While all my doctrinal studies have contributed toward my (still) becoming "thoroughly equipped" in and by the word of God, there are some "first times" in pastoral ministry that no amount of book learnin' could prepare me for experientially. For example:
- The first time I went with church folks to bail a family member out of jail.
- The first time I went to court to support a woman seeking refuge from an abusive husband.
- The first time I became vividly aware of demonic presence in a counseling session.
- The first time I felt my life was in danger from an angry person.
- The first time I preached the funeral of someone who'd committed suicide.
- The first time I dealt with someone actively teaching heresy in the church.
- The first time I had to initiate church discipline on a friend.
- The first time I shared the gospel with a man on his deathbed who rejected the news.
- The first time I held the hand of a dying saint.
- The first time I was at the crime scene of a homicide.
And shortly thereafter:
- The first time I sat with a mother while she waited to identify her son's body.
These were all experiences of varying difficulties, and the Spirit was very strong when I was very weak. And while I did not feel particularly prepared for any of these "first times," I do feel as though they have perhaps served to prepare me for "first times" still to come.
It is good for pastors to stay in over their heads. That is where the Lord's mercy seems to shine through most clearly. I do think that a comfortable ministry is the most dangerous kind.
So, please, do go to seminary. And learn there as much as you can. But bathe your study there in constant prayer and place yourself in the context of a good church community with intentional ministry training and mentoring, because there are many experiences that seminary can tell you about but can't prepare you for.