Our previous post on the missionary idol of “ship ’em to seminary” dealt with the idol itself. But, men and women do need training in the Word of God. How does the Word apply to self, home, local gatherings, neighborhood, work, education, and government? We know the system can have some success despite its pharisaical use. Can we change the system? Are there better alternatives? Here we will deal with the ways we reform our missionaries and their efforts.

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Seminary in the midst of the local body

Seminary brings to mind a building you go to for theological training. This may have been true for a while, but we have no excuse for having this limited thinking. Many have desired to have ministry training in the local church. One big hitter who desired this was John Frame in his article, Proposal For A New Seminary. Frame draws key points from various texts. One is that equipping the saints for ministry, as portrayed in the Bible, happens in the gathered body. Not parachurch institutions.

Think about the list of qualifications for an elder (Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7). Yes, there is the need of skill (ability to teach), but most of the list is character qualities. Is seminary the place for a man to cultivate character? Cummings, in his booklet Ministerial Training published by Biblical Blueprints, writes,

According to I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 godly character is essential for an elder of Christ’s church. The context of the above passages demonstrates that such character is noticed and developed in the context of the church (I Tim. 3:14-15). A man should be of good reputation among believers who know him well if he is to serve the church (I Tim. 3:1f.; Acts 6:3f.). Is it wisest to send a man to seminary when he shows progress toward such character, and leave him to the observation and encouragement of professors in the context of the lecture hall, and the care of a new church that does not know him? A man’s weaknesses of character can be more effectively detected and remedied through the care of elders that know him well, than through scholarly interaction with professors in the context of academia.

Pp. 15

Thus, it is serving, training, and teaching in the trenches will forge elder-mettle.

Seminary for the local church

In the previous article, the main problem is that men who are “trained” are not truly trained to train others in the ministry. They have to send the qualified men from their congregation “outside” to get trained. As mentioned before, it would be best to have trained men who can train others to or beyond their caliber. However, it is likely that most leaders are not able to do this.

There are resources which can help the local church leaders and missionaries train their men without forcing them outside of their context. Church leaders themselves may benefit from these tools, learning how to instruct and train men in their congregations. I will list them from my favorite to least.

Training resources
  1. New Geneva Christian Leadership Academy
    1. Great reformed theology – This institution is crucial for those who want to apply their Christianity in every area of life.
    2. Low price
    3. Able to be done in the local context
  2. Birmingham Theological Seminary
    1. Modern reformed theology
    2. Low price – It is even cheaper for their Master of Arts Theological Studies if you were born and live outside of the US.
    3. Able to be done in the local context
  3. The North American Reformed Theology
    1. Modern reformed theology
    2. Free tuition
    3. Able to be done in the local context
  4. Puritan Reformed Biblical Seminary
    1. Reformed theology – With a focus on the Puritans
    2. Free tuition
    3. Able to be done in the local context
  5. Third Millennium
    1. Modern reformed-ish theology
    2. Free certificate course in partnership with Birmingham Theological Seminary
    3. Able to be done in the local context

Be able to meet expectations

It is no wonder that leaders of the church need to be held to standards, I mean just read Genesis through Deuteronomy. God loves standards!

Teaching elders, elders, pastors, teachers, or whatever else we call them, need to know their Bibles. And they need to be able to bring the men of their congregation up to the standards they claim to hold. I think this will challenge many leaders to look at whether their standards are Biblical or man-made.

For example, many denominations require that ordained ministers have an understanding of Biblical Hebrew and Greek. If this is a standard that a church, affiliation, or denomination requires, then in order for church leaders to train up men in their congregation, it follows that ordained ministers should actually be able to teach the languages.

What’s my point? If the church, with its servant leaders in local gatherings, is to be the place of training for future Timothy’s, future servant leaders, then the local leaders should be able to produce them. Whatever the academic, or intellectual standard, for church leaders are, current leaders should be able to impart it. The fact that so many pastors cannot do this is an indictment against the existing go-to training facilities – seminaries. (And perhaps the very reason why seminaries continue to exist.)

