Haddon Robinson once told a Seminary class that he would gladly pay the price of a book if it produced just one great illustration. This volume easily exceeds that guideline. The editor, Allan Hugh Cole Jr., has assembled two dozen pastors who offer short chapters on their personal perspectives of transitioning from Seminary to ministry. Few books exist that address this unique niche in the life of an evolving pastor. Three audiences in particular would benefit from Cole’s contribution: Seminary professors, Seminary students or early graduates, and ministry employers, i.e., church administrators and ministerial leaders.
Repeatedly and from various perspectives (all authors have recently been or still are pastors), these writers address what various constituents believe Seminary education should accomplish and compare that with their own experience. What becomes clear is the misperception that exists, across denominations and Seminaries and among most church members and non-Seminary trained pastors, about what Seminary does and does not do. Clarity on this issue would transform the Seminary experience itself as well as focus on ongoing post-Seminary pastoral development.
The editor correctly identifies the target of his compilation as “principally for new ministers or those who soon will become new ministers.” The so-called gap existing between Seminary and actual ministry is maintained to be real and acknowledged as such, not made dichotomous of each other. Indeed “good ministry is found, rather, where pastors stand with one foot firmly planted in their theological education and the other foot just as firmly planted in the parish, and allow the resulting tension to shape their pastoral practice.”
Special attention should be given to the chapters by Thomas Long, Ray Anderson, Craig Barnes, Karen Yust, Anthony Robinson, Wallace Alston Jr., and William Willimon. In fact, Willimon’s article should be required reading for all Seminary students and professors. For example, he aptly states, “when seminaries appoint faculty who have little skill or inclination to traffic between academia and church, is there any wonder why the products of their teaching find that transition to be so difficult?”
While it is easy to cast cheap stones at advanced theological education, the reality of current ministry demonstrates the long-term benefits of adequate preparation. Over a lifetime, today’s pastor, engaged in eschatological ministry, will encounter more transitions and challenges than any clergy in history. As Willimon concludes, “if you don’t define your ministry on the basis of your theological commitments, the parish has a way of defining your ministry on the basis of their selfish preoccupations and that is why so many clergy are so harried and tired today.”