After almost two years of prayer and conversation with my wife, I finally decided to enroll at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS). There are at least three reasons why I’m excited to go back to school.
1) A new partnership designed for vocational pastors
Sovereign Grace Ministries and SBTS recently established a partnership agreement enabling SGM pastors to apply credit from our one-year Pastor’s College program toward a Masters of Divinity at Southern. Besides the transfer credit, SBTS is granting SGM pastors the same tuition rate as a pastor from a Southern Baptist church. Did I mention SBTS is also at the forefront of educational entreprenuership among orthodox, American seminaries? Thanks to a combination of online and modular classes, I’ll only be traveling to the main campus in Louisville, KY twice a year for a week of intensive lectures until I complete my degree 2-3 years from now.
2) The priority of continued theological education
Pastoral ministry is by nature word-centered. If a pastor is to remain faithful to his divine calling, the substance of his ministry must not be the designs of man, no matter how clever, but rather the unchanging revelation of God. Lose the word, and a pastor becomes nothing more than a self-help guru with a spiritual twist. Study the word, retain the word, articulate the word, and he wields a weapon that is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).
The Apostle Paul knew as much. So he exhorted a young pastor named Timothy “to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). God cares big-time about how I handle the word as a pastor, and so do the professors at SBTS. Whether church history with Dr. Thomas Nettles or New Testament Interpretation with Dr. Thomas Schreiner, I’m convinced the faculty will equip me to more effectively preach the word of God to the church I love the most.
3) The benefit of spending time outside your immediate ministry context
I’ve either attended or pastored a Sovereign Grace church for the last 28 years. I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. My convictions, practices and inclinations as a pastor are result of many years of faithful investment on the part of my parents, SGM pastors, and the members of Kingsway. Their influence has been an incalculable blessing. But SGM isn’t the only act in town. Far from it. Like any orthodox denomination, we have our strengths and weaknesses. We’re far from perfect. Which is why I believe there’s wisdom in learning from professors and pastors outside of SGM who can stretch, challenge, and deepen my understanding and application of the gospel.
The Bottom Line
For all these reasons, I think of graduate education as a good friend and a bad god. A Master of Divinity degree will support and strengthen my ministry at Kingsway. It’s a good friend. But it’s not my savior as a pastor (Col. 1:12). The future of our church doesn’t ultimately depend on me acquiring another degree (Matt. 16:18). It’s a bad god. