The London Theological Seminary
For the first time since its inception in 1977, the London Theological Seminary (here) has failed to attract any UK students for the two year course, due to begin in October 2007. The seminary was founded by Martyn Lloyd-Jones to train men for the preaching ministry in evangelical nonconformist churches. The course does not lead to a diploma or degree, it is simply designed to equip men for pastoral ministry. I studied there in 1988-1990 and found the course intellectually demanding, spiritually enriching and practically helpful.
No doubt some men from evangelical free churches are training at WEST (here), where degrees are awarded. I know of others who have done the Cornhill Training Course (here), run by the Anglican Proclamation Trust. Oak Hill College (here), again an Anglican institution also attracts evangelical nonconformists who wish to train for the role of pastor-teacher. I welcome an emphasis on training pastor-expositors in evangelical Anglicanism. But some of the distinctives of the nonconformist approach to preaching are not necessarily shared by Anglicans. In evangelical Anglicanism, the idea of the anointing of the Spirit in preaching is often downplayed and is sometimes dismissed as little more than a Lloyd-Jonesian aberration. Evangelical nonconformity has a unique perspective on Christian ministry which needs to be preserved.
But, when all's said and done, there seems to be a shortage of godly and gifted men who are training for ministry of the word in the evangelical free churches. I wonder why this is? Here are some suggestions:
1. Training is expensive. When I went to LTS, the Gwent Local Education Authority paid for my fees, board and gave me some pocket money every term. That is no longer the case. But can the churches afford not to invest in leadership training?
2. Ministry is difficult and demanding. Geoff Thomas once redefined the "Five Points of Calvinism" acronym TULIP to mean, "Totally Unappreciated Low Income Pastors". Many a true word has been spoken in jest. Why would promising men be interested in being a pastor, given the way in which some churches treat their ministers. (I should say that this is not a gripe against the churches I serve, just a general point). I may be mistaken, but my impression is that many theological students are hoping to pursue a career teaching theology in the world of academia. They are not necessarily studying to develop their skills as pastor-theologians. How many theology bloggers are training for the pastoral-preaching ministry?
3. The system of calling pastors to churches is chaotic. The relationship between the churches and the collages/seminaries is often poor. Godly and gifted men may finish theological training without a call to a pastorate in view. They may be kept waiting for years before actually entering pastoral ministry. Candidates for ministry can be called to preach several times in a church and then be dropped without a word of explanation. Why would a man give up a good job to train for ministry when the prospects of actually being called to pastoral work is often quite tenuous? We have the bizarre situation where churches have been pastorless for years, while there are men in secular employment who have the spiritual maturity, ability and training to pastor the people of God. The result of all this is that evangelical free churches are left leaderless for long periods of time.
4. Lack of appreciation for the pastoral-preaching ministry. We don't want to return to the bad old days when Ministers were accorded almost unquestioning deference because of their office. Neither am I advocating an "one man ministry" approach to the detriment of other gifts and ministries in the body of Christ. But the work of pastor-teacher used to be regarded as the ministry. The preacher's task is to equip the church for service and bring the people of God to unity and maturity in Christ. (Eph 4:11-16). No more important calling can be imagined than to proclaim the unsearchable riches of the gospel and pastor God's flock. Do contemporary evangelical free churches share the Bible's high view of pastoral ministry?
5. Too much moaning by pastors. Do we (yes, I include myself), sometimes give the impression that being a pastor is such a rubbish job that only a masochistic nutter would want to do it? Have we lost something of the joy of ministry? Yes, times are hard, but our task is a highly privileged one. We are paid to give ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. Our task is to read wonderful works of theology and biblical commentary. We get to spend time having fellowship with the saints in their homes as part of pastoral visitation. We share in their joys and sorrows. Around three times a week we have to preach and teach God's word! Can anything compare to preaching Christ when our hearts are set on fire by the Spirit? Often our preaching falls flat. But we can hope that the Spirit will come and set us free not just to expound, illustrate and apply the Word, but to preach.
Who will say, "Here I am send me"? Go on, I dare you.