Hanson, Collin and Jeff Robinson Sr., eds. 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me. Wheaton: Crossway, 2018. 150 pp.
One of the temptations that many young seminarians (and even churches!) will face is the temptation to believe the lie that a seminary degree(s) fully prepares a man for all the rigors of pastoral ministry. At just over one year into my first full-time ministry position in the context of the local church, I’m fully aware of how helpful seminary was for me with respect to rightly handling the word of God in Christ. I’m also more aware than ever that there are aspects of my ministry position that seminary never came close to addressing. In order to help young ministers understand both the limitations of seminary training and the need for training in the context of the church, Collin Hanson and Jeff Robinson have edited 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me.
15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me is comprised of fifteen chapters from fifteen different pastors and churchmen that each articulate valuable ministry lessons learned not in the seminary classroom, but in the classroom of the local church. The chapters collectively come down to relational leadership lessons. The local church is the crucible where a pastor learns concretely how to lovingly lead his wife and kids to Christlikeness. The local church is where a pastor understands how to lovingly lead people, people who may be suffering, people who may be in conflict (even with him!), and people who are different from him for the glory of Christ. It’s even in the local church where pastors learn about themselves and their need to fight for their relationship with God, where the idolatries of making a name for one’s self can be exposed, and where humility is tested regarding ministry positions one applies for upon seminary graduation that may or may not result in being hired.
Overall, the book is helpful as men who’ve served in ministry positions for various tenures pass along gospel wisdom to young ministers to help prepare them for the challenges that come with leading sinful-but-redeemed people in this already-not yet age of the kingdom of Christ with faithfulness, joy, longevity, and love. Leading in love is a repeated theme throughout the book. One may begin to learn how to study, exposit, and preach the Bible well in seminary; yet, the seminary isn’t the church. It’s only in the context of applying the truths and principles learned in seminary to flesh and blood people in the church where pastors learn, work, and grow to love and lead fallen people in a fallen world to look more like King Jesus. Seminary can teach a man about loving and leading well, but serving the body of Christ is where loving leadership is learned experientially.
One of the most challenging statements of the book for me came in chapter 7 on raising one’s kids to love the church. Matt McCullough writes, “If our children feel like the church is their competition for our time and affection, it will always be difficult for them to love the church. So we have to prove to them in the structures of our normal lives that we prioritize them” (71). The same can be said of our spouses as well. What I’m not sure I or my family expected with the current ministry position I have as Church Administrator is just how much I would enjoy it. There are ministry opportunities I get to do that I would gladly do in my free time if I were not on staff at a church, which means that, for me, it’s often really hard to stop doing this pleasurable “work” called ministry, even more so when ministry doesn’t have 9-5 hours that tell me when to stop for the day. Yet, as a man who loves the church and who wants his family to love the church, I have to constantly work on putting down the phone or the laptop when I’m home with no emergency ministry needs to address so that my family doesn’t feel like they have to compete with the church for me. McCullough’s words were a helpful reminder of a truth talked about in seminary but learned through application in the church.
While this book could contain an endless number of chapters, one worth consideration for addition would be a chapter on local church finances. While my seminary experience included one class session on church budgeting, it did not sufficiently train me to oversee millions of dollars in giving revenue; work with ministry leaders to craft a yearly budget; or to navigate the financial, legal, and leadership issues regarding the acquisition and selling of church property respecting our church planting and growth efforts. Yet, pastors must be prepared to lead the church in all capacities for the sake of the gospel, including financially, and it’s often in the local church where such an education occurs.
15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me is one of those books that would be helpful reading for current seminary students and for those who’ve graduated from seminary within five years. A seminary degree is helpful, but it’s not sufficient for pastoral ministry. The local church, served by seminaries, is where pastors are made, and the churchmen who contribute to this resource clearly demonstrate this reality. May the wisdom presented in this book help reorient our understanding of the roles of seminary and the church for ministry preparation, and may pastors be equipped to love the bride of Jesus better as a result.