What Do You Expect From Your Pastor?

Ministers toil under a load of heavy demands that shouldn’t be there, and we need to change that

What Do You Expect From Your Pastor?I have read two stats about ministers that chafe at my soul.

The first is that most pastors have no real friends. When you remove the relationships they have with their congregation and denomination, where they must always guard what they say and act in expected ways as a spiritual leader, they have no friends. They have no relationships where they can be themselves. They have no place to relax with those who will accept them for who they are. They have no confidant to share worries and struggles with who will not judge them. Despite all their social interaction, being a minister must be a lonely job.

The second is that of seminary graduates entering the ministry today, only one in forty will retire from it. The other thirty-nine will switch careers. That’s 97.5 percent who will leave the job God called them to do. First, this doesn’t say much about the success rate of seminaries in preparing people for ministry. Second, this hints that a job as minister carries near impossible expectations, which is to our shame as laity, because:

We Expect Our Pastors to Spiritually Feed Us: How many times have you heard someone leave a church because “I’m just not being spiritually fed?” Have you ever said that? I have, and I was wrong to do so. My minister isn’t supposed to give me a week’s worth of spiritual nourishment on Sunday morning. I’m supposed to be mature enough to feed myself throughout the week, eating solid foods and not relying on milk as a baby. Expecting our pastors to do this for us is unfair and unbiblical.

We Expect Our Pastors to Always Be Available: Most congregants assume their pastor is there to meet their needs at any time. This puts ministers on call, 24/7. As someone who was continuously on call for years, I know how draining it is. (My on call was primarily for technical issues; people issues could usually wait until business hours.) I would cringe when the phone rang and eventually drafted my wife to screen calls. It took me years to recover. It’s not healthy to require ministers to be available at all hours, to jump when we call.

We Expect Our Pastors to Align With Our Interests: If we are passionate about a cause, we presume our ministers will share our fervor. But if they did this with everyone in the congregation, they would need to align with every movement and care about every good initiative. We have unique, God-given interests and should allow our pastors to do the same.

We Expect Our Pastors to Solve Our Problems: We assume ministers will provide counseling when we need it, meet with us whenever we want, and answer the phone every time we call. We expect a one-stop solution to whatever ails us, with our pastor as the answer. But there are not enough hours in the day for one person to meet everyone’s needs to their complete satisfaction.

These expectations don’t come from God. They come from society, church culture, and past practices. But instead of expecting our ministers to serve us, we need to serve one another, to become priests to each other (consider the “priesthood of believers”). We start by consulting the Bible and looking at all the verses of how we are to treat one-another: to love, accept, instruct, submit, forgive, teach, admonish, encourage, agree, give, and so on.

If we do this, when we do this, we will place fewer expectations on our clergy. They will have less stress, and we will more fully align with what the Bible says we are supposed to do.

[This is from Peter DeHaan‘s September newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.”  Receive the complete newsletter each month.]

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The Truth about Seminary

Seminary doesn’t prepare people for ministry; it merely meets manmade expectations

The Truth about SeminaryI know many people who have gone to seminary. And I have friends who are going to seminary. I encourage them, pray for them, and once even helped pay the tuition. I respect those who have gone to seminary and graduated. Yet for most ministry-minded people seminary is a waste of time. Truly.

Seminary Is Man’s Idea: Attending seminary is a human concept. Nowhere in the Bible is there a command to pursue advanced education in order to minister to others. Jesus doesn’t say, “Before you go into the world, spend three years in advanced studies,” he just says, “Go.” We made up the seminary part because it seemed like a  good thing to do, but it isn’t God’s idea.

Seminary Isn’t Required: None of the disciples, apostles, or elders went to seminary or received any sort of special religious training (Acts 4:13). The only one requirement is that they had spent time with Jesus. Yep, that’s it. The one essential qualification to ministry in the New Testament is having spent time with Jesus (Acts 1:21). Paul barely qualifies because, as one too late, he lacks one-on-one time with Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:8-9), but…

Seminary Knowledge Confuses People: Paul is the closest example in the New Testament to having a seminary degree. However, this detracts rather than helps. After Paul talks to Felix, the governor exclaims, “Your great learning is driving you insane,” (Acts 26:24, NIV). Yet Felix is an outsider. What do insiders think? Peter, the church’s first leader, writes this about Paul: “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand,” (2 Peter 3:18, NIV). At best, advanced learning creates a gulf between ministers and other people.

Seminary Doesn’t Help: I read that ministers who haven’t been to seminary are happier in their jobs than ministers with religion degrees. Furthermore non-seminary ministers are deemed more successful in ministry than their diploma-toting peers. So it seems seminary prepares ministers who will not be as happy or as successful.

