Should Seminary Professors Also Pastor Their Students?

Currently I am reading through Paul Tripp’s latest book, Dangerous Calling. It is a diagnostic book about the anemic culture surrounding the pastorate. The marketing for this book piqued my interest. While it is targeted mainly for pastors, it also invites anyone who is concerned with a healthier environment for our pastors to read.

Some of the stories that Tripp shares are devastating. He spends some serious space on the whole environment of seminary. I was amazed by the struggles that he reveals many of his students were having with serious sins as they were about to graduate and become pastors. Tripp argues that seminary has become so academic that students are being deceived that right knowledge equals spiritual maturity. He makes some very good points in this area, asking the question, Have we accomplished our training task if we produce generations of graduates who have big theological brains but tragically diseased hearts? (52). At first I thought that was a rhetorical question, but as I read the rest of the paragraph I began to wonder, What is the specific training task of a seminary professor?

Tripp suggests that seminary professors should also have a pastoral role with their students. In some ways, I agree. In others, I shutter at the thought. Many professors, like Tripp, were also pastors at one time. It makes sense to me that they will always be “pastoral” in some sense, and that isn’t a bad thing. I totally understand his concern that these professors are merely pumping heads with knowledge for the pastorate while ignoring the heart. But is it the professor’s job to pastor a student’s heart? Should it be?

What scares me is the professor replacing the actual pastor. These students should all be connected to a local church where they are being pastored. One valid concern that Tripp raises in this area is that most likely, the students are new to the church in the town of their seminary, and this is only a temporary membership anyway. The next thing you know, they are being sent to pastor a church of their own. That made me wonder about the purposefulness of the pastor and congregation that the student belonged to when they received the call into pastoral ministry. Shouldn’t they keep this parishioner under their wing and continue to shepherd him—even with a physical distance? This would involve the pastor from the original church staying in contact with the seminary student in a very intentional way. It would mean getting to know the new pastor that will be shepherding him from the church in the town of the seminary. And these new, temporary pastors of students in seminary towns have quite a responsibility. But isn’t it a very noble one? Isn’t it the mission of the church to be ambassadors of the gospel?

And yet the sphere of the seminary is a tricky one. They don’t operate under the same institution as the church, and yet they are to help equip ministers for the church. I thought their role was mainly educational, but Tripp does reveal some major holes. My estimation is that the holes are primarily in the church itself. If the church was faithful in it’s responsibility, a seminary student should be receiving plenty of spiritual care. Seminary should be the specialized, educational cherry on top.

But I’m only kidding myself if I say that the education that you get in seminary is mere knowledge. How can you teach the beauty of God’s Word without worshipful praise? How can you study God’s Word without either growing in grace or being hardened by rebellion? There’s nothing neutral about it.

So what do I do with Tripp’s assertion that seminary professors must preach and pastor their students? In some ways, even secular teachers take on a shepherding role. It goes with the job. When Tripp says, “I am suggesting that seminary professors become committed to making community with their students and that they always teach with the heart in view and the transforming power of the gospel as their hope” (56), I certainly don’t disagree. But a good teacher of anything should be committed to making community with their students. So this should be a “duh statement” for a seminary professor. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be the case.

All teachers should be shepherding in some sense. Shame on those who don’t. My husband teaches fourth grade in the public schools and his cares extend well beyond each child’s ability to turn a fraction into a decimal. Nonetheless, a seminary professor is handling the Word of God. What is their connection to the church? Whose shepherding their heart?

What do you think? Should churches be more involved with the seminary? Should a seminary professor also pastor their students? How can we make a better culture for an aspiring pastor in training?

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10 Comments

Thanks for sharing your

Thanks for sharing your experience with this, Kate. Sadly, I've been hearing similar stories from other seminary students. I really see this as an area where the church needs to step up, as well as awareness raised in the seminaries. It sounds like you are using your experience to help others.

Hi there! A friend recently

Hi there! A friend recently passed along your blog info, and I've been enjoying reading it. This post really struck me, and I would love to read the book. My husband (a pca pastor) and I both received seminary degrees just over 8 years ago, and unfortunately the shepherding was almost completely lacking. The church we became members of seemed overwhelmed and at a loss with how to minister to all the seminary students, and almost all of our professors never sought students out. The culture of our seminary was not one where the administration/professors were required to foster community and shepherding/discipleship. I am so (SO!) thankful for my time in seminary, but this was such a blind spot, on the part of the school. And I confess I did not seek out relationships like I should/could have.

We've recently been counseling a few individuals and couples who want to attend seminary, and we've really tried to encourage them to go in the direction of schools that are known to and have a track record of shepherding students. We have heard some wonderful examples of professor-shepherding from fellow seminary graduates of other schools.

As for the sending churches, I think most don't think about this topic. I think most church members believe the student's new church and the school will step up to the shepherding task.

Glad to have "found" your site!

