Four Things Seminary Did Not Teach Me.

Before you read this list, I want to say Seminary was wonderful and I learned a ton from seminary! My professors were amazing and I was prepared for ministry because of Seminary. Further, this post is my own experience and is not intended to be a criticism of Seminary. Others may have learned these things in Seminary, I did not.

I am a 37 year old pastor of a small church plant in south Texas. I have been in vocational ministry for over 15 years and have served at some level of leadership in a variety of churches since I was 14 years old. When I began in ministry, I recognized my need to learn. I entered Seminary with a deep desire to learn everything I could and I did so with a fierce and steady methodology. I took seminary slowly and strove to soak up everything I could from my professors. I coveted opportunity to learn from older pastors and professors who had proven track records.

I learned a great deal in Seminary. Necessary Biblical training and historical understanding of the church has served to shape me and improve my own life. I believe my seminary studies taught me much of what I need to know to serve and lead a church well. That having been said, I did not learn EVERYTHING I needed to know from seminary. There were some things that I had to learn on the job.

  1. How to plan for church events and yearly schedule.I’ll never forget the first time I was asked to present a schedule for a youth group for the year. I was informed that the staff had a meeting on Sunday night with the other leaders of the church. I began to panic. I walked across the hall to the associate pastor’s office with as much composure as I could muster and asked him to clarify what I was supposed to present. He graciously walked me through a basic understanding of what to do. Over the next 8 years in that position I developed a pattern of planning in advance. I would prepare sermons months in advance, events were planned almost a year ahead, and the general calendar of the youth ministry was completed in September. My fellow pastors suffered as a result of not being able to sit down and plan. So I resolved to be ahead and as a result I was often available to run events for them as well.

    Now, I am always about 4 months ahead in planning for worship. I can usually tell you what I am going to teach and where the teaching is headed 8 months in advance. I can preach the sermons about 4 months ahead of time. I plan events months in advance and I have a pretty good grasp on how to schedule and plan in general.

    Seminary did not teach me how to plan. I had to learn on the job. I was fortunate to serve with ministers who knew what they were doing and had experience in leading organizations. In short, here is how you plan. Pray, lay out a calendar, put your schedule down with some flexible dates, start with the easiest event to plan (most often something you’ve done before that does not need to change), then work from most common to most unique. Don’t fall into the trap of doing the soonest first. If you will plan the most common event first and then work your way to the most uncommon (or new events), then you will find momentum and you’ll enjoy the work a lot more.

  2. Conflict resolution.Being a pastor means that you are a shepherd. Funny thing about sheep… They bite. People are sheep. We bite, jockey for position, shove, and butt heads when we do not get our way. Seminary does not teach your pastor how to deal with Mrs. Contentious when she has upset Mrs. Overly-dramatic. The difficulty of these conflicts is that it rarely ever works out in a room with all parties present. Most of the time, conflict resolution involves talking to each party individually and slowly leading them to make decisions that help to grant grace.

    To be honest, I’m still not an expert in conflict resolution. I know what the Scripture says, and I try to follow those principles. But conflict resolution is rarely an issue of HOW I read Scripture and often an issue of getting others to READ the Bible. In my inadequate amount of knowledge on conflict resolution I’ve learned four things that help me in dealing with others.

    First: Remember, unless it is genuine heresy, it is not as important as we think. Do not make a big deal over secondary issues.

    Second: Address confusion, gossip, and rumors immediately from the source. This is sin. So when gossip or rumors surface, address them immediately. Grant grace and be casual about the address, but do not leave sin unaddressed.

    Third: Accept that some conflict is just going to be around and you’re going to have to learn to live in that tension. In a church that I served in for several years there was a particular man who just did not like me. I would try to be polite, earn favor, and do a good job in effort to somehow garner his approval, but to no avail. Eventually I just accepted that he was not going to like me and I moved on. There was no overt sin to address and he stayed in his area of ministry without causing issues elsewhere. Once I accepted that I was not going to be liked by everyone, this particular conflict stopped bothering me. I wish I had some great reconciliation story for this one, but as I said above, “Sheep bite.”

    Fourth: Give people the benefit of the doubt. Seldom is anyone just being selfish or rude. Most of the time, in the church, people believe they are doing what is right. They don’t mean to be hateful or malicious. Recognize that and treat people accordingly.

  3. Humility.I love seminary students, I really do. They are filled with zeal and they often know the right answers. I love seminary students… especially AFTER they graduate. When I was in Seminary I was trained in how to find the answers I needed in Scripture! I know the languages of the Bible and I love to study old dead guys. I went into ministry with a tremendous grasp on theology, ecclesiology, eschatology, and every other ology! I felt as though I had answers.

