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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Training Men!

Yesterday I received a little paper called, Independent Baptist College Alumni Announcer. I am familiar with the Independent Baptist College. I attended there one year (1981-1982). I did not graduate but opted rather to be trained by the pastor where I was attending church.

There was a short article in the paper entitled Called To Preach by Dixon Myers, Vice President of Independent Baptist College. I do not know Bro. Dixon that well. I did visit with him over lunch a few years back at a Bible conference we attended together. I enjoyed our visit and his passion. I also heard him preach at the conference and was challenged by the message, I thought him to be a good preacher with some good convictions. I have no reason not to respect Bro. Dixon and what little I know about him I appreciate.

Nevertheless, I do want to take exception to some of the things he wrote in this short article. The article was mostly about preparing for ministry, more than the call to ministry. This is of course not surprising seeing he is the Vice President of a Bible School.

In order for people to see for themselves the context of the points to which I take exception I include the entire section dealing with preparing men for the ministry.

"Our first inclination is to want to keep them right there in our church and watch them grow and serve the Lord with this new zeal that comes with a genuine call to preach. They are like a dry sponge and quickly soak up everything we teach and peach and are constantly hungry and thirsty for more spiritual food. That inflates our ego. Yes! We all have that ego problem to some degree or other. It is true that he can be trained by the pastor alone or even accept a pastorate right away and learn by the hard bumps that are always a part of learning by experience and self training. We should ask ourselves if that is what is best for the newly called preacher in need of some high quality training for that serious work of the ministry.

The matter of the amount of time spent for training is also of vital importance. Some will drop out of Bible College saying; 'Jesus is coming soon and I must get into the harvest field now.' It is true, there is always urgency about winning the lost, but it is also true that a thoroughly sharpened ax will save both time and energy in chopping down a tree. Proper training costs a little time but saves a lot of time over the long run of a man's ministry. The most talented and experienced pastor still has all his pastoral responsibilities and can give only a very limited amount of time to training the young preacher. When Jesus himself trained the twelve for the ministry he had them with him in training 24-7 for 3 or more years. What pastor today thinks he can train them in less time than Jesus did? A good scripturally sound Bible college is the most time efficient way to get the needed training.

One of the books we use in our missions courses is entitled: Getting Ready to Go. Lynn Raburn the author gave this personal illustration in the introduction: 'When I entered basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, the United States was still embroiled in the conflict in Viet Nam. It was presumed that most of those who passed through the training at that military post would fight in the jungles of Southeast Asia. With that in mind, the drill instructors hardened our muscles and sharpened our fighting skill to prepare us for the warfare in which we would engage. They were getting us ready to go. It would have been disaster if they had shipped us into the battle zone without proper training. We would have endangered ourselves, and our comrades and the military venture as a whole. Regardless of whether it was enjoyable or not, the preparation we endured was essential.'

Brethren, God is still calling men into the ministry and they still need to be trained. Someone will have a great influence on the training they get or fail to get. You may have a lot more influence than you think you have. Don't be hesitant to try to direct them to IBC. You received good training here and so can they. Thanks for your help.

Dixon Myers, Vice President"

First of all I don't think there is any disagreement about the need for training. I think most preachers realize the essential nature of training for ministry. Most would see the obvious problems associated with newly called men assuming major ministry responsibilities. The Scripture even relates that for a person to be qualified for the ministry he cannot be a novice. Here we agree.

There is an underlying assumption here that the only effective way to be trained is by going to Bible college. What is the basis for this assumption? Whatever it is I believe it can be easily undermined by a couple of pertinent points. One, there are many men who have been trained in their local churches under the watchful eye of their pastors who have proven themselves quite capable. The evidence shows that it can be an effective method of preacher training. Two, there are many men who have been trained in Bible college who have proven they are not capable and able ministers of the New Testament. The evidence shows that Bible college training is not necessarily an effective method of preacher training.

Bible college is often, possibly unintentionally, billed as a panacea in the area of preacher training. The effectiveness of the training is largely going to depend on the character and commitment of the one being trained. Do they have a humble, teachable spirit? Do they have good study habits? Do they have a genuine call?

