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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Preachers Reproducing Preachers

The following is a letter I wrote a couple of years ago in response to an article I read in a periodical I receive. The author of the article, who is associated with an Independent Baptist School, was arguing for formal training in an institutional setting. In doing so he made it clear that he did not feel a church/pastor trained preacher would have the advantages of those trained in an institution. I thought I would write and share my views with him. If this letter had been response to private correspondence on issues of a private nature I would not be sharing it here. But it was personal correspondence addressing publicly stated views not involving private matters.

I ran across this letter while I was searching for another earlier today. I reread it and thought it would be appropriate to share here for it express my views concerning preacher training. I do not believe I have the original article, If I did I would provide it for your consideration as well. I think you will be able to discern some of the arguments he presented from the things I address in my correspondence.

Although I expressed that he did not need to respond he did. His response was very friendly and cordial and very much reflected a Christian spirit. His return letter was the sum of our discussion of the issue.

I read with interest your recent article in the Independent Baptist Voice. I must admit having been trained in a local church under the mentoring influence of my pastor I was somewhat disheartened by your complete dismissal of Pastors training young men to be Pastors. It seems to me that a fairly easy and compelling argument can be made for this method from the New Testament. The pattern is clearly established of men imparting their lives to men, and all of this within the context of the local church and without the aid of an additional institution.

Your pressing for the need to be diversified is well taken but dismissing church training as a means to accomplish this is, in my opinion, distressing. I feel inadequate to address your conclusions considering your educational background, and length of ministerial duties.

I attended IBC for one year back in the early 80’s. I received my training from Bro. P. D. Taylor for 8 ½ years while I attended his church. I have now been pastoring the same church for over 15 years, my first church. I have spent a good number of those years training several men for the ministry and am presently working with one. While training young men was an unpleasant experience for you it has been one of my most gratifying experiences. I do not understand why you would say that your desire to train men was rooted in selfishness. Was Paul’s desire to train men rooted in selfishness or selflessness? Granted, it is possible to do anything out of selfishness and if you claim that is the reason that you did it then your assessment must be taken as accurate. Surely you do not believe that all men who feel a responsibility to train men are motivated by selfishness.

You indicate that had you been successful the four young men would have been clones. Well, again that is possible. But I would contend it is no better to be a clone of an institution than to be a clone of a man. The Hyles/Anderson School shows how a school has just as much potential to create clones, as do individual men. Likewise, men who are trained by their pastors are not necessarily clones of their pastors. While I was trained by Bro. P. D. Taylor I am far from being a clone, but I thank God for his influence in my life. There are many ways where Bro. Taylor and myself are quite different. If men are encouraged to study, read and are given the liberty to develop their own ministry styles then your concern about clones ceases to be substantiated.

I firmly hold to the scripture when it says in 2 Timothy 3:16,17 that, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” What men need is training in the Scripture. If they are thoroughly trained in the Scripture then they are “perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” What is important is that men are being equipped to view the culture through the Word of God instead of viewing the Word of God through the culture. While it is true that the world we live in has changed dramatically in the last 40 years the basic issue remains unchanged. Sinners need a saviour. There are probably more Bible Schools than there have ever been and yet the culture is still slipping toward anarchy and moral chaos. While it may be profitable to have a diversified exposure it is more profitable to train men who are prophet-like in their interaction with the culture. It is more important to train men to hear the voice of God. It is more important to train men in the importance of going to the “law and the testimony.”

I am troubled that you believe the disaster you encountered with the four young men you mentioned was a result of teaching them within the context of your Pastoral ministry. The implication seems to be that if they had attended an institution that the outcome would have been different. There is really no way to know that. Maybe it would have been maybe it would not have been. Maybe it would have been for some of them and for others not. I cannot look back on the one year I was attending IBC and the few years thereafter when I had closer connections with the school without a deep sense of sadness. I can think of at least eight individuals/couples who are divorced, out of the ministry, not attending Baptist churches, etc. What conclusions do we draw from this? Would we conclude that IBC was selfish in wanting to draw these young people away from their home churches and Pastors and was woefully unprepared for meeting the needs that existed in the lives of these people? Are we to conclude that IBC was led by arrogant people who thought they were better prepared to train men for the ministry than their own pastors. I believe that would be an unfair characterization. Likewise simply because some church trained men end up being disasters is more a reflection on the men than on the process. Even Paul had his Demas!

It has also been a troubling thing for me to hear, and I have heard it numerous times, from some men I highly respect, “There is not time in my Pastoral ministry for training men.” I simply cannot understand this. If part of Pastoral ministry is not reproducing Pastors I have a terrible misunderstanding of the New Testament ministry. My view, no disrespect intended, is that many men have skewed priorities when it comes to ministry. The ministry, as I understand it, is all about people: reaching them, teaching them, counseling them, preaching to them, equipping them, and yes training them.

It is ironic that my position on this issue is a result of what I learned at IBC. It was in Bro. Campbell’s class on Ecclesiology. In learning about the autonomy of the church and the great commission in the context of the local church I drew the conclusion that each church had been given the responsibility to teach its own membership all things. It does say that. If I was going to be a member at Pleasant Valley then Pleasant Valley had the responsibility, authority and all that was necessary to provide that training. After all they had the Bible and a Pastor. This seems to be a very strong, Biblical position. I determined that when it comes to the training of men a lot of Independent Baptists are inconsistent at best and hypocrites at worst. I happen to be familiar with a number of churches that are training their own men and producing some very notable results. It is being done in Emmaus, Pennsylvania; Grand Forks, North Dakota; Oak Harbor, Washington; Fairbanks, Alaska; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Ghana, West Africa; Panama; Bogotá, Columbia; and no doubt numerous other places. In fact churches have been doing it for 2,000 years now.

Another reason I believe we ought to have a healthy skepticism about centralized religious education is because this has been the means of the spread of apostasy to sound churches. Churches send their preachers to a centralized location, if apostasy creeps into the institution then a whole generation of preachers is corrupted and consequently the churches they end up Pastoring. If a single church begins to teach false doctrine then the impact is limited. I believe we see an excellent example of this in the Southern Baptist Convention. From which direction did the liberalism flow? From the churches to the colleges or from the colleges to the churches? I believe the answer is apparent.

I trust I have not been too forward. I have not written to change your mind on the subject but to briefly present my views for your thoughtful consideration. To each his own after all we are Independent Baptist. To the Lord we will each give account and the day of reckoning will be unbiased and according to truth. I also trust you will excuse my sensitivity to the subject but it is one, as with you I’m sure, that I hold very dearly.

I appreciate what Bro. Humphrey of Fairbanks, Alaska had to say when he was challenged by some about his determination to train his own men. He was accused of producing inbreds; he responded that they were producing thoroughbreds.

There is no need to feel obligated to respond to this communication. If you have the time and wish to respond it will be magnanimously received.

Respectfully Yours in Christ,

James C. McEntire, Jr.
Faith Baptist Church
Freeport, Texas

Let me add here that I do believe there is a place for a few good solid Independent Baptist schools. But I think they should, just as a missionary, be seeking to work themselves out of a job. They should be training men to train other men, including for ministry. This is often not the case. They train men to have a dependence on them to train the men that are called to preach under their ministries. Consequently the graduate often becomes a recruiting tool of the school instead of a preacher trainer in his own ministry.

My fullypersuaded opinion!
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