Aiming for the Ideal Graduate (Part 1)
Training Leaders International has a very narrow focus—we exist to train shepherds and expositors for the global church. One way we pursue this is by partnering with nationals to plant pastoral training schools, to assist as needed with staffing and leadership, and to gradually pass on the task of training pastors entirely to the national church. Since we are blessed to receive many gracious offers to partner in these school-planting endeavors, it seems appropriate that we articulate our values in pastoral training by describing our hopes for a fully-trained graduate.
But the problem with delineating concrete goals from the outset is that, when we do, we invite accountability. If we fail, it will be painfully evident. And we will have to face our inadequacies whatever they may be: failed execution, dissipated resolve, or unrealistic objectives. But the alternative is worse. Mushy objectives are our enemy, especially as those who seek to shape shepherds for the church of Christ. Undefined goals produce an inadequately-trained pastor and a downtrodden church, ill-equipped to advance the claims of Christ over every square inch.
By using the word "ideal" we describe that to which we aspire, recognizing that many shaping factors lie outside our control. Even if a class nails every objective or—let's take it further—even if every class nails every objective, our efforts will have limited results if the student has no church to model healthy ministry. Also, three or four years of pastoral training could never convey everything a pastor needs. But it can help to set a trajectory for learning and growth. In fact, if we fail to convey a love for learning to our students and the skills to pursue learning on their own, then we've failed out of the gate. Finally, achieving something is more difficult than aspiring to it. But again, we invite the accountability. So what follows is the ideal for which, together with our national partners, we labor and strive.
Contextualizing the Ideal
Some might be offended that we would have the brass to suggest any graduate could be ideal. It is all too evident that pastors in Uttar Pradesh will require training that will be nearly useless in Berlin or Brazil. For example, a Western missionary might be highly competent to pastor a church in Akron, but move him to Ankara and watch him grope, fumble, and fail. Pastoral training must be tailored to the needs of the local church.
This factor really deserves prolonged, careful consideration. If we are too hasty and simply imitate the training we received in the West, our graduates won't be ready to minister to their churches—even though they may be ready to minister to ours. How we describe our ideal graduate must emphasize the common characteristics that pastors in every people group must share. The essential qualities necessary to shepherd God's people have classically fallen into three categories: knowing, being, and doing. To these three we add a fourth: loving. For the sake of space, we will describe the first two qualities here, and the last two in a future essay.
Imagine being shepherded by a pastor who did not know God. Or who knew God but not his Word. It is not difficult to imagine, because God's people here and abroad face this tragedy every day. Pastoral training, then, cannot fail to impart knowledge. But what must pastors know in order to give excellent pastoral leadership and Godward care?
In an age of increasing specialization, we self-consciously strive to train pastors who are generalists. Some readers may be prone to hear "generalist" as "superficialist." That's not it. Rather, we primarily seek to equip shepherds for the church, not those destined to teach in an academic setting. We leave that needful work for others. Someone with a master's degree in New Testament can do many things well, but it should not be taken for granted that he can pastor.
A pastor should be comfortable in either testament, in systematic and biblical theology, in apologetics and in counseling. He needs to have a general knowledge of the church's story and her many battles, as well as liturgics, languages, and many other disciplines. In short, pastoral education requires broad sweep. So the objection to specialization is not an objection to diving deep into one discipline, but rather doing so to the neglect of others. Knowing spleens is handy. But many maladies lie outside the realm of hematology. What about that kid with a fractured femur? Pastors must, at the minimum, have the competency of a general practitioner.
But what of the pastor who got high marks in his training but does not know God? This happens with enough regularity to be of concern. The church suffers whenever we emphasize cognitive knowing at the expense of experiential knowing. Knowledge, untethered from its Godward purpose, puffs up (1 Cor. 8:1). Yes, we want shepherds who labor long in the books. Such knowledge is necessary, but it's insufficient. No doubt Hophni and Phinehas as priests and sons of the High Priest could pass their theology exams. But Scripture condemns them as "scoundrels" who did not know the Lord (1 Sam. 2:12). Certainly Satan has orthodox theology (Jas. 2:19), but his very name means "Adversary."
