Patterson: Preparation for ministry requires sacrifice

FORT WORTH—Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson isn’t particularly interested in making theological education more comfortable for the student. While many institutions are marketing their degrees as convenient for study in the context of the student’s home turf, Patterson would rather cause disruption in the lives of prospective ministers.

“The thing I want to do is take the man out of where he is, where he’s grown up and put him as quickly as I can in a situation where he has no hope unless God intervenes.” That initial decision to make the move to campus opens the door to transformation, he believes.

Patterson’s definition of theological education is to expose students “to great men and women of God, to their lives, their homes, their habits and their commitments,” a process that requires sacrificing the comforts of home. If it were nothing more than acquiring factual information, then online education might suffice, he said.

“Pastoral ministry, evangelism, missions, counseling and music are all, by the nature of the disciplines, incarnational, not mechanical,” Patterson added. To think otherwise is as ludicrous as believing the Navy SEALS who took down Osama bin Laden had received all of their training online, he observed.

“There’s never going to be a day when we train special ops or the common soldier without taking him to a base, out of his comfort zone, and instilling certain disciplines that can never be instilled online.”

When asked to remember something they learned in college or seminary, alumni are hard pressed to separate the knowledge they acquired from the influence of particular professors, he insisted. “If you ask, ‘Was there someone in college or seminary who impacted your life,’ then the information rolls out. What happens to that dynamic when a total education is online?”

That personal dynamic translates into pastoral ministry, Patterson said. “There’s no substitute for soul care in the ministry and that can’t be taught online.”

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