When someone is fired up by God and actively involved in church ministry, people often say, “Since you are blessed so much, you should go to a seminary.” I’ve heard this before. It is true that sometimes, because of such encouragement, some ended up attending a seminary. But there are several misunderstandings involved here. One is an incorrect perception of dedication. The second stems from the misjudgment of the role of a seminary. These misunderstandings also contribute toward distorting Christianity.
We commonly think that ministry work is only for seminary graduates, unless we understand the spirit of New Testament church. Because of this reason, in most churches, laymen are not allowed to do meaningful ministries such as counseling, visiting church members or leading Bible studies. In this situation, these individuals want to do such work so much because of their love and dedication toward God, so they decide to go to a seminary. However, a seminary is not a place to take these dedicated people of God and increase their faith, build their character and belief, and develop their gift of teaching and make them pastors.
A seminary is rather a place to train a mature person of faith and character who is confirmed by the church and requested by the church to be a pastor and to do ministry work. That is why sometimes a seminary shakes up a person’s faith rather than advancing it. Therefore, there are cases where a person with faith goes to a seminary and ends up losing it. Sometimes a person who is not meant to be a pastor becomes one and experiences hardships for himself and also for his congregation.
These days, we need devoted laymen who display faithful Christian lives in the world. In my mother country Korea and many other countries, because of the custom of making devoted laymen into pastors, many pastors cannot find churches in which to serve. At this very hour, there are churches on every street, and there are too many seminary graduates, but it is difficult to find devoted laymen.
According to the Bible, laymen are allowed to do ministry work (Ephesians 4:11-12). Based on this guideline, laymen should be trained to work on every facet of ministry work. Serving then becomes second nature as they learn to love and have compassion toward others and their characters are better built.
Through these activities, they discover their God-given gifts or find the right place for them to lead Bible studies. Sometimes, it is possible for them to be trained to be a professional counselor or a full-time ministry worker. At that point, the church should send the person to a seminary for training. Actually, for this reason, seminaries typically require recommendations of congregations (not of the pastors) for the applicants.
In my church, small group leaders appear to be totally dedicated, especially to people who are outside of our church. Therefore, sometimes, they hear a suggestion to go to a seminary. I tell them to remember that a seminary is not a place to increase your faith, and I tell them unless the call of God is very clearly displayed in the church, please do not listen to these suggestions.
Sookwan Lee is pastor of Seoul Baptist Church in Houston and serves as vice president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.