Editorial

Ministerial training for the twenty-first century

Pondering ministerial training as we head into the future

Joe Sarli is a contributing editor and serves in the General Conference Ministerial Association

Recently my wife and I spent three weeks in London. One significant activity we enjoyed was visiting museums seeing the old and the new, the traditional and the revolutionary. We witnessed the most creative expression of the human mind. I concentrated on the recent history during my lifetime and was amazed at what had taken place from the mid-1970s to now. Breathtaking changes have emerged in such a short span of time in transportation, labor, race relations, technology, and politics. One hundred years ago the world was vastly different. People living then could have hardly comprehended the life we see today.

Rapid change, momentous complexity, and a measure of anxiety characterize our future. As we anticipate this brave new world in a brand-new century, we can look forward to a surge in secularism, in indifference to and negation of spiritual values, and in technological supremacy.

What are the implications of this for theology? Is it possible that some of the foundational truths of the Bible will get less and less attention, if not total rejection? Will the preaching of the Word continue to be a powerful force to change the lives of men and women? What kind of church will we have?

These are a few of the questions that arise as we ponder ministerial training for the future. Right now, for example, a plurality of opinion provides for diverse perspectives on any given subject. If this pluralistic trend begins to dominate our ministerial training, and if it impacts our essential doctrinal structure, what will the future of our church be?

The answer could be highly disquieting. Consider the question from another perspective. What kind of seminary graduates do we wish to produce? Ministers committed to God's revealed truth? Ministers devoted to the mission and message of the truth for this time? Ministers with a local as well as global perspective of the church? Or ministers who in the name of freedom and the search for truth continually cast unqualified doubt on what we believe and why we exist as a church? What basic concepts and attitudes, what fundamental training and outlook, what imperative back grounds and equipment, may the church properly expect in the new pastoral recruits upon whose shoulders must rest the burden of an eschatological ministry? What is the ideal training that should be brought into reality? Here are some imperatives:

1. Keep the ministerial training unswervingly Christian, Adventist, and practical. The obligation to proclaim the everlasting gospel to the world, with specific emphasis upon our reformatory message, demands that our pastors be committed to that responsibility. Our colleges and seminaries are called to produce such pastors. This does not mean that our ministerial training should be closed to all other competing views, but it does mean that the Adventist stance will be definite and obviously present.

Our ministerial training must be distinctive and thoroughly Adventist. The church of tomorrow expects that its young preachers will come forth with a basically sound attitude toward biblical truth the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The task is not easy, but the magnitude of such a challenge should lead us to a candid self-evaluation of the ministerial program we are operating to see if we are meeting the basic objectives to which God has called us.

2. Encourage educators to be practical. Unless colleges and seminaries engage in frequent ministry of the Word through evangelism and pastoral work, they tend to become theoretical and detached from the imperatives of the workaday gospel ministry. Their teaching will become scholarly, yet remote from the real challenges and practical needs of the people to whom their students must soon minister. Their instruction may be sound, interesting, and true, yet may taste too much of the classroom and the cloistered study.

Educators need not only train students to be good pastors and great preachers but also to be real warriors in a world hostile to the gospel. Ministerial students need to be exposed to challenges in real life, outside the safety of the classroom.

3. Involve other church units in the formulation of ministerial training. The ministerial training program must obviously be more than a college or seminary affair; it is a church-wide concern. To accomplish this training, at least three areas of church resource need to be involved: (1) the congregation, and local leaders; (2) the college or seminary; and (3) church administration in general. The church's Department of Education and the Ministerial Association should work together in coordinating this task. The Education Department would be responsible for academic excellence in the ministerial training program, and the Ministerial Association would act as a bridge between the church and the formal education of ministers.

4. Focus the training on ministry. While it is critical for the seminary to equip future pastors, with, for example, academic tools to interpret Scripture, its basic focus should be ministerial. Without undermining scholarly pursuits, seminaries should concentrate on how best to feed the flock.

Only then can we face the challenges of the next century.


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Joe Sarli is a contributing editor and serves in the General Conference Ministerial Association

June 1997

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