Racism and degreeism: returning pastoral training to the local church...

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So President Obama has been mistaken for a menial worker in the service industry? Big deal. All of us have, but I'll bet President Obama didn't hold down a summer job in high school cleaning motel room bathrooms. It was a step up from the previous three years I'd spent cleaning stalls in a boarding stable three times a week.

But yes, racism is alive and well in these United States. In a sinful world, racism is the human condition. Who would expect pride and selfishness not to take hold of the natural fissure of skin color? While the earth remains, there will be racism, although here in Bloomington the greater evil on display everywhere but never lamented is the classism of degreeism. As I said last Sunday in a sermon on Nazarenes and shepherds, Bloomington despises West side folk who live in single or double-wides, chew tobacco or smoke cigarettes, and don't finish high school. The undegreed life is not worth living.

Company men in some of the more conservative Reformed denominations share a certain disdain for Doug Wilson and for years men have been hearing me say it's largely because Doug's an autodidact. This is the source of their dyspepsia.

A charitable construction of their concern would be that Doug has holes in his knowledge or that he hasn't learned the importance of nuance. An uncharitable construction would be that Doug is...

undegreed and that makes them mad. Why? 

Because their lives are built around degrees bought from schools run by scribes. After all, what's the point of Presbyterians growing at a slower rate across the American frontier than Methodists and Baptists because of our commitment to an educated clergy if some interloper can come along at this late date and take his seat at the table? It's particularly humiliating that the thing he'll be most remembered for is the reform of schooling to the end that thinking and debate may return; and, therefore, true education.

In observation of men and institutions, Dad had an eagle-eye and, despite encouraging us to do the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary time, he said three things as I (the eldest) left for Boston: "the M.Div. is the union-card of the pastorate"; "the only thing seminary has in common with the Lord's training of the Twelve is that they're both three-year institutions"; and "it took me three years to get through seminary and five years to get over it."

Well, after doing my three years at Gordon-Conwell, I didn't believe in seminary more than Dad did, nor did David or Nathan. We had studied under Gordon Fee, Doug Stuart, David Wells, Richard Lovelace, Jack Davis, Meredith Kline, and Roger Nicole, but we found ourselves unprepared for pastoral ministry—especially preaching. And church discipline—how had I spent three years and more than twenty-five thousand dollars of tuition without ever hearing one mention of it? Not in theology. Not in church history. Not in my Jonathan Edwards seminar. Not in any Old or New Testament course. Nothing nowhere.

Imagine designing a curriculum to prepare men and women (lots of women at Gordon-Conwell) for the pastorate that teaches nothing about rebuke, exhortation, correction, admonition, and censure, nor the hatred such faithful work will bring to the pastor and his family.

After seeing a number of men off to Reformed seminaries including Reformed (Orlando), Reformed (Jackson), Covenant (St. Louis), and Westminster (Escondido), it became clear to David and me that seminaries today teach men that being an academic is the highest calling, but if they simply must sully themselves by serving a church, the one rule binding on all their work is to avoid conflict. So we decided training men for the ministry must come under the authority of the church instead of the academy, and we've spent the past ten years training men for the ministry in Toledo at the Reformed Evangelical Pastors College and in Bloomington at Clearnote Pastors College.

Yes, it's very hard work—not so much the formal studies as the pastoral and discipleship work forming the men's character—but what rewards we see in ourselves and our congregations from the presence of these men and their wives and children giving themselves to our congregation! Last week our current students presented a short workshop to the session on how and how not to interview children for admission to membership. They had used a couple different sets of questions and interviewed a number of the church's children, filming the interviews and describing for the elders how some questions were poor and others helpful. At the bottom of their handout were questions Calvin used to catechize younger children in Geneva (where, incidentally, children began to be granted table fellowship at eight years of age).

I've said for some time that, following health insurance, a college degree will be the next basic human right our magnificent beneficent government decides to bestow on every citizen. Which will geld every man even before he gets to seminary. Seminary will be relegated to a mop-up operation.

So this is a manifesto to take pastoral training back from the schoolists and degreeists. Twain warned against allowing school to get in the way of an education and this is what churches today must wake up to. Seminaries have taken over the preparation of men for the ministry meaning schools have taken over the preparation of men for the ministry meaning men with the terminal degree have taken over the preparation of men for the ministry. And having spent most of my life in communities presided over by the Academy, I don't hesitate to repeat here what I've said regularly to graduate students: the process of getting a doctorate is really an assimilation process which is more about learning a certain soft tone of voice than learning any knowledge set or vocabulary.

It's this way with seminaries, also. We're happy to report, though, that the return of pastoral education and training to the local church is not something unique to Christ the Word in Toledo and Clearnote Church, Bloomington. All higher education is going through decentralization and seminaries are no exception. Nor is local training deficient, academically: men trained in these pastors colleges have sustained ordination exams and been ordained by presbyteries in several Reformed denominations, including the PCA. So yes, there is a good alternative.

Speaking personally, I can't imagine how much more useful I would have been had I been able to be trained in this way. So if you want to prepare for pastoral ministry, do look into training in a local church under pastors and elders who aren't schoolmen, but rather churchmen. It makes a world of difference to your helpfulness in ministry. And that's what shepherds ought to have as their highest aspiration: to serve their flock in a way that is helpful. Not studied or bookish or intelligent or pulpiteerish or brilliant, but simply helpful.

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(For more information: Reformed Evangelical Pastors College and Clearnote Pastors College.)

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!