Monday, June 11, 2007

Leadership crisis

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.

14 comments:

Jonathan Hunt said...

Guy

I would give every penny I have for even one year's full time theological study. But I don't have a penny to give. A friend of mine was so quickly snapped up by his church that he cannot attend seminary, but has been set aside to study distance courses from Joel Beeke's seminary, and his church pays for this.

Even if I could afford to study full time, I don't see how I could leave the calling that the Lord has given to me.

But my mind is not closed to these things. Here I am Lord.

Exiled Preacher said...

Thanks for that, Jonathan.

You make a good point. Full time theological study is not a viable option for everyone due to the cost factors that I mentioned in # 1.

Full time study is not necessarily right for everybody anyway. I was simply using the LTS problem as a way of reflecting on the lack of men who are being called to pastoral ministry and the lack of churches willing to call pastors.

There are a lot of high quality distance learning theology courses out there these days. I did my degree with Greenwich School of Theology.


May you know God's blessing in your ministry and studies,

Guy

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I hope LST (which was formerly London Bible College) survives, but it may have to start awarding degrees for that. I imagine other conservative non-conformists are going to Spurgeon's College, to King's College at the University of London, and elsewhere.

From a U.S. perspective, I am afraid that I don't understand ministerial training without degrees, although I know that most non-conformist schools in the UK worked that way before they were permitted to make connections to the university system.

In the U.S., ministerial training (leaning to an M.Div., equivalent to a British B.D.) must FOLLOW an earned B.A. or its equivalent. The idea is that theological education works best when built on a liberal arts education--but this was an idea that took generations to become as nearly universal as now.

P.S., Does your use of the masculine mean that LTS will not accept women as students? That may explain much about its current stagnation as anything.

Exiled Preacher said...

MW-W,

LST (LBC that was) has awarded degrees for years. LTS (my old seminary)does not award degrees on principle. The position is that the secular academy should not be allowed to determine what men study in preparation for pastoral ministry. "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" etc. Students are often graduates in other fields. Some (like me) go on to study for a theology degree.

LTS only trains men as UK Reformed Evangelicalism does not accept women pastors. That's the right position in my view, (1 Tim 2 etc), but I can't be bothered to get into a long argument about it with you.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I understand the "male only pastor" view. What surprises me is that a non-denominational seminary would presume to impose this view, rather than allow the churches that call ministers to make the decision.

A seminary, especially one that is not owned and operated by a denomination, should simply take students and teach them. Whether those students who are female are seen as fit (theologically or otherwise) to be pastors is for the congregations to decide. THEY, not some seminary, must decide how to interpret Scripture on this matter.

Exiled Preacher said...

MW-W,

In brief response:

1) A seminary is entitled to its distinctive ethos and principles.

2)LTS only accepts students who have been recommended by their home churches.

michael jensen said...

'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...'

well, yes...

;-)

Pastor Chad said...

I find this post rather intriguing. I have always loved Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, especially his book "Preachers and Preaching". I have, in fact, just finished reading through it again. I find his emphasis on the annointing of the Spirit on a preacher to be rather refreshing. It reminds us that the preaching moment is not in our control. It is not the preacher's responsibility to change people's hearts through his message.

It would be a shame if the seminary did not survive. I think it fills an important, yet unappreciated role for the pastorate.

michael jensen said...

Yes, it would be a shame if the seminary did not survive, and yet obviously there is a need of a rethink. (The prinicpal writing rude and inaccurate articles about Moore College ain't going to help its reputation, you know.) People get a degree for almost anything these days, so perhaps that policy could be rethunk as a priority.

We anglicans think it our birthright to complain about bishops (and rightly so) but the trouble with Baptist-style church government is that the pastor is so exposed to the changeableness of the congregation. In my country, the rate of minister leaving the pastorate is far higher amongst those with Baptist church government (and would assume it is similar here). I don't blame men with families for saying that they can't work under that kind of pressure - and I admire those who do.

Exiled Preacher said...

I don't think that there is any danger of LTS closing. Some UK students will be doing their 2nd year from Oct 07. The seminary also attracts a good number of foreign students. But it was set up mainly to serve the UK's evangelical free church constituency. It's a shame that such churches are sending their men to be trained by Anglicans. In his 1977 LTS inaugural address (published in Knowing the Times Banner of Truth Trust), Ll-J complained,

"that we have been hearing that certain free church evangelical students who are hoping to enter, and some who have entered, free church ministries have actually been going to Anglican colleges for their training. As a Nonconformist and free churchman that is something which rouses by ire, and if I had no other reason for supporting this venture, that alone would be sufficient for me." (A Protestant Evangelical College, p. 358)

By the way Michael, I don't think that Philip Eveson's critique of Moore was at all rude and inaccurate. But we've done that one before.

michael jensen said...

'It's a shame that such churches are sending their men to be trained by Anglicans.'

I got no problem with it!

Gary Brady said...

Interesting. It should be underlined that LTS has had no UK students once or twice before ('95, '01??). It should also be noted, Guy, that LTS isn't short of money. There's plenty available for suitable candidates. I guess Mr J is seeking to be witty but to call Phil Eveson rude is simply inaccurate. As the jibe about the anointing of the Spirit I'm sure I've said worse in my time but out of pure ignorance. I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now!

Exiled Preacher said...

Thanks for your comments Gary. (Gary is a member of the LTS board, so he should know what he's talking about re funding etc).

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this excellent, thoughtful post. It echos conversations I've had with a few different people around the country.

It's time for a wider debate on this vital topic (of preparing young men for the ministry in the 21C). You should email the text to Evangelicals Now, I'd hope John Benton might be interested in republishing it...

Kevin Ball