Seminary Delays Ministry: I’ve had my heart broken too many times by people who say, “God has called me to full time ministry – so I’m going to seminary.” The first part excites me. The second part vexes my soul. If God calls you to full time ministry, then obey him and go. Don’t waste three years to get more schooling that doesn’t really matter, because…

Seminary Trains the Wrong Things: Seminary does little to draw students into a closer, personal relationship with Jesus, help them connect with God through prayer, or partner with the Holy Spirit. And it doesn’t focus on the essential people skills needed to lead a congregation. The one thing seminary is good for is to prepare people to teach at the college level. A seminary graduate possesses the academic credentials universities require. Of course to actually teach seminary requires a PhD, but an MDiv does give great credentials to teach at a Bible college.

Seminary Wastes Money: While a few seminaries are free, most cost money to attend. Spending money on something that isn’t commanded or required by God, delays ministry, and prepares for the wrong things is foolish and an example of poor stewardship. Instead invest that money in kingdom-facing initiatives that will actually do some good.

The one thing seminary does accomplish is that it fulfills the expectation of people that their clergy have endured the rigors of advanced education. Indeed, in some religious circles a seminary degree is a necessary document to gain entrance. Yet this manmade requirement does little to equip ministers with the skills needed to do their jobs well.

If God actually tells you to go to seminary, then go. Otherwise just start serving him and leave the advanced education to the academics. Jesus is all you need.

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Serving God, College, and Student Loans

I once met a guy who wanted to work in broadcasting. So he went to college. In his four-year degree, taking some forty classes, guess how many applied to broadcasting? Just three. While having secondary benefit, his other three dozen plus classes were not preparing him for the job he sought, but they did take time and waste money.

In my post “Why I’m Against Seminary Training,” I asserted that most people don’t need to go to seminary before they become a minister or missionary. Most of the classes they endure are secondary, taking time that could be used to serve and costing money that could be better spent. The result is often student loans.

I’ve talked to many twenty-somethings who desire to give God a life of service, taking a job that may not pay much to do something that gives much, to engage in spiritually fulfilling work with lasting impact. There’s one roadblock: student loans. Their desired job won’t pay enough to cover their indebtedness, so they must take a higher paying job they don’t want and won’t enjoy so they can pay off their debt.

Some organizations require post-graduate degrees from seminary or Bible college as a prerequisite. My soul groans when I hear their expectations. A few of those classes may have direct application, but most just amass knowledge with little practical use.

When it comes to serving God in a ministry of some sort, debt is a deterrent, and college education is false preparation. What I think God wants is spiritually mature followers of Jesus, who have an intimate relationship with God the Father, and know how to follow the Holy Spirit. That is the real prerequisite, and it isn’t taught in college.

Align your life with God and he will work out the rest. That’s the best preparation for serving him.

Why I’m Against Seminary Training

The first time someone said this to me, I was both excited and dismayed: “God’s calling me to full-time ministry – so I’m going to seminary.” Though I’ve now heard it many times since, my reaction is the same.

I’m thrilled whenever anyone desires to work full time to support God’s causes. I’m equally distraught when they assume more education is a prerequisite. In fact, there’s often a requirement to first spend three years of intense theoretical study prior to action. That’s quite a detour!

I’m not against preparation. In fact, I insist on it, but unless the goal is to teach at the graduate level, I don’t see seminary as the best means to prepare. I say this, knowing that many friends have been to seminary and more are presently attending. I do my best to support them, but my insides scream, “You’re wasting your time!”

Most people don’t need more esoteric education, they need application in action. One minister recently said, “Our level of knowledge is about two years ahead of our obedience.” Others are direct: “Stop learning more about the Bible and start applying what you already know.”

Look at the disciples. How many of them had anything resembling today’s seminary training? None. Their preparation was following Jesus around, of seeing him in action, learning by doing, and applying faith to life. The closest they came to a theology class was the Sermon on the Mount, but that was practical, life-changing, perception-altering teaching, not abstruse rhetoric. Then, after three years of on-the-job training, they went out and changed the world – with God’s help, of course, but that’s the point.

Paul was likely the most educated of Jesus’ followers, but let’s be honest. How often do the things Paul wrote perplex us? I know it’s not just me. In Acts 26:24, Festus became so bewildered with Paul’s discourse that he shouted, “Your great learning is driving you insane.”

I’ve heard that ministers who don’t go to seminary are happier with their work and enjoy greater success. That’s telling. Knowing that, why would anyone want to attend seminary?

Most of us don’t need more education to serve God; we just need to do what he’s telling us to do. Now go do it!