A teen-ager taken ill at school told a friend she wanted to go home early but had no transportation. The friend, active in a large evangelical church, suggested she call her pastor: “That’s what pastors are for. Mine would do it in a minute if I asked him to take me home.”

People have come to depend on clergymen for a great deal, and the demands are increasing. The Alban Institute recently quoted a United Methodist conference executive as saying, “I am concerned for the low morale of many clergy. The lack of institutional growth combined with new requirements of performance assessment makes clergy feel under judgment.” The average congregation is no longer satisfied simply with an effective pulpiteer. The pastor must also be an example of the caring servant, and that may entail anything from doing an elderly person’s grocery shopping to playing architect for a new church gymnasium. In between, he must be not only a preacher but also a teacher, counselor, leader, prophet, administrator, promoter, manager, financeer, scholar, and social worker. In some churches he is also expected to be a secretary, custodian, groundskeeper, and bus driver.

Although some clergymen find themselves being pulled apart and frustrated, others see the diversity as a challenge, an opportunity to identify with their people and minister to them more meaningfully.

How can seminaries cope with the changing role of the pastor? What should they be doing to help? Here are some suggestions from a select group of pastors and laypersons.

D. Stuart Briscoe, pastor

Neither I nor the majority of the men on our pastoral staff have attended seminary. This is to be in no way interpreted as a suggestion that seminary training is unnecessary; it just so happens that the men whose style of ministry appeared to be most suited to our church situation have come from a wide variety of backgrounds. However, we are encouraging our young men to go into seminary training when we feel this is the most suitable way for them.

I would say that if people are to go to seminary, assuming that they are going to get a thorough knowledge of English Bible and an extremely practical training in terms of dealing with people, then the major emphasis should be on what Ephesians chapter 4 calls “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.” Young men coming out of the seminaries appear to feel that the weight of the responsibility of the fellowship is going to be squarely on their shoulders. I believe they should be shown that they have only a degree of responsibility, one that is going to be fulfilled as they are able to enthuse, inspire, instruct, motivate, and mobilize people.

Article continues below

Second, I strongly believe that there needs to be a major emphasis on the development of the devotional and spiritual life of the young minister. In my ministry to young pastors, particularly, I have been concerned to discover that many of them have been extremely busy learning how to look after other people’s vineyards but appear to have neglected their own.

Third, I believe that early in his training the seminarian should be encouraged to discover his own spiritual gifts and then begin to develop them, but not by totally neglecting other areas of ministry. One of my major concerns has been the development of specialists in the ministry so that we have some people who only preach and some who only counsel and some who do only music and some who work only with young people. In many instances, men in this kind of a situation have been severely limited in their own spiritual development. Therefore I believe they should be encouraged to discover their own particular areas of strength and then to work with other people in areas where they are less gifted so that they may have as broad an interest and involvement as possible.

Andre Bustanoby, family counselor, former pastor

The demands on pastors are changing. They are being asked to be more effective in counseling, and I think their training needs to be beefed up in that area. As part of the training in this area, I think that more attention needs to be given to the psychology of religion. Too often today a dichotomy is set up between psychology and religion, with no attention given to the psychology of religion.

Another area that needs to be strengthened in seminaries is ethics. I feel that the evangelical tends to push aside the psychology of religion and ethics as unnecessary to the truly spiritual person.

In our study of systematic theology I don’t believe we have given adequate attention to the area usually called the government of God. We have very little appreciation of the secondary channels of human endeavor through which God works, be they individuals or human government. Again, the naive notion is that if God is great and we are spiritual, everything will come out all right. Little or no thought is given to how we can expect it to come out right.

This naïve attitude also has a bearing on organization and the pastor’s effectiveness as an administrator. I remember well when I was in the pastorate using the same evangelical cop-out from my own sloppy administrative methods which other pastors use. Very effective administrative techniques I would pooh-pooh as human devices; those who used them were not relying on the Lord. I’m coming to wonder if we don’t appeal to the spiritual as an excuse for a lazy mind.

Article continues below
James Davey, pastor

No seminary can give everything that will be needed in the ministry. Therefore it seems to me that the emphasis should be on the basics, with information about where and how to get what else is needed. A pastor should know the English Bible, have a good grasp of both biblical and systematic theology, and know how to develop communication skills.

