In the next week I will be addressing the question of what a significant theological education looks like — including marks and characteristics as well as what to stay away from. For now, I want to look at Matt Barkley.
USC quarterback Matt Barkley, a top-7 NFL draft prospect, shocked the college world by announcing that he is passing up the prospect of a lucrative rookie-contract to play another season of college football.
His reason? “I am staying because I want to finish what I started.”
In other words, Barkley sees the college experience as something more than leverage to a fatter paycheck. College is a preparatory experience that includes goals and achievement, benchmarks, and learning to manage duties and responsibilities. Any NFL quarterback needs these skills. And while the prognosticators may project market demand and value, they do not pretend to project readiness and preparation.
When I was an undergrad at Baylor University I was privileged to be part of something called the ministry guidance program, which afforded me two learning opportunities. First, I had the opportunity to shadow pastors and elders at my local church and to pick their brains on the real deal of pastoral ministry. It was an amazing experience.
Second, I was part of a weekly class taught by a seasoned pastor/professor that included lectures, reading, and discussion with students and pastors. This was a mixed experience. It was mixed because I was shocked by the level of arrogance, conjecture, and jockeying that took place in the Baptist ministry culture in Texas. I heard pastors make statements about classmates such as:
“You can tell that this guy is headed for big things in ministry.”
Or, “You just know that he is going to be a mega-church pastor one day. He is gifted.”
And, “He will probably start out at a church of 500 after college and then will quickly move up the ranks after he completes his seminary degree.”
In other words, these classmates and their well-meaning pastors viewed seminary as a stepping stone to a career path. But I read a different perspective on ministry preparation in the Bible.
Take Acts 9 for example. When Paul first became a follower of Jesus, he spent time in Damascus with the Christians there — in preparation for ministry. The ESV notes on Acts 9 say this:
Acts 9:19b–20 Saul likely received instruction in the Christian “way” from the disciples at Damascus. In Galatians, Paul notes that during this time he “went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus” (Gal. 1:17). (“Arabia” here means the Nabatean Kingdom, northeast of the Dead Sea, not the Arabian Peninsula.) synagogues. The pattern of Paul’s beginning his witness in the synagogues occurs throughout Acts, as does the pattern of opposition developing there (Acts 9:23). via Acts 9 – ESVBible.org.
Bottom Line: pastoral ministry requires preparation. Theological education is supposed to prepare pastors for long-tenured ministry. There are no short cuts to preparation.
There is no career path.
There is no credentialing.
There is only reading, and mentoring, and bible study, and prayer, and hard work, and formation, and more prayer, and coffee/hot tea, and blowing off steam with some friends, and basketball games, and hot dogs, and episodes of Burn Notice, and theology, and discipleship, and growing in your satisfaction with Jesus, and an increase in the confidence of your calling/anointing for ministry.
And that type of process comes only with a period of preparation. That is why Matt Barkley is returning to USC (for football) and it is why future pastors take the time in theological education (for local church ministry).