As for an ego problem, it is admitted that "We all have that ego problem to some degree or another." Well if this is true, then it can be applied just as easily to the administrators of a Bible college as it can to Pastors of local churches who are committed to training their own men. Are we to believe that egos are not fed by increasing enrollment, expanding budgets, sprawling complexes, and the fact that churches everywhere are sending their young men to us for training. Quite honestly, this seems to be a more fertile environment for pride and the stroking of one's ego than the context of the local church. But really when we begin to speak of egos and pride we are striking at the heart of motives and why people do what they do. To imply that pastors who train their own men are doing so for ego sake borders on being uncharitable. Is it true that some pastors train men for the sake of ego? No doubt it is! But that does not suggest a problem with the method but with the man.

It is offensive that a pastor training his own men is equated with encouraging a man to accept a pastorate right away upon being called to the ministry. The implication is that a pastor "alone" training his own men is the same as no training at all. This is guilt by association and a forced association at that. Simply because rhetoric is employed to make the two equivalent does not make it a reality.

Men that are church trained are not trained by the pastor "alone". There seems to be a complete dismissal of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is not teaching and shaping the man it matters little where he gets his training. I don't think anyone would argue for training from a Bible college alone. The active agent of change is the Holy Spirit! The ultimate teacher is the Holy Spirit! The source of passion is the Holy Spirit! Ultimately we run great risk by looking to either Bible college or pastors as the great agent of change, the ultimate teacher, or the initiator or passion. If the Spirit of God is in it and the trainee is committed and living a Spirit filled life we would expect great success in the context of the local church with the pastor guiding in the training. If the Spirit of God is not in it and the trainee is not committed and living a Spirit filled life then no Bible college in the world will suffice.

Every one is for sharpening the ax to use Bro. Dixon's analogy. The Bible even addresses that at least in concept. Pr 27:17 - Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend. It is personal relationships that sharpen the iron. Yet, it is implied that the pastor "alone" is the same as no training at all. A man's countenance is sharpened by a friend. Who is in a greater position to be a friend to the newly called preacher than his own pastor? Who is in a greater position to sharpen the countenance of the newly called preacher? Who will have more concern for the newly called preacher than his own pastor? Instead we are encouraged to send him to a place where he likely knows few if any of the men who will be his instructors. Can he get to know this new group of people, of course he can. But tell me again why this is necessary?? Why this is better??

"The most talented and experienced pastor still has all his pastoral responsibilities and can give only a very limited amount of time to training the young preacher."

My perspective causes me to immediately perceive the contradiction in this statement. Training is about including the young preacher in the pastor responsibilities. Where in the New Testament is there this dichotomy of pastoral responsibilities and training the young preacher. I think this reveals a serious misunderstanding about ministry. It is, I might add, an understandable misunderstanding. The concept of sending off young men to some centralized location for Bible training has become entrenched in people's thinking. In the process, training men has been divorced from pastoral ministry. It is an area where reconciliation needs to take place.

What Bible college today thinks it can train men in less time than Jesus did. I do not know of a Bible college anywhere that the students stay with instructors or administrators 24-7. If it was 24-7 for three years that is not the same as a few hours in class every day. If that is the standard then Bible colleges too are failing. Yet most Bible colleges leave the impression that after three or four years of schooling the young men are now prepared to enter the ministry. Maybe they are maybe they are not?? What makes a Bible college think it can do in four years, a few hours a day what Jesus did in three years? It seems to me that the training process, in most cases, should naturally take a bit longer than 3 or 4 years.

I think Bible colleges like IBC serve a useful purpose. Many pastors today have lost the vision for training men and have been made to feel incapable of doing so. Consequently the need for someone to do it. Unfortunately most Bible colleges perpetuate the problem instead of seeking to work themselves out of a job in a generation or two by training men to train men, yes preachers. They send the graduates away saying send us your young preachers. I would hate to think this had anything to do with ego.
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