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Bible College Student: Preparing for the Pastorate

The Wisdom of Hindsight:

In the spring of 2003, I entered my first semester as a bible college student. Looking back, I was clueless as to my expectations and approach to the new endeavor of pastoral ministry (youth ministry to be exact). Though I found a great deal of affirmation from my local church, I really did not have an inclination as to what a pastor did or what the office itself entailed. Two things were certain for me: (1) my love for Jesus and (2) my love for His church. Though I like to think that those two things are enough (and in some sense they are), the ministry is a bit more complicated than that? Meaning, what does it mean to love Jesus? What does it mean to love the church? What do those two things look like? How am I to be pointed in the right direction to answer those questions?


Though I am uncertain if bible college helped to answer some of those questions, I do think, in hindsight, that my mindset had something to do with my inability to grasp the totality of the pastoral office. I was a theological orphan who lacked genuine discipleship and a clear direction in understanding the biblical witness. I was more of a pragmatist than a person of conviction. If I could talk to myself nearly 18 years ago, I would have a few things to say.


Proactive Approach:


As the college semester rolls around the corner, I would like to share some of my insights from being a bible college student and seminarian. In being a local church pastor for over a decade, I hope to employ some advice for those who feel called and have been affirmed (by their local church) to pastoral ministry. Seven (7) things to consider.


Find a Sound Local Church. First, our convictional approach to the nature of the local church will shape and frame the way we understand the pastorate. The mission and telos of the church informs the day-to-day activities and sets a trajectory for faithfulness. If, then, pastors and shepherds are given “to equip the saints for the work of ministry,” (Eph. 4:12) their service should bring forth Christ conformity in the power of the Holy Spirit by an informed understanding of the nature of the church. To this point, Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon rightly concludes,

Yet one cannot discuss pastors and what they do until one has first discussed the church, which needs these creatures called pastors. Any attempt to discuss the qualities of a 'good' pastor or the significance of being a pastor before one discusses the church is a waste of time. Leaders like pastors have significance only to the degree that their leadership is appropriate to the needs and goals of the group they lead. . . . We do not need clergy who claim to possess some clerical trait not held by the rest of the baptized—special training in psycho-therapy, special meditative techniques, special empathy for sufferers, special awareness of social issues, and so on—as if 'servant of the servants of God' and building up the congregation were not vocation enough for pastors.[1]

Furthermore, envisioning a solid local church is not only necessary, experiencing its organic ebb and flow is tantamount in stimulating one’s theological taste buds toward biblical fidelity. Our ecclesial convictions are not only taught but caught. They are strengthened when we see a covenant community do membership, discipleship, church discipline, and fellowship in accords to the Scriptures. A bible college cannot call you into the pastorate; only the local church can do that.


Find a Solid Group of Elders. Secondly, sit under sound, biblical eldership. Find men who take seriously the shepherding of God’s people and the biblical mandate of the local church; men who exposit the text of Scripture week-in and week-out and who actively live life with the people of God. Similar to the first point, biblical pastoring/eldership is not only taught, but caught. Thus, sit under men who can speak into your life and, as much as possible, share the thought process of pastoral decisions for the local church. As my college and high school football coaches would exhort, “take mental reps.”


Be Content with Being a Good Church Member. Thirdly, commit to being a good church member. As a college student, you will be pulled in every-which-way; rather it be campus activities, campus leadership, or social life. Yet, the fundamental reality is that bible college is not a local church. Remember why you decided to pursue theological training. Or said another way, do not major on the minors and minor on the majors. Therefore, get into the life of the local church and rub shoulders with the multi-generational groups within the covenant community. As Jeramie Rinne writes, “A healthy local church provides a rich matrix of relationships for mutual modeling and copying. By becoming a member of a gospel fellowship, our new Christian can compare notes with other newborn believers who are adapting to the strange, wonderful life of a forgiven Jesus follower.”[2] In short, be a good church member.


