Paige Patterson on the Need for Personal Ministry Training

I saw this link a while back on Al Mohler’s Twitter feed and found it helpful.  It’s from the Southern Baptist Texan and written by Tammi Ledbetter.  The article, entitled “Patterson: Preparation for Ministry Requires Sacrifice,” includes the following helpful commentary from Southwestern Seminary president Paige Patterson:

“Pastoral ministry, evangelism, missions, counseling and music are all, by the nature of the disciplines, incarnational, not mechanical,” Patterson added. To think otherwise is as ludicrous as believing the Navy SEALS who took down Osama bin Laden had received all of their training online, he observed.

“There’s never going to be a day when we train special ops or the common soldier without taking him to a base, out of his comfort zone, and instilling certain disciplines that can never be instilled online.”

Read the whole story.

There is much that one could write about this subject.  Many of us are thankful for the way that online education allows people who would not otherwise be able to study from faithful teachers to do so.  But I think that Patterson has an important point here.  I like his linkage of ministry training to Navy SEAL preparation.  If we take military training so seriously that we require future SEALs to effectively give up their former lives to qualify as elite soldiers to serve their country, why would we take spiritual training in service of our Savior less seriously?

We should in fact take it more seriously.  There is nothing that more bears upon the health of the church of Jesus Christ than the preparation of its ministers.  The seminary is far more important than we might think.  The instruction that one receives from real, live professors who model what they teach, meet students outside of class for discipleship, and generally exude a Christlike spirit cannot be calculated in value.  It costs us, yes, to enter into such a course of study, but isn’t that the point?  What are we doing in ministry but taking up our cross to follow Christ–in order that others might do the same?

Should such an act be light, weightless, easy, convenient?  One might argue that it should not.  We are not gluttons for unnecessary punishment, but the minister of the cross should be more than willing to bear hard burdens in order to steward heavenly realities.

The seminary fills a vital role; the costs it requires are vital costs.

  • tomascol

    Thanks, Owen. Dr. Patterson makes some good points with his analogy of SEAL training. It is also interesting to note who trains the SEALS. They are men who have actually done what the trainees are being prepared to do. It would be ludicrous to think that SEALS could be effectively trained by men who never took a hill, held an outpost or even fired a shot in a real battle, no matter how much military theory they know. SEAL trainers are experienced SEALS themselves.

  • owenstrachan

    Great point, Tom. Well said.

  • John Starke

    Patterson: “The thing I want to do is take the man out of where he is, where he’s grown up and put him as quickly as I can in a situation where he has no hope unless God intervenes.”

    Not sure Dallas/Fort Worth is that place.

    I think this concern over online education has swung too far to where we have put too much importance upon the on-campus MDiv. If it is what qualifies a man for a pastorate (and I think that is a safe conclusion from Patterson’s words), the unfortunate consequence is that most of our pastors will be white, middle-to-upper class.

  • owenstrachan

    I hear what you’re saying, JStarke. I think (in-person) seminary is like democracy: it’s not a perfect system, but it’s better than anything else out there–in terms of mass preparation. It would be ideal to have ministerial training, both practical and academic, take place in the local church, but we have not yet figured out how to do that with excellence on a mass scale.

    I’m not reading Patterson to say DFW is the perfect setting. It’s great that there are seminaries all over the country. I think it’s great for future pastors to get local church training and then, yes, to undertake the arduous but very helpful task of relocating to a school that will train them to be a dominion-taking servant of Christ the warrior-king. Ideally, we have biblically faithful and academically excellent schools in major urban settings across the country and world. So where some might want to close schools down and consolidate them, I want to see them pop up. I want “seminary planters,” not just church planters, schools that have intrinsic connections to gospel-preaching local churches.

    All this is premised on the idea that in-person ministerial training is best. This has two phases, optimally, in my mind: in a local church and, in most cases, in a seminary. There’s nothing that comes close to the experience of in-person learning when done well.

    Feel free to push back and correct me, to bring the weight of Gospel Coalition editorship crashing down upon me.

    • Michael

      “I want ‘seminary planters,’ not just church planters…”

      That is a pretty bold statement. You have to look back at why, in part, seminaries were established. It was a lack of effective training coming out of churches, or too many potential ministers and not enough to train them. Rather than look to build more seminaries why not spend that effort and energy training churches? Seminary should not be our ideal means for training ministers; but sadly it has! It is the standard rather than a clear picture of the short comings of the church in our day.

  • Andy M

    I see a little of both sides in this. I certainly saw the benefit of attending a seminary, and that’s what I did. Classroom interaction etc is an excellent thing. However, I don’t think the Navy Seal example is the best one. A Navy Seal needs to be on campus because he is training with a team to function in physical ways that team needs in order to survive. Theological training doesn’t typically involve push ups and orienteering, though the mental rigors are significant. Cannot the mental rigors be accomplished well through the on-line experience?

    Here’s one downside to attending the 3 year intensive seminary degree at a campus somewhere. I did my seminary part time while I was doing ministry full time. What I saw many times in the class rooms were theoretical discussions between people with little to no ministry experience. They had great ideas that would have collapsed upon first contact with a congregation. I could see that because I was in the job and had even tried some of the ideas. By doing the schooling part time and doing the job full time I was able to put things to use right away in a realistic way. I appreciated my part time education more at the time than I did the years I spent doing school full time.

    I believe each system of doing things – full time at school, part time, or on-line – has its own pros and cons and I appreciate each one for the pros and am wary of each one for the cons. I’m just glad that there are options available because life doesn’t come at any of us in a cookie cutter fashion.

  • Riley B.

    How many students at SBTS? 2000 something? How many are personally discipled by their professor? 4-5 per semester in the “care” group things?

    What happens in a systematic class? 150 people taking notes while the prof lectures most of the time. When there is Q&A it is dominated by students who want the prof to notice them so their main concern is to use big, theologically rich words to impress people, not to ask serious questions.

    How much interaction is there with the typical student and the prof? From my experience, very little. Does the prof even grade papers or see what students think? Nope, only the grader knows where they need help or how they can improve.

    Many of the profs just lecture on the content of the book anyway. If you have the book, you have the class.

    These are kind of extreme examples and are not the case in every school or in every class, but I don’t see anything wrong with online education provided a person is a member of a healthy church where they can work things out under the direction of a pastor or some other mentor.

    If not, physically go to seminary but join a healthy church and prepare to be way more blessed by ministry in and through the church than the classroom.

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