Five Enduring Truths About Theological Education

by Charles Smith April 1, 2020

Milestones often slow us down and remind us to consider all that lies behind and before us. The Fall of 2019 had that effect on me as my wife and I celebrated seven years at Midwestern Seminary and Spurgeon College. As we looked back, we were again reminded that God has been incredibly gracious to Midwestern. By virtually every discernible metric, Midwestern is healthier than it has ever been and, Lord willing, will continue to prosper. As I look forward, I remember the sacred stewardship we bear and am drawn to pray for our students, our staff, our ministry partners, and our future.

As I do, my prayers are centered around five realities before us:

ONE: Formal theological education remains a crucial element of our ecclesiological ecosystem. We live in an age where higher education is often considered an unnecessary relic of a bygone era. This, after all, is the era of Shark Tank and Kickstarter; the age of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps with little help from anyone, especially a textbook. Huffington Post’s business writer Michael Price writes: “Spending 4+ years pursuing a college education in this day and age when the world is changing at the speed of light is not only silly, it’s absolute insanity. In this day and age, employers care about value. They want to know what value you will bring to them. They’re not concerned with your fancy MBA or private school education.”

While I disagree with Mr. Price, he is right about one thing: the world around us is rapidly changing. However, the solution is not to pursue less training, but more. The world needs pastors that deeply understand the fundamentals of the faith and are equipped to think biblically about the changing world around them. The world needs pastors able to stand in pulpits, sit in hospital rooms, and walk with couples as they seek to live their faith out in an increasingly hostile and complex world. As the world swirls around us, the Church needs men equipped to drop an anchor into God’s word. Faithful seminaries like Midwestern are preparing future leaders to do just that. 

TWO: The world desperately needs godly pastors. We live and minister amongst a generation that has learned to be suspicious of leaders, especially those claiming to have a corner on the truth. And for good reason: we have watched one leader after the next collapse under the weight of moral failure. Even seemingly wholesome icons like Bill Cosby have been exposed as frauds. Sadly, the Church has not been immune to these tragedies. Given recent ministerial scandals, the average pastor climbs behind the pulpit on Sunday morning with a deficit of trust and credibility, especially among the unchurched. The world desperately needs faithful leaders that steadily live the gospel out before a watching world.

In this world of “fake news” and scandal, people are desperately searching for something real and true. Thanks be to God, that is exactly what we have. As we look to the future, we must remember Matthew 7:16 (“You will know them by their fruits”) also implies “The world will know us by our fruit.” We are called to live lives that authenticate the gospel message. Oh that God would give us the grace we need to stand among the cultural rubble and faithfully proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

THREE: The world desperately needs bold pastors. Most of the modern world is ministering in a strange age. In one sense, we are not experiencing the grave physical and political persecution that many of our brothers and sisters are in other parts of the world. Indeed, here in the United States, the stock market is booming, religious liberties are upheld, and the gospel is preached freely. And yet, in another sense, we are currently experiencing a powerful form of persecution that, if we are not careful, will quietly silence a generation of ministers. Turn on any cable television show or newscast and, within minutes, you will hear someone mock Christianity. Those sincerely holding to Christian faith will be called bigots, homophobes, misogynists, and more. With every insult, the boldness of many Christians wains.

This isn’t the first time the Church has experienced this form of persecution. The Apostle Peter reminded the early church that they would be ridiculed for their faith. He said unbelievers would “think it strange when we do not join them in the same flood of debauchery” and in time will “mock” us (1 Peter 4:3). A familiar children’s rhyme suggests “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. But the truth is, words can hurt us. After all, who wants to be thought of as strange, odd, weird? Quite the opposite, we all have a powerful hunger for community, belonging, acceptance, and approval.

Indeed, persecution brings pain, but far worse, it often brings silence with it. If we are not careful, our longing to be accepted by men will slowly muffle our witness for Christ. As believers, we must remember that we do belong. We have been made eternal sons and daughters of God through the blood of Christ. We have an everlasting community. We have a family and a last name that cannot be taken from us. This truth frees us to share the gospel no matter the cost. As I look towards the next five years at Midwestern, I am praying that God gives our students the courage to be strange for the sake of the gospel.

FOUR: It takes a village to raise a pastor. When my wife Ashley and I moved to Kansas City we did our best to find a house close to campus. We both wanted to invest in the lives of students and finding a home near the seminary was a great way to do that. Five years later we have hosted countless students in our home, hearing their faith stories, praying for their classes, and doing our best to encourage them along their way. I often ask these students “what has been the most powerful lesson you have learned so far in seminary?” More fascinating than the lessons are the many places they are learned. Students are being profoundly shaped in their church, in the classroom, in chapel, in hallway conversations, during coffee with fellow classmates and faculty members, and in informal settings like our kitchen. As I reflect back on all these conversations I’m reminded why residential education remains Midwestern’s preferred method of ministry training. God is using this sacred context in Kansas City—and others like it— to prepare thousands of future ministry leaders.

FIVE: The future is bright: As I write this article over 4000 future ministry leaders are preparing for ministry at Midwestern. In fact, Midwestern has grown to be one of the largest seminaries in the world. And we are not alone. Midwestern is one of many faithful seminaries that are growing as God calls men and women from all corners of the globe to prepare to take his gospel to the nations. In the coming months, several hundred new students will arrive here in Kanas City to begin their formal theological training. They will enjoy classes, make friends, attend chapel, grab coffee with faculty, and serve one of the many churches in our region. 

Would you pray for them as they prepare to enter this season? Would you pray that God would begin preparing their hearts for this season? Would you pray that God would give them friends and mentors to strengthen them during this crucial time? Would you pray that God would protect and embolden their ministry?

As you pray, would you remember Midwestern as it plows into the next five years of ministry? Pray for our faculty, administration, and staff as we seek to equip the next generation of leaders for the church. Pray that God would continue to give us a passion for His glory, a love for His servants, and a drive to serve His church.

We need your help. Will you stand with us?