Put the Seminaries Out of Business?

Guess which seminary president made these comments.

“If a young man has the opportunity to study with a pastor and be right in ministry alongside him all the time, that is going to be better than what you are going to get at any theological seminary anywhere on the planet.”

“Another trend is that more and more pastors are beginning to take responsibility for theological education within the context of their church.”

“My argument is that we need to put the seminaries out of business.”

My hope is that if the Lord lets us operate long enough that we can turn out pastors who will not look to the seminary like we’re the medical school to turn out doctors.”

“Generation after generation of the Christian church has had to develop the ways it trains pastors.  The seminary in the American experience grew out of the effort to emulate other forms of professional education.  And in one sense, that’s the downfall of the entire experiment.  You had debates going back to the nineteenth century as to whether the ministry is a profession and should we should have professional schools alongside the others.  What you have with the emergence of the modern seminary is a school that is intended to train pastors for the church alongside the medical school, dental school, . . ., and all the rest.  That works educationally, but it doesn’t work for the church.”

“Seminaries should not be the places that train pastors.  We should be the places that help churches to train pastors.”

“The transfer of cognitive information is what we do really well.  We have classrooms.  We have books.  We give tests.  We expect papers.  That’s what goes on.  But what goes on in pastors training pastors in the local church is far more important and fundamental.”

“The local church needs to train what only the local church can do.  Pastors are the most effective trainers and educators of pastors.”

“You can’t franchise out theological education.  It belongs to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

These things were said by Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in an April 2011 Gospel Coalition panel on “Training the Next Generation of Pastors and Other Christian Leaders.”

When I first listened to the panel, especially the comments of Mohler, I kept waiting for them to say that the panel was sponsored by the Antioch School!

In the spirit of honesty and full disclosure, he and others say much more.  Mohler has a particular perspective about the relationship of the seminary and church that still has a vital place for the seminary, particularly Southern.  In the video above, go to 4:58, 11:20, and 27:13 to hear him explain what he means. However, the bottom line as noted above is that he acknowledges the church’s role as “far more important and fundamental.”

In the Antioch School, we take this idea very seriously.  We think much more can be done in the local church than Mohler imagines, including things that he thinks are better done by the seminary, such as “getting that running start in ministry” and even matters of “cognitive transfer.”  The church is the ideal context for guarding the deposit.  The church still is the institution that God created for the purpose of passing on sound doctrine, cultivating ministry skills, and transforming character in an integrated manner.

We are delighted to hear leaders of traditional seminaries acknowledge the unique role of the church in theological education.  And we are even more delighted to be doing something about it by providing the truly church-based Antioch School.

We are not trying to “put the seminaries out of business.”  In fact, we envision seminaries being reinvented as true resource centers for churches and church networks, but in a form that is not dominated by the schooling paradigm.

What we are really trying to do is to “put churches and church leaders in business,” particularly the business of training leaders that God has mandated for them in 2 Timothy 2:2.