A seminary should introduce a student to his need to develop in other areas. But I question how valuable a course in counseling is until he has the chance to counsel, a course in administration until he has something to administer, and so on. Either we should lengthen the course of preparation to provide for a “ministry year” with controlled experience in the field, or denominations should be prepared to offer a greatly expanded opportunity for extension courses after a man is in the ministry.

There is more and more specialization in the ministry today. But even so, the ministry demands a broader range of skills than most other professional fields.

In the final analysis, success in the ministry seems more the result of God’s sovereign bestowal than the assured result of training. I know God has a sense of humor by the way he often blesses and uses such flawed, ill-formed vessels as us ministers.

Elisabeth Elliot, writer, former missionary

From a theological seminary I expect first sound and thorough teaching of the Bible.

Second, strong emphasis on Greek and Hebrew.

Third, theology.

Fourth, careful study of the form in which the content is to be presented. “You can’t deliver the milk without the carton.” There is far too little attention given to ordonnance in speech, writing, and behavior.

The pastor must resist the temptation to counsel instead of preach. The proclamation of the Word and the administration of the sacraments ought always to be his primary tasks.

I think it is wise to have a shorter course in theology for those who want theological education but do not intend to go into a pulpit ministry, but the institution ought to aim at the training of pulpit ministers above all.

Article continues below
Frank Gaebelein, author and educator

The core of the seminary program must continue to be biblical studies and theology. But we can no longer take it for granted that people come to seminaries with anything like a familiarity with the whole Bible. Therefore, early in seminary training instruction needs to be given in English Bible.

Preaching and being a pastor are very much a matter of communication, and we can no longer take for granted the ability even of college students to write the clear and correct English essential for communication. Seminaries should do something to help students express themselves more effectively.

Paul in Ephesians 5 talks of the pastor-teacher, which suggests that there must also be instruction in what motivates people.

Richard C. Halverson, pastor

The primary purpose of the theological seminary is to equip pastors and teachers. The seminary should provide a comprehensive orientation in Bible, theology, and church history. It should provide some tools for administration and give some direction for organization, delegation, and supervision. This would involve a careful understanding of what the Church really is from a biblical point of view rather than emphasis on the Church as an institution.

It should include enough instruction in counseling that a pastor will be aware of the limitations of pastoral counseling, unless he decides to devote his full time to it and equip himself accordingly.

The seminary should take Christian community seriously and be a model of it in the relationships of faculty with faculty, students with students, and the whole seminary family with the local community.

W. Maxey Jarman, businessman

I think one of the problems is that seminaries tend to teach the student to be too intellectual. They get him up on an intellectual plane that is so high it’s difficult for him to come down and talk to the people he’s going to be ministering to.

Next, I think there’s a question of the stimulation of intellectual pride. The man, after going through all this higher education, gets to the point of feeling that he knows more than most people and that it’s very important to keep up with intellectuals generally, whether they believe in God or not.

The next point I’d make is that many of the seminaries sooner or later go the wrong way. That is, they get away from the Bible, become very liberal, and begin to teach things that have no relation to the Bible.

I have the feeling also that the seminaries have gone too far on methods rather than on development of the spiritual nature of the student. They go into counseling a great deal, which I have a good deal of skepticism about. I think we need to learn how to teach people to counsel themselves; and while I know that every pastor has a lot of work in this direction, I have serious doubts that the seminary can really teach him enough to be very valuable here. I think he has to depend on prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to be able to have much influence in this direction. Bible schools stick closer over a period of years to the Bible than do the seminaries. Furthermore, I think the Bible schools can train people in the study of the Bible with a lot less time and a lot less money than are required to go to a seminary. We have lots of small churches that are not going to have ministers who have had a great theological training but do need people who can talk about the Bible.

Article continues below

To sum up my expectations of a man who has been to any kind of a school to prepare for the ministry: (1) he loves God’s Word; (2) he is full of the Holy Spirit and understands that he can get the real message of the Scriptures only from the Holy Spirit; (3) he’s humble enough to realize that he doesn’t know it all and that he has to get close to the people to whom he ministers.

In the average medium-size church, the laymen are going to be able to provide enough administrative leadership in this direction to take care of the major problems. Sometimes our churches, particularly the larger ones, get far too large a staff and then run into more difficulties with the membership. I believe that big churches are very questionable things.

