted men who have a passion for truth and a fire burning within them to speak that truth in no uncertain terms.  Do they sometimes cross the line?  Yes.  Just as the mild-mannered pastor is sometimes guilty of being too cowardly, the prophet is sometimes guilty of being over-zealous.  (This point has been well-documented.)  But, can we also acknowledge one reason prophets gain a following is because they have the guts to say some things that recognized leaders should be saying and aren’t?

I would caution my fellow Southern Baptists against automatically snubbing the prophets among us.  It’s too easy to label them as “haters,” “troublemakers,” and “bullies” and not listen to the substance of their arguments. John the Baptist called the Pharisees and Sadducees a “brood of vipers.” The apostle Paul called the Judaizers “dogs” and “enemies of the cross.”  If they lived today, John and Paul would probably be chastised for their lack of decorum and labeled as “mean-spirited.”

We also need to beware of those who would manipulate this discussion to protect themselves and their associates from criticism.  If we ever reach a place where fair and warranted criticism (done in an appropriate and godly manner) is condemned and summarily dismissed as an “attack,” all accountability goes right out the window.

Finally, it should be said to the prophets that we can hear you a lot better when you’re not screaming.  Tone it down.  Choose your battles carefully.  Some are worth fighting; some aren’t.  As you become more selective and measured in your response, your credibility and effectiveness will increase.

Long live the prophets.  We need them.

*My brother has been at the center of many of these discussions.  I love my brother, and am proud of him for repenting of his sin in this area.