I was that guy. I grew up in the church my whole life. I was a pastors kid. I knew the stories, the characters, what the stories meant and not just on the surface. I even left the faith for a time then through the study of world religions came back to faith in Jesus Christ. After that moment I said yes to the call of full time ministry for Jesus.
I didn’t believe in seminary; I believed in ministry. You hear all the stories of people calling seminary the place our calling goes to die. It was 2009 and I could learn from some of the best pastors from around the world on this thing called YouTube. Back in the day seminary might have been needed to learn and grow deeper as a person called to full time ministry, but we can get that same teaching through videos, conferences, podcast, and more. Come on right? Circuit riders were once the best way for the gospel to get out but we don’t do that anymore either.
What better way to grow in our calling and gifting then watching and learning from people who are just like you?
Well, what happens is we become simple soundbites of the people who we watch on screens. Our hearts, our minds, our theology, and our calling itself isn’t stretched. We simply become people who say, “Amen” to the same thing over and over again and never think below the “Amen.”
I know this because this is what happened to me.
It’s 2018 and I’m just now finishing my second year of seminary. What happened to me? How did I go from all ministry and no seminary to now doing both? Simply put, obedience. This obedience was to God, to my Bishop, to my church within the United Methodist Church, and to my pastors on staff alongside me. I remember one of my students asking me about my calling a few years ago. I began to tell them my story and as I told it I remember pausing as I heard myself tell the names of so many other people. It sounds like a “duh” moment as I stepped back and realized how many people have supported, affirmed, and encouraged my calling into full time ministry.
As I walked away from that conversation a light went off for me. If my calling into full time ministry was made up of God putting these unexpected, random, and beautiful people into my story to help me see my calling, then why would it be any different for my education? I deeply desired for my calling to be worked out of the overflow of a deep relationship with Jesus. This isn’t an either/or but it a both/and situation. My calling was poured into by a diverse group of people and I wanted my theology to be the same. It would be through a diverse group that we can be stretched, made stronger.
Hold the phone, the way we saw God when we were 7 might not be completely correct. We need help and we can also be deep in ministry and seminary at the same time.
2 Timothy 2.15 says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handing the word of truth.” Forgive me but I just don’t buy that we can by ourselves, in our own vacuum, figure out how to completely handle the word of truth before God. I know I will never get it all right, but I firmly believe that I will only be able to understand the heart of God and communicate his truths better when my learning is done in community. I need to be questioned. I need to be told I’m wrong. I need to stand for what I believe to be the word of God. I need to dig past the second and third layer of scripture. Yes, all of this study needs to be done in our personal walk, but it also needs to done together.
I believe I am where I am today and I believe you are where you are graced to be today because we stand on the shoulders of those incredible men and women of the faith that came before us. How arrogant of me to think that I got here because of them but that I don’t need them still to this day. I need seminary to be a better pastor. What good is it to be all for ministry if I’m handling that ministry in a way that God never intended.
I want to be desperate for God and for others to see the clearest picture of who God is through my life. I know that will never happen in isolation. We are made for community and for those of us who are in youth ministry are in desperate need for community among others doing the same thing, especially when it comes to our theological education.
There are incredible online programs and youth ministry master degree programs that allow us to still be with our youth in full time ministry and be in theological training. We need our brothers and sisters in the educational word so that we may understand and communicate the gospel of Christ the best of our abilities.
We only get to see Jesus more clearly through our stretching and in turn so do those in our ministry. We can receive that stretching in a classroom with people of different stories, viewpoints, and experience.
With everything we do, may be do to the best of our abilities and for many of us in youth ministry that is calling to deeper our ministry through educational training in seminary.