Don’t Do Seminary without the Church

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.

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[This post was written at the request of Desiring God in connection with the series How to Stay Christian in Seminary.]

9 Responses to Don’t Do Seminary without the Church

  1. Nitoy Gonzales April 2, 2012 at 1:38 am #

    crucial advice for Christians who has a calling to serve the church…

  2. Jonathan Parnell April 2, 2012 at 6:33 pm #

    Great word here. Thank you!

  3. Joe Carr April 3, 2012 at 7:37 am #

    A great article! While I was attending Boyce College, I was bothered by how many students were sitting at home in Seminary Village or on campus on Sunday and Wednesday nights instead of attending their local church services. Let me state that I am far from legalism on this issue, as I realize that there are certainly times when attendance at church is prevented for any number of valid reasons. What I am talking about here are those who consistently, and repeatedly, only attended Sunday morning services. They used the excuse that they had studying to do or a paper to research and write. I heard this as I was a full-time student, serving as a pastor of a church in Clarksville, working nights at UPS, and still trying to spend time with my wife and two children. Again, I am not advocating the position that you have to be at church every time the doors are open, but it is awful hard to be serving in a church when you are not present the majority of the time! What really disturbed me is that while preparing for ministry, far too many were not active in a church while they were preparing to serve a church…strange, huh? Again, great article!

  4. A. Amos Love April 4, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

    Denny

    You write…
    “one of the first things I want to ask them is where they *go to church*”

    Was wondering. – In the Bible…
    I can’t seem to find one of His Disciples who would – *go to church.*
    Or, one of His Disciples who told another Disciple to – *go to church.*

    Could it be that these students who do NOT *go to church*
    are actually more biblical then those who do?

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