Work on Your Character. Next, as a young man entering bible college or seminary, you are not a finished product. Thus, the previous points are to formulate in you a character that will spill over into family life and the pastorate; that is, commitment to a local church, sitting under authority, and learning from all different types of people will shape you as a person. In an age where charisma and ingenuity are over-valued, godly character will shape your pastoral ministry for the long haul.


Build Good Study Habits. Fifth, build good study habits. There are countless stories about young pastors dedicating too much of their time to fishing, hunting, or other activities. Not that these hobbies are bad in and of themselves. Even Jonathan Edwards realized that an afternoon stroll with his horse was appropriate to clear his mind. However, the pastorate should carve out time to read consistently and broadly—theologically, culturally, sociologically—in order to effectively minister to his people. The patterns that you set in your theological-training-years will, more times than not, establish the trends that bleeds into your local church ministry. Set a helpful pace in being a life-long learner.


Work Hard at Knowing the Biblical Narrative. Sixth, biblical theology shapes the metanarrative of Scripture which governs one’s worldview. “Redemptive history is a worldview story,” writes Andrew D. Naselli, “and we analyze that story by studying the literary features of the unified canon.”[3] With competing narratives driving our society, the biblical narrative not only tempers us as a pastoral minister but will serve tremendously in counseling the flock of God. It grants us a divine perspective into the current storyline of our day.


Solidify Historic Theological Conviction. Lastly, build your pastoral ministry upon orthodox conviction. The guise of local church ministry is not meant to be built upon the whims of contemporary ingenuity. Rather, faithful ministry is tied to the timeless principles found within Scripture. Settle yourselves upon the Rock of Ages and be weary of shallow pragmatism. To think theologically, then, is to ground oneself within His self-revelation. As Keith L. Johnson articulates, “The discipline of theology is the name for the organized practice of theological reasoning that directs our thoughts and speech about God so that they correspond to who God is and what God is like.”[4] Do not become enamored by the trends and fads of our time, but with enduring faith cling to the truths of God. Thus, familiarize yourselves with the historic faith of Christianity. Take courses (and professors) that will build your understanding upon foundational doctrines and supplement heavy theological training with their historical development.


Well Done Good and Faithful Servant:


As I imagine students entering onto their campuses with great anticipation for Gospel formation, I cannot not be overjoyed with the sensation that they will be entering into the formidable years of their lives. These will be seasons in which their trajectory will be set forth for the rest of their lives. Thus, it is vital not only to be proactive in your own pursuit of learning, growing, and shaping. But to obtain an intentional grasp at what true, genuine faithfulness looks like. In other words, to not be passive in one’s own development, but to position yourself in ways that will allow you to take a full advantage of gaining a robust understanding and deeper affection for local church ministry. The pastorate is not merely theoretical and, thus, must be learned through the wake of God’s covenant community. And yet, the theological institution exists (or at least they should exist) for training up the pastor’s heart and mind to glorify Christ through the ministry of the local church. All of this, then, is done that the pastor may be faithful to give oversight to the people of God and glory to the triune God of the universe. Soli Deo Gloria!

 

***footnotes***

[1] Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2014), 112-113.

[2] Jeramie Rinne, Church Elders: How to Shepherd God’s People like Jesus, 9Marks (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 100.

[3] Andrew David Naselli, “What Do We Mean by ‘Biblical Theology’?” 40 Questions About Biblical Theology, ed. Jason S. DeRouchie, Oren R. Martin, and Andrew David Naselli (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2020), 19.

[4] Keith L. Johnson, Theology as Discipleship (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015), 19.

 

McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, SBTS; ThM, MBTS) is the husband to Debbie and the father to McCayden (12), McCoy (11), McColsen (9), and DeYoung (6). He is a Teaching Pastor at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN and a homeschool dad to his four children. McYoung is continuing his doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. His ambition is to use his training as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens.


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