Jesus concluded his Sermon on the Mount with these haunting words, "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" (Matt. 7:22-23). We might add, "Lord, Lord, did we not graduate summa cum laude from seminary?" So it is possible to know, but not to know (and be known).
But there is a third area that pastors should have knowledge, and that is of themselves. In fact, John Calvin argues in his Institutes that there is no true knowledge of God if we do not first know ourselves:
"Each of us must, then, be so stung by the consciousness of his own unhappiness as to attain at least some knowledge of God. Thus, from the feeling of our own ignorance, vanity, poverty, infirmity, and—what is more—depravity and corruption, we recognize that the true light of wisdom, sound virtue, full abundance of every good, and purity of righteousness rest in the Lord alone" (I, i, 1).
We aim for graduates who have practice studying the Word of God, using it to expose their brokenness, and applying the salve of the gospel for repentance, healing, and lasting change. Men who have felt the comfort of the Holy Spirit can comfort others also (2 Cor. 1:3-5). Knowledge of ourselves helps us to be the kind of pastors who are able to sympathize with the weaknesses of God's people (Heb. 4:15).
“We aim for graduates who have practice studying the Word of God, using it to expose their brokenness, and applying the salve of the gospel for repentance, healing, and lasting change.”
No one involved in pastoral training would dare omit character as a focus in training. In fact, if knowing and being were not so intimately connected, one would almost say that who we are is vastly more impactful than what we know. Throughout the Bible, being always precedes doing. Imperatives always rest on indicatives. The Ten Commandments are an excellent example. Because God's people were graciously redeemed by God from the house of slavery (Exod. 20:2), they were called and empowered to live in accordance with that redemption by keeping the ten "words" (Exod. 20:3-17). Paul's epistles furnish similar examples. In Ephesians, Paul recounts our spiritual blessings in Christ. It is only after three chapters of this that he then calls us to walk worthy of our calling (Eph. 4:1).
In his book The Reformed Pastor, Richard Baxter stresses with metronomic regularity how terrible it is for pastors to call others to a banquet of which they have not themselves partaken. Baxter is talking about the pastor's need for spiritual food, and really about his need for conversion. How horrible to lead others to Christ, all the while being estranged from Him yourself! But there is a second irony. Baxter never tires of warning pastors not to preach a sermon with their lives that contradicts the sermons they preach on Sunday. What he is calling for is consistency between our lives and our doctrine. Baxter has been reading Paul, who writes, "Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers" (1 Tim. 4:16).
Character is critical, but shaping it is difficult. It needs to be an objective in every class and an aim of every teacher, because we are training future elders (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9)—each one called to be an example to the flock (1 Pet. 5:3). One effective way to help forge godly character is through immersing students in the communities of both school and church (which ideally work hand in hand). Students need regular access to their professors, not just during office hours, but in their homes, breaking bread. They need to see how they live their lives. They also need access to their pastors and church leaders in various contexts: ministry, home life, their going out and coming in. In Mark 3:14, one of the three functions of an apostle was simply to be with Christ. In having our students near us, we follow Christ's example.
School ethos also supports character formation, forging it through means as humdrum as prudent policy and procedure, in school traditions, and by all that we celebrate, honor, and oppose. Every school has intangibles that shape students; the question is what those will be. As much as possible such intangibles should be self-conscious choices.
Whichever means are used—and there are many we could mention—a pastoral training school is more than just a place to transfer data from one mind to another. It is a place where we come to know God, his Word, and ourselves more deeply, and where this knowledge bears fruit in who we are. But in focusing on knowing and being, we have only considered the half. Faithful shepherding also requires specific skills and well-tuned hearts. These qualities will be our focus next time.