    While my professors worked hard to teach me that I did not know the answers to every problem, the critical environment of Seminary inadvertently taught me that I am right! I was taught to identify problems in the church and offer theoretical answers to those issues. Seminary was intended to produce a servant who would labor to display the character of Christ in the midst of fellow Christians. The result of my own arrogance produced a young man who needed some chips knocked off his shoulder.

    It took me several years to realize that I am not. It took me years to learn that I needed other leaders who could walk with me through difficult circumstances and give counsel. It took me years to learn that I needed the voices of other leaders to call me out when I was in error.

    The church I serve now has a plurality of elders who hold me to account. They know me well and I loose a lot of battles to those guys. I trust them and as a result, my confidence is bolstered and humility is honored.

  4. How to define successI was one of those students who could read the book in a day and write the report that evening and make an A on the paper. If a professor favored content over grammar, I was going to make an A+ in the class. I could make a B with little effort and found seminary to be a long, but enjoyable experience. With all my work in seminary, I never learned how to define success. I learned how to fail and what it meant to work your way back from the bottom. I failed Hebrew twice and worked hard to overcome failing Hebrew 1 eventually make an A in Hebrew 1, Hebrew 2, and Exegetical Hebrew. I knew what failure way, and I knew how to press on to overcome failure. But I did not know what success was.

    Seminary does not teach you how to measure success in ministry. I did not know if I should measure myself according to the numbers in attendance or if I should find another metric. Eventually I landed on another method of judging success, you can read about that here. (article also linked below.) Whether you judge success in numbers, or life transformation, or personal devotion, strive to learn how to judge success in your ministry. It will be the catalyst for purpose and your ministry directives.

When I first began to seek a full time position at a church my first question for every church was, “can I learn from your pastors?” I was fortunate to meet a man who had been in ministry and was serving as an associate pastor. He was not a seminary grad or a wise old seasoned pastor. He was a genuine pastor who knew some things I didn’t. I credit him for much of what I do in ministry. We sharpened each other. If you are considering ministry. Find a guy that is a little further down the road from you and learn what you can from him.

HOW TO JUDGE SUCCESS

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Brief Thoughts: Galatians 1:21-24

21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

One of the most common character traits among great Christian leaders is a startling lack of desire for fame. There is a profound humility that accompanies the self-aware Christian. It is a humility born out of the understanding that man’s works and achievements cannot secure salvation. Paul certainly grasped the weighty truth that God alone must save. It is this truth that drives the bulk of his letter to the Galatians. Paul is not redeemed because he deserves redemption or has earned righteous covering. Rather, Paul is acutely aware that his own salvation is the result of grace extended from God’s hands to him. Likewise, any exaltation or honor for the work of the gospel after Paul’s conversion is due to Christ alone.

Reflecting on his journey in Christ, Paul explains that he was obscure and unknown in person to the Christian leaders for several years. He did not travel to Jerusalem and was not trying to advance politically. Indeed, in his former life of Judaism, Paul had attempted to make a name for himself, climbing the ranks of religious leadership. His Christian journey is marked by an attitude contrary to his former life. He seeks no fame nor accolade for himself. His testimony bears witness that he is concerned with the glory of God, not his own fame or fortune.

Beware of those who seek to make their own name great. Those supposed men of God who must have their names printed on everything are truly men who are seeking their own glory. A leader who seeks his own glory is not a leader worth following. Instead, seek to follow leaders who are obsessed with the glory of God and His kingdom. A Godly leader is one who will place the exaltation of Christ above his own prestige.

Paul seeks the glory of the Lord and early on in his ministry was privileged to be used by God to acclaim Jesus’ name and glory. Indeed, Paul recognizes that true joy is found not in fame or self-exaltation, but in lifting high the name of Jesus.

In Western Christianity, there is a pressure among teachers and preachers of the gospel to make their own names great. Marketing strategies, blogs, video curriculums, and the like are sold with particular teacher’s names attached and there is a particular glory that is often ascribed to these teachers. Consider Paul’s testimony in light of such a reality. He was not known to any of them personally, nor was he a famous teacher. Yet, the Lord used his testimony to further the Gospel and in this Paul found his value. “They only were hearing it said, ‘He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they glorified God because of me” (v. 23-24).

If we desire to glorify God above ourselves there are a few things we can learn from Paul.

