What Seminary Can’t Teach You
As a senior pastor, I’m fortunate to work with seven younger pastors who lead our different campuses. These young men are energetic, creative and committed to seeing the gospel of Jesus spread throughout their communities in various ways.
Did I mention they were young?
There are two ways to gain wisdom. First, you can experience an event. If you put your hand on a hot stove, you will gain wisdom – fast. The second way to gain wisdom is to learn it from someone else. Sometimes we read books written by wise people and through their writing, we become a little wiser. The second is through a mentorship of some kind where you spend time with someone who’s a further down the road than you and learn from them.
For generations, all kinds of professions and skilled labors depended on the mentorship model. If you wanted to learn to be an artist, you moved in with an artist and did everything the artist did until you learned the craft of your art for yourself. Did you want to be a rabbi? Then, you moved in with a rabbi. The same was true if you wanted to be doctor, lawyer, teacher, pastor, woodworker or welder. You learned by watching. You learned by doing.
Eventually, most professions developed schools where you learned your trade by listening. If you want to be a minister, you go to seminary where you listen to lectures on the Old and New Testaments, systematic theology, ethics, church history and preaching. You won’t actually do any of these things, but you’ll talk about them a lot.
When I was starting out in ministry, I had several pastors who liked me. Horace Sims, Hardy Clemmons, Chuck Bugg, Lon Knight and others were great friends and valuable teachers as I developed as a young minister. Their mentorships saved me untold heart-ache from bad decisions – and they saved the churches I served as well.
Sadly, for most of our ministers who graduate from our seminaries, we don’t have a formal mentorship in place nor do we actively encourage it. Most of our young ministers are left to fend for themselves in their first churches. I believe this is one of the reasons so many of our seminary graduates end up leaving their ministries within 5 years of graduating. There’s a lot seminary doesn’t teach you about working in a local church.
If the seminary doesn’t teach you, who does?
Look for an older pastor. Find a survivor. They’ve learned things. They know things you will eventually know, but learning is a lot less painful in a conversation rather than the experience of having your teeth kicked in during a church business meeting.
Like what things?
Things like Sunday comes every three days. There’s the day you preach, the day before you preach, and the day after you preach. I know that’s an exaggeration, but not much. A pastor’s week is filled with meetings, pastoral care, funerals and other demands that constantly steal the time needed for sermon preparation. If the pastor is not intentional about their study, Sunday will come and the sermon won’t be ready.
And who do they yell at?
The pastor. Why? Because they know we have to love them. If they yell at anyone else, they don’t know how the other person will respond. Pastors won’t walk away. We won’t hit you. We’ll stay with you.
And here’s why that matters.
Most of the time, people who appear angry are actually hurt. They’re wounded. Wounded people, like wounded animals, strike out if you get too close and pastors are always close.
But if you can stand the heat, a pastor can do some redemptive work by doing two things. First, by giving the angry person a safe place to fall apart. There is something about a pastor’s presence that brings sanctuary, a safe place, to deal with one’s dark side. Second, a pastor can help the person focus their anger in a more productive way.
Several years ago, a member of my church didn’t like anything about me. He wasn’t happy with anything I did. After several failed attempts to get to know him, I finally took him to lunch. “I know you’re trying to tell me something,” I said, “but I can’t hear it. So, I thought I would take you to lunch and give you a chance to say to me what I’m not hearing.”
And he did. For about an hour and a half, I heard how I had failed in every aspect of my ministry. I hadn’t done anything right. For some reason, I didn’t get defensive. I didn’t fight back. I just listened. Somehow, the Lord let me know I wasn’t the problem.
But I found out what the problem was. Several years ago, the man’s wife had left him. She just packed up one day when he was at work and he never saw her again. In this moment his father, a Baptist preacher, had been particularly harsh and judgmental. He took his anger at his father and placed it on every Baptist preacher he met. I was just the last one.
We were able to talk through what happened, work our way through forgiveness and finally to healing and peace. There are some moments only Christ can work and this was one of them.
At the end of the conversation, I ended up with a new friend. In fact, I ended up with a really good friend. Who knew this guy had a sense of humor?
There are things you need to learn to survive and lead well in a pastoral setting and seminaries can’t teach you most of them. Some of them you learn the hard way or from someone else who’s learned them the hard way.
So, if you’re an old pastor, look around and find a young pastor to mentor. If you’re a young pastor, find an old one. The wisdom they bring to your life will be worth the price of the coffee.