Assessment

For current leaders out there in local communities, here is a list to think through for future leaders:

  • Make a list of what you require of a man to replace you.
  • Start training godly men to meet those standards.
  • If you cannot train them to attain those goals:
    • Reassess yourself. Do you lack in the ability because of laziness? Are these skills something you “have to” require? Do you hold to double standards?
    • Reassess the standards. Are these needed? Are they merely helpful? Can a man lead others into the maturity of Christ without them?

The principle we should expect in our church leaders – from the smallest to the greatest – is that they have the ability to meet and impart the expectations of an elder.

Start a theological library

Starting a library is not a difficult option for a group of believers. The cost can be quite low with websites such as Thriftbooks. I recommend getting solid stuff first: Calvin, Charles and A.A. Hodge, Warfield, Rutherford, Knox, Rushdoony, North, Raymond, etc.

After getting off to a good start, start filling the shelves with excellent works on various subjects: physics, botany, history, mathematics, agriculture, economics, etc.

Another use of a library is to become a homeschool resource center. Buy multiple curriculum books, maybe a few copies each. And consider purchasing video curriculum to hold group classes. Becoming a curriculum depository will help those families who are strapped for cash but want to be obedient and keep their families out of statist schools.

Create Christian schools

This method of training future leaders for Christ’s work requires diligence, planning, collaboration, etc. If a church endeavors to accomplish such a task, then it has to work through some hard questions.

  • Is this school only for those who meet with us?
  • Do we open the school to unbelievers?
  • How do we involve parents?
  • What procedures will we put in place so that we do not usurp the authority of parents?
  • How do we train young children and young adults to self-govern while under instruction?

Of course, a curriculum/curriculum guide must be decided. An excellent place to start is reading The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum.

Have them teach before “the laying on of hands”

It is common in many denominations that one has to be an “ordained” elder or person to preach or teach in the church. This “ordination” usually requires an MDiv. Some of these denominations also accept “licensure,” meaning the candidate is on their way to becoming an ordained minister (aka currently in seminary). However, this seems to be a large roadblock with no scriptural foundation.

The Teacher’s method

I think Jesus’ model for training preachers of the Word is laid out quite well by Thomas Schirrmacher,

The disciples’ training for the mission field, by living and working several years with the prototype of the missionary, Jesus Himself, was not haphazard, but followed Jesus’ clear plan. The chronological order of His program makes this clear. First, He preached by Himself, then preached while the disciples observed. Then He let them preach while He observed. After that He sent them out in groups of two, discussed the results with them and finally sent them out alone (remaining with them as Risen Lord – Matthew 28:18-20). The Twelve continued by doing the same with other Christians. This scheme works well, not only in the training of church workers, but in every kind of education which sets itself the proper goal, independence under God.

Thomas Schirrmacher, “God wants you to Learn, Labor, and Love” (2008), pp. 10.

He also presents this information in two lists:

1) Jesus preaches by Himself
2) Jesus preaches while His disciples observe
3) The disciples preach while Jesus observes
4) The disciples are sent out for a short term assignment
5) The disciples are sent out on a permanent assignment
6) The disciples preach while others observe
7) et cetera
1) I
2) I and You
3) You and I
4) You try alone, I comment
5) You are completely alone
6) You and another
7) Another and you
8) et cetera.

You can find many of Thomas Schirrmacher’s books on missiology, culture, and Kingdom-building here, including the book quoted above.

Repenting and reconstructing

We must repent of our missionary idols, especially this elevation of seminary training. It places an extra burden on our families and sends the best of our men away from their community. Not only does it hurt the work in the “field,” but it also hinders discipleship in our own backyards. We have created an almost “sanctified” dependence on an extra-biblical platform. As the trending phrase in business slang goes, we need a “disruptive alternative to the status-quo marketplace” of theological training.

These are just a few ways, and a handful of tools, that will help us in repentance and reconstruction. As we pursue a shift in the locale for theological training (to the local assembly), we must be vigilant that our gatherings have a Biblical vision.