  1. Seek to grow in your knowledge of God in fervent, God-obsessed, self-obscurity. Paul begins his discipleship process among unknown saints. He joins the disciples in Arabia (1:17) and does not pursue any of the big names until three years into his growth as a Christian (1:18). Learn to cultivate a love for obscurity. In this modern age, obscurity can be a blessing. When everything is put online for the world to see, there is little room for error or mistake and there is less forgiveness than there is room.
  2. Train yourself to find value in God’s glory. As Paul reflects on his life, he finds his value in knowing that his past wickedness is used to glorify God. There is certainly shame over his past life, yet God has redeemed him and is using his former self-righteousness to exalt the Gospel.
  3. Think heavily about grace and strive to extend it to everyone. A cursory read of Paul’s life in the book of Acts will show that he became obsessed with grace. Recognizing that the law could not save and that his previous successes as a Pharisee meant very little in the Kingdom, Paul demonstrates that God saves whoever will come (John 6:37). There is no preference given to one group over another, only grace extended to every weary and repentant sinner. Even the apostle Paul had to learn to cultivate grace. Paul’s relationship with Barnabas certainly helped him learn to extend grace to his brothers and sisters in Christ as is exemplified in his reaction to John Mark and his apparent shift from early in his ministry to the place of 2 Timothy 4:11.

Learning to practice these three things will help to cultivate a vision for God’s glory over self-exaltation. In the long run, these will bring you much more joy in your Christian walk.

 

 

We Hide From Conflict; Ways we Rob Ourselves of Joy, Part 2

The time had come to address the issue. My stomach seemed to drop beneath the ground and my head began to spin. The weight of conflict landed heavy on my shoulders and made my fight or flight reflexes begin to wrestle with unrivaled fury. I knew this issue must be dealt with and I also knew I did not want to do what was necessary.

As I entered the room and sat across from the man I needed to speak with, my legs felt like jello and I could see on his face the same weight was heavy on him. Small talk and light banter covered over our awkward attempts to dance around the issue. Then, one of us spoke of it.

This sort of encounter is normative in communities. People are fragile. Relationships break and fracture. Often these confrontational meetings are necessary. However necessary they may be, we don’t like them and we often try to avoid them. We convince ourselves that we can just sweep the issue aside and persist in a false sense of harmony. Overwhelmed with the prospect of effort it will take to overcome the conflict, we run from the opportunity for joy! You see, when conflict arises, we are given a rare opportunity to press hard into the community and find joy. We are granted the grace to test our faith community and see the grace of God. We are given the chance to trust God in the midst of our failures. We are given the opportunity to love and know God more fully.

Yet, given the opportunity to walk through difficulty and feel the grace of God, we often deny ourselves the joy in favor of complacent comfort. There are numerous reasons for this avoidance, here are four common reasons why I have avoided conflict:

1. I was afraid of the outcome. Indeed, the end result of conflict terrifies us. We convince ourselves that vulnerability will result in our own self-destruction. We look across at the other person as though we are in a contest that must result in the death of someone or something. However, death is not required in conflict. Indeed, if you have trusted in Christ, death is not on the table. Conflict will not result in your demise, only your betterment. Romans 8:28 is true! God works all things for good. In the midst of conflict, we need to remember death is not on the table.

2. I don’t trust God’s grace and sovereignty. In general, it is safe to say that most people believe that God is all powerful and CAN do what He desires to do. While some may argue over the self-imposed limitations or the preservation of free agency, Christians agree that God is actively playing a role in the world and in our individual circumstances. If it is true that God is actively involved in the world and that His involvement is good (Romans 8:28), then it stands to reason that the conflicts we face can be used by God for our good and His glory. When we avoid necessary confrontations and difficult discussions we deny the truth that God is good and we fail to trust that God is at work in our circumstances. We fail to trust God.

3. I fear I will be fully known. Most people do not have close personal friends. Indeed, many are living rather lonely lives even in the midst of crowded spaces. In truth, we don’t want to people to know who we really are. Self-identity and thorough self examination are terrifying to our sensibilities. We want people to think that we are perfect and that we have everything together. However, there is great comfort in being known. When someone knows us, we need not fear that we will fail to live up to expectations or disappoint through conflict.

4. I misunderstand the value of conflict. Conflict is inherently valuable. It is through conflict that we grow and produce valuable means of grace and maturity. It is often through the greatest conflict that God develops the greatest soldiers in the Kingdom.

Here are three ways to press through conflict and grow.

1. Remember this is not the end, take the long view. My dad used to say, “don’t sweat the small stuff and if you back up far enough, everything is pretty small.” Remember there is a great deal more to life than this one issue. Gain some perspective and realize that this is not the end. Indeed, for a believer, none of this life is the end. Heaven awaits and this is merely a training ground. So, if this is not the end, then press on towards action. Instead of dwelling on and dealing with past offense, move forward. Make plans of how to move forward in the relationship. Ask forgiveness for wrongs committed, offer forgiveness when wounded, and make plans to advance the Kingdom of God. (A truly practical way to do this is to make specific plans to hold eachother accountable for gospel work. Commit to pray for specific gospel opportunities for one another. This way we turn conflict into conquest!)

