If you want to stay Christian while in seminary, you must have a vital connection to a local church. Let’s face it. The church is God’s plan “A” for the great commission. There is no plan “B.” God is calling to Himself people from every tribe, tongue, and nation (Rev. 5:9). He’s assembling them into local churches. And He’s commissioned them to make disciples of every nation (Matt. 28:19-20). He has left an order and a discipline for their local assemblies (1 Tim. 3:15), and He intends to make His glory known to the nations as these little outposts for the kingdom listen to the word of Christ and proclaim it to others (1 Pet. 2:9).
You would think that all of this would be elementary fare for an aspiring minister of the gospel, but I have found over the years that for many it is not. I have seen many young men come and go, and I have seen many that are only tangentially related to their local church. There are many who fall back on their seminary community as a substitute for the church.
Nevertheless, the ones with the best prospects for pastoral ministry are the ones who are vitally connected to a local church. The ones that tend to flame out in ministry are the ones whose connection to the local church is very loose. The connection I’m talking about has to be in place both before and during seminary.
The connection before seminary is absolutely critical. If you are reading this and you sense God’s call on your life for vocational ministry, then before you even think about coming to seminary you need to be neck deep in your local church’s ministry. One of the most important qualifications for pastoral ministry (and thus for entrance into seminary) is that your church affirms your pastoral gifts. When someone tells me that they are thinking about seminary, one of the first things I want to ask them is where they go to church and how they are serving their congregation. How they answer that question tells me a lot about whether or not the calling they sense is real or just some flash in the pan. You need to be in a church that knows you enough to give you an honest evaluation of your gifting. If the only person who senses your call to ministry is you, then you aren’t ready yet.
The connection to a local church during seminary is critical as well. While there is much to be thankful for in a seminary community, the seminary is not the church. You need the ministry and discipline of the local church as much as anyone, and if you allow your seminary community to be a substitute, your growth and fitness for ministry will be stunted. God’s plan “A” (remember no plan “B”) for your sanctification is the church. You need the word preached to you, you need the encouragement of the brotherhood, and you need its reproof. To separate from the church is to separate from life.
Whether you’re thinking about seminary or whether you’re already in, your spiritual center of gravity needs to be the local church. When that is off, so is almost everything else.
[This post was written at the request of Desiring God in connection with the series How to Stay Christian in Seminary.]