Not Your Father’s Seminary: Reinventing Pastoral Training
The Gospel Coalition recently asked four well-known seminary professors and presidents, “What one thing would you change about seminary?” After a vigorous exchange of new ideas by Al Mohler, D. A. Carson, Jeff Louie, and Richard Pratt, the Gospel Coalition then posted a follow-up article by Ric Cannada, Chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary.
Most of the ideas shared in these two posts pointed to the future. Few seminaries are currently doing the cutting-edge work envisioned by these five seminary leaders.
Faith Bible Seminary provides an intriguing exception. So I sat down with Rob Green, Pastor of Counseling and Seminary Ministries at Faith Baptist Church in Lafayette, Indiana, to learn more. Listen in on our conversation to travel “back to the future” to learn a new way to train pastors.
RPM Ministries: Rob, I know you read the recent blog posts on the GC site about changing seminary education. What were your thoughts and how does Faith Bible Seminary fit into the discussion?
Rob Green: While each scholar offered his own thoughts, many of the answers spoke of the importance of the local church and the practical ministry experience that many seminarians fail to get during their academic pursuit. You will not recognize us. We’re not a well-established seminary with hundreds of students, nor do we have nationally known professors. But we do have a very different way of offering seminary training.
RPM Ministries: Tell our readers about the paradigm shift you’ve initiated in seminary education.
Rob Green: Our paradigm shift began in 2007 when our Sr. Pastor, Steve Viars, and our congregation began a revised version of seminary training. Our church wanted to minimize three basic challenges with the current seminary structure.
• The high cost of seminary training resulting in some students graduating with significant debt.
• A lack of practical ministry experience.
• The significant pressures on any wives or children due to the heavy seminary and job workload.
RPM Ministries: Those are significant issues. So what’s your new approach look like in action?
Rob Green: In order to minimize these weaknesses, Faith Bible Seminary created a three-year intern-based M.Div. program. Each student in the program must either be a pastor in full-time vocational ministry or a paid intern in a church. This requirement allows every student to be directly involved in various aspects of pastoral ministry during their entire training. Interns at our church are required to spend about 20 hours per week being part of the ministry (counseling, discipleship, teaching preparation, pastoral staff meeting, deacon meetings, etc.). Our classes meet one day per week with some one-week modules occasionally built into the system to allow students from surrounding communities to participate.
RPM Ministries: And how have you addressed the cost issues?
Rob Green: The cost challenge was minimized by providing the tuition free-of-charge for students involved in an internship at a local church. In our church’s view, since our partnering churches are providing paid internships for three years, it would have been very burdensome to expect them to pay tuition. Our church family covers the overhead costs with contributions and graciously allowing our pastors, who either have terminal degrees or are candidates for terminal degrees, to dedicate their time to training students.
RPM Ministries: How have these changes impacted your course offerings compared to the “traditional” seminary?
Rob Green: This model also allows a very structured curriculum to develop. Instead of students taking classes that most easily fit into their schedules, the entire three-year curriculum, semester-by-semester, is already set by the institution. The advantage to the structured curriculum is that both biblical languages can be taught in the first year allowing for more opportunities to focus on the original languages in both exegesis and biblical theology classes.
RPM Ministries: You’ve been at this a few years now Rob, what are some of the results you’ve experienced?
Rob Green: In 2007, Faith Bible Seminary enrolled 14 men and in 2010, ten of those men graduated. Of the 10 men who received their diplomas this June, 8 are placed in full-time vocational ministry including one serving in as a pastor in England, one in the church planting network with Harvest Bible Chapel, one in pastoral ministry in Brazil, one working for a Christian school, and four others in pastoral ministry in the States. Our 2010 class began this week with 19 students.
RPM Ministries: What final thoughts do you have about seminary education?
Rob Green: FBS does not have a long track record, nor thousands of graduates like the larger schools. Time will tell whether this system is sustainable for the long term. In addition, this model has weaknesses and challenges of its own. Maybe, however, it can be an encouragement to other churches that have been challenged by articles such as the one published by The Gospel Coalition or by their own convictions to help strengthen seminary education. Finally, it may be that in the scope of seminary training there might be several models that can seek to help prepare men to glorify God by serving in the church of Jesus Christ.
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What is your vision for the seminary preparation of pastors?
Note: For Rob’s first-hand thoughts on this issue, visit his post Attempting a Paradigm Shift in Seminary Education.