Very interesting post, with a

Very interesting post, with a lot of good questions that are somewhat difficult to answer. There was a day when seminaries were far more connected with churches, especially in the Presbyterian world where we believe in regional and local churches. But with the exception of Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary, it seems almost every seminary goes liberal within a generation or two. This has made, even Presbyterians, hesitant of building seminaries (e.g. OPC which in light of Princeton never established a denominational seminary).
I'm a seminary student who has been somewhat disappointed on both fronts. Initially I received little to no support from a local church when I began my studies. I was kind of patted on the back and told, "Pass seminary, then we'll talk." Thankfully, at that time, the seminary I was attending was rather committed to the teachers pastoring the students, and I found this to be a great boon. Now the roles are reversed! I'm in a new denomination that is very committed to discipiling seminary students in very personal and helpful ways. But our seminary has changed with the hiring of a spiritual dean which, in my estimation, has actually accomplished the exact opposite of what they intended. Students feel as though the relationships with the professors is now more on teacher/student plane.
The answer? Well, from an overly idealistic seminary student, churches on a denominational level, need to establish seminaries where their students can attend where there is both a high level of academic excellence, and pastoral shepherding. In this way, seminary becomes a particular form of shepherding for those who feel the call to the ministry.

[...] Should Seminary

[...] Should Seminary Professors also Pastor their Students Who’s responsible for pastoring students? Seminary professors, local church pastors, or both? [...]

These comments are so

These comments are so helpful. I love it when I'm out running around for the day and have such great reflections to come home to. Thank you for your input. Some of your examples are very encouraging, which is refreshing as I am reading this book.

"All teachers should be

"All teachers should be shepherding in some sense." Right, because if the teacher does not include shepherding I'm not sure we are really talking about teaching in the classical sense.

As for seminaries, they are just one component of the church universal aren't they? I think historically you would have been hard-pressed to find a seminary that was not under the official umbrella of a formal church structure. Nowadays, though, that is not the case and I think we've lost something important.

I have appreciated watching

I have appreciated watching my home church send men to seminary - it was the church that saw the gifting, not a man just thinking he was gifted. Because the church sent him they had more of a care over his life. It has been a blessing to see the results.

Aimee, as I read your blog

Aimee, as I read your blog post, my thoughts went straight to a small classical Christian college in Northern Idaho. Their commitment is to always keep the college small. Why? Because they want the students to get to know their professors. They want the theology that the professors teach to leak out their professorial fingertips straight into the hearts and lives of their students. Does the school encourage, even require, each student to participate in a local body of believers? Yes they do, so the school is not in any way detracting from the role the Church (proper) plays in the life of the student. The professor is simply pouring his life into the lives of his students in such a way that God is glorified and the kingdom of God increased.

I think that one of the biggest challenges we have in our culture today is pastors who do not pastor and leaders who don't lead. Such is not the case in this tiny community I've cited above. They have at least two excellent pastors who are consistently preaching and teaching the whole counsel of God. And a student at said school who was struggling in ANY significant way would be encouraged to go talk to his or her pastor about the struggle. The professor might walk alongside and provide counsel but he would not replace the pastor.

I haven't read Tripp's book but I think I'd like it. Any seminary that is educating the mind without emphasizing the importance of heart-surrender and costly obedience isn't worth attending, imho. God needs self-critical men in His pulpits proclaiming His truth, men who aren't afraid to acknowledge their sin and their own need for a Saviour, who quickly confess and resolve to cling to the Cross and to lead others in obedience to His Word no matter the cost. Perhaps, if seminaries were to heed Tripp's words, we would see the church begin again to transform the world with the goodness of the Gospel.

There is a lot of confusion

There is a lot of confusion in the world regarding education and teaching.

Especially in specialized realms such as Seminary, Music, Architecture, Art etc, etc.

I am, for the most part, discussing higher education and specialized degrees.

Some people believe you don't need to have practiced (been out in the "real world") to be a good teacher.

Some people think the best teachers are the ones who are currently VERY active in their chosen field.

The above two modes of thought are actually the exception to the rule.

Because:

1) How can you teach a specific field if you haven't gone out and participated in it?

2) If you are TOO active in your field how are you going to give your students the attention they deserve?

So what we should really want from educators in these types of fields (and ESPECIALLY Seminary!) is that they:

1) Seriously studied the field and the ART of teaching..;.because teaching is an art and discipline all to itself!

2) Went out for some period of time (how long is debatable!) and worked and practiced in the field so that they can form their own opinions and ideas of how to better educate future students.

3) They come back to teaching and dedicate themselves to teaching based on their own previous studies and their hands on practice in the field! This combines the best of both worlds, and serves to advance both the field and the pedagogy of that field!

4) After coming back to teaching they DO remain SOMEWHAT active in the field. (the amount of activity would be based on the person, teaching load etc. etc.) This modicum of activity allows them to retain their initial passion for the field, stay abreast of any new developments, and (most importantly) gives their students an active role model!

I think that the elders or a

I think that the elders or a local church or the session beyond that church should be the ones to meet with the student. If the student doesn't feel he is being nurtured properly, he shouild seek out mentors in the church or possibly in the faculty. I wouldn't want my seminary class grade to depend upon my professor who is also doing my marriage counseling. Every situation is different, however. My seminary professor now for a counseling class is also my pastor.