A time for growing

Too often young men, recent concerts, have been urged into the gospel ministry by well-meaning pastors, only to flounder when faced with the challenges of a college theological curriculum. A longtime college Bible teacher suggests a way to prevent disaster from befalling these young, less mature men.

Carl Coffman is chairman of the Department of Religion, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

In the twenty years that I have been preparing men for the ministry at the college level, I have too often seen young men, new in the church, urged by their pastor into college and ministerial preparation very soon after their baptism. Frequently they have only the background of an evangelistic campaign or a series of Bible studies. And in far too many cases, I have watched serious, and sometimes traumatic, problems result.

Such young men often have difficulties because they are without the Bible foundation of the church school and the academy. They also are limited in their knowledge of how our church members think Biblically. It takes time for anyone to grow and mature. It takes time to think through and formulate our own personal positions. It takes time even for some to realize that the church contains sinners who are prone to err in belief and practice, even though they sincerely believe. Above all, many of these young men are unprepared to weigh theological problems and remain "cool" during the process. Simply to discover that there are two sides to various questions shakes the faith of some who lack the maturity to evaluate the evidence critically and grow in the experience. Some are so shocked to find that we do not have all the answers, or that we do have differences in some areas, that they begin to question if they are in the right church.

Brother pastor, we lose some of these fine, yet less mature, young men, though we make desperate efforts to keep them. Some become confused, even bitter, because they do not find everything in a college classroom as they think it should be. I make no excuse for the Seventh-day Adventist teacher, especially in religion, who through his own unwise questioning, or partial faith, or poor example of living as Christ has given example, truly does mislead or shake the faith of these inexperienced men. No excuse for such exists. However, some of these less mature students react negatively to the most faithful and loyal and successful of our teachers, simply because they are not ready for the college experience.

My appeal is this. When leading a talented young man into the church, wouldn't the wiser way be to urge him to stay in that local church for one, two, or even three years, there to work for the Lord as a faithful layman? He could learn to teach boys and girls in the Sabbath school, or adults in the senior Sabbath school class. He could learn to work with the Pathfinders. He could be taught to witness and be led to see that four years of college are not a vacation from witnessing as he prepares for a larger ministry. He could learn^tow laymen think—and sometimes, how they do not think so well. He could be nurtured by the pastor in whom he has great confidence and for whom he has much love. He could be a part of the post-baptismal group who attend a special class for new believers once a month, there to find answers to some of the difficult questions and problems that all new believers face. It might be best even for him to remain in the job he has for a while, there to relate to a secular employer as a Sabbathkeeper. In his local church he would find himself a part of the gentle growing process that it affords before facing the more rapid and demanding program that college ministerial preparation demands.

Then when he finally enters the ministry after college, he will know much more about the laity of the church. It will be his lifelong work to help them, to preach to them, to nurture them, to lead them through their problems.

Help him mature under your guidance and fellowship. Then, if he senses a call, urge him to go on and prepare himself when he is ready for it.

Our purpose is not to talk men out of preparation for the ministry. Rather, we need to work together on timing, so that our young men train at the right and best time—for them—and with an adequate background to be the best minister possible. We need all of these that we, together, can find and train.

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Carl Coffman is chairman of the Department of Religion, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

August 1982

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