Why Does a Seminary Education Matter?


When most pastors are asked about seminary education, the conversion quickly turns to all the things that need to be taught: conflict management, dealing with difficult people, administering volunteers and so forth. In contrast, when I have offered these subjects at three seminaries over the last 20 years, students do not sign up. It seems that what matters most in seminary depends on one’s perspective.

Pastors know how complicated it is to lead a congregation. They face ministering at the death of a child, guiding the finance committee in allocating limited resources and serving on the local hunger ministry’s board. Students want to dive into issues of deep and lasting significance: justice for the poor and oppressed, food for the hungry, a future for the hopeless.

Pastors have an incredible opportunity to preach and teach each week. In contrast with organizational leaders — who guide through developing strategy, hiring and supervising staff, administrating budgets and determining programs — pastors have a chance to address a significant number of their members for 20 minutes or more each week. With this opportunity comes a huge responsibility to proclaim ancient truths in a way that is fresh and relevant.

Discussions about the relevance of seminary education often miss this critical responsibility. Seminaries are developing habits of study, introducing foundational sources and the art of interpretation for this creative, demanding work of preaching and teaching.

In the past few weeks, I have consulted with key leaders in an amazing and complicated urban congregation whose senior pastor recently resigned. In the conversation they discussed the work the congregation needed to do to be prepared to select a new pastor. They wondered if they could get an interim pastor with all the skills needed to guide the church in the process.

Every interim pastor has to deal with the temptation to start acting like the church’s permanent pastor. There are always leaders and members who want the interim to be the pastor because of the power of the person’s sermons. Because preaching is such a common occurrence on Sunday mornings, those of us in church can be lulled into forgetting its shaping power.

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SOURCE: Faith and Leadership
David L. Odom

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