D. James Kennedy, pastor

In talking with thousands of ministers over the years I have discovered that many of them feel that one of the areas in which they felt least competent after graduating from seminary is personal evangelism. The reasons for this are not difficult to find. We have discovered that personal evangelism is more “caught than taught.” The missing link today in the teaching of personal evangelism is on-the-job training. The disciples learned from watching and listening to Christ. He called them that they should be “with him.” Evangelism, like flying, is extremely difficult to teach in a classroom. The basic problem that most people have is fear, and only the actual experience of doing it—of evangelizing, or flying—will overcome that fear.

Article continues below

I have recommended to a number of theological educators a method of teaching personal evangelism that has been adopted by a dozen or so seminaries and Christian colleges. It is a program whereby a theological seminary works in harmony with one or more local churches in evangelism. Students are required to participate first as trainees and later as trainers in the evangelistic program of the local church. This has benefits for both the church and the seminary.

I also believe that an effective course in the principles of management would be helpful for ministers, since proper management is essential to a growing church.

Ray C. Stedman, pastor

My problem with seminaries is not really their curricula. I do feel much more could be done in teaching expository preaching and especially in helping young pastors realize that it will be their responsibility, not to do themselves all the various demands of ministry (counseling, administration, visiting, and so on), but to equip the saints to do this work, according to the gifts they have. This will require, in many cases, reeducating the whole church as to the true function of a pastor, and refusing to go along with traditional expectations, yet doing all this with grace and patience.

My real problem with seminaries is how they teach what they are teaching. It seems to me that they have two strikes against them before they start, which no amount of clever administration or dedicated teaching can eliminate.

One, they remove both students and faculty from the normal stream of life and then wonder why both seem to grow dry and cold through the seminary experience. The Lord’s method (and the apostles’) was to take young men with them into all the various experiences of normal life and teach them in the midst of these experiences and by using the experiences as learning opportunities. Why do seminaries struggle endlessly to be like secular graduate schools with all the trappings of academia, when the apostolic method is far more efficient and effective? Put seminary training back where it belongs: into the churches, where skilled and able teachers and pastors would teach small, carefully selected bands of students in situations where both teachers and students would be deeply involved in life.

Two, this would also relieve seminaries of the necessity of maintaining increasingly expensive campuses and buildings, and would put back into usefulness the thousands of church buildings which sit empty throughout the week but which are already paid for, heated, and usually more than adequate. The same thing would happen with regard to seminary libraries. How much longer can the Christian community afford this fantastic drain of maintaining separate but equal facilities to do less than adequate work?

Article continues below

I hope no one will say of the above that it is “unworkable,” for here at Peninsula Bible Church we are attempting to do this very thing and are finding it eminently workable. We teach Hebrew and Greek, theology and church history, biblical studies, and so on, all at a high level of scholastic demand, and yet find that both faculty and students are sufficiently involved in realistic life demands that they remain highly motivated and spiritually excited. If all this seems too radical and even heretical in today’s world, let me remind you that heresy is not properly identified with radical, exciting, biblical Christianity. It is a bland, fetid, toothless Christianity found in thousands of churches and seminaries today that is heresy. Lukewarmness is what Jesus cannot stomach.

‘Eye of the Needle’

Mark 10:23–31

The venture caught my fancy years ago.

I signed up for the advertised

impossible possibility

(or was it possible impossibility?)

of the trip through the needle’s eye.

Today I got my confirmed reservation.

By no stretch of the imagination

could I be called rich, but I’ve saved

a long time: my wardrobe of righteousness

is complete, my moneybelt bulges with moral scrip.

I’m anxious still on only one point. What

if at the security check they make me strip?

‘Whose Image?’

Mark 12:13–17

While people calculate my price

from images plangent in my pocket,

My stock rises, unrecorded

by their Dow-Jones graphs on greed.

Minted in the imago dei,

I’m coin for the Kingdom.

Birth Trauma

Mark 14:51–52


from the Hebrew-Hellenic womb running scared

into the Roman night


as a newborn

afterbirth of old righteousness

on the pavement

were you, Mark, embarrassed

to lose your shirt?

pleased to save your life?

Eugene Peterson

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.