2. Remember grace given to you, Jesus overcame the ultimate conflict for you. Often, in times of conflict, we forget the grace that has been given to us. A “woe is me” mindset begins to set in and our ability to see the reality of our circumstance is skewed. But God has granted us grace beyond our own ability and has rescued us from certain death! In Jesus, He has taken the punishment for sin upon Himself and forgiven you. You who were an enemy, He has made His child. Can you not extend grace to someone else? Is this conflict going to result in your literal crucifixion? If not, I think you can bare a little tension and struggle for the betterment of your community. Extend grace to the other person. Don’t take things personally, even if they are and go ahead and let yourself die for the other person. After all, if Christ is in you… then you have the power to do so.

3. Remember to cherish life. Through storm comes life. The aftermath of storms is devastating. Houses are destroyed, lives are lost, and even nature seems to be crying out in despair after a hurricane or tornado. However, when we return to the sight of a storm years later, houses are built stronger, lives are restored, and even the ground seems to have blossomed with a life-ferocious. Storms may bring pain, but they also strengthen the resolve to live. When conflict comes, do your best to preserve life, remembering that you will be stronger on the other end. Confess your wrongs, own your faults, take the blame (even if you’re right). Let the storm land on you so that you can preserve and protect the other. IN this way you will be stronger and the other will be loved.

Are there things you do to press into conflict? Share them in comments!

See part 1 of this post here

Galatians 1:18-20; Brief Thoughts

18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.

Paul’s insistence that he was introduced to the Gospel through a supernatural encounter with Jesus as Lord can lead readers to believe that there was no discipleship in his life. However, a simple read through the book of Acts reveals Paul’s own journey as one that involved the community of faith and particular men who poured intertwined their lives with Paul, vouching for his character, encouraging his relational growth, and sitting with him while he wrestled with the deep truths of the gospel.

After his initial conversion, Paul was directed by Christ to go to Ananias in Damascus and there Paul recovered his sight and began to live among the saints as one of their number (Acts 9:10-22). Three years later, Paul travels to Jerusalem and spends 15 days learning from and with Peter and James. In Acts 9:26-31 Paul attempts to join the disciples and they avoid him because of his past persecutions. It is at this moment that one of the greatest disciple-makers in Scripture takes hold of Paul and begins to train him in the gospel. Barnabas begins to walk with Paul and teach him the way of Christ.

In Paul’s story, Barnabas serves as his mentor. Though Paul failed to connect with the disciples in Jerusalem, God provided a brave and bold brother who loved others deeply to disciple this stubborn scholar. Barnabas and Paul fought side by side to advance the gospel (Acts 13-15). Barnabas and Paul would eventually separate over Paul’s opinions about John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin. After years together, Barnabas and Paul continue the mission without each other. It is tempting to see the separation of Acts 15:36-41 as a failure of the disciple-making process. However, it is natural that leaders will eventually need to separate from one another and pursue their own specific assignments in the gospel ministry.

Paul had a miraculous conversion and certainly a radical and spontaneous transformation. However, this transformation was shaped and refined in community through careful discipleship. God gave Paul a community of faith that could help mold his ministry and empower him as a leader. Paul was so acutely aware of his community that he writes of them at the end of every letter, including those who are walking with him in the moment. In truth, Paul’s life before Christ was marked by a personal exaltation and a kind of lone-wolf fame. However, as a Christian, Paul is almost never alone. On the rare occasion that he is alone, God provides a convert.

Paul’s testimony in Galatians may lead young Christians to think that they do not need to be discipled or trained in the Gospel. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of Paul’s growth. Paul was poured into by other believers throughout his ministry. He had a brother who dedicated himself to serving alongside him in Barnabas. Barnabas taught Paul a great deal and Paul’s character changed as he walked with Barnabas. Then Silas walked with Paul and offered kinship. Oh, Christian, God has so much more for you than lone-ranger Christianity. He has formed a community in the Church that can and does help you grow. Don’t mistake Paul’s testimony for one that denies the influence of any community. Paul is simply reminding the Galatians that his own faith is just that – his own.

Paul’s faith is not from Peter or the Apostles. Indeed, as discussed above, Barnabas played a much more significant role in Paul’s growth than the other leaders of the Church. For three years Paul lived the faith out with brothers and sisters whose names we may never know. The point of his testimony in Galatians is not that he did not learn from anyone, but that his authority and understanding of salvation is not drawn from any man.

Paul understood what discipleship is. He recognized that the Holy Spirit is the teacher and we learn together from Him. His work and life are testaments to the truth that believers grow best in community.

So, to whom are you connected? What community are you growing with? Paul’s testimony is certainly not prescriptive for the average Christian. Indeed, everyone’s testimony is unique and individual. However, we can still learn from Paul’s journey. He needed Barnabas to walk with him. He needed the unnamed believers in Damascus to encourage and help give him a start. He needed Silas to walk with him in his later mission work. He needed Timothy and Titus to receive his discipleship. You need the community as well. There is no such thing as a Christian devoid of community. You need the body. To put this simply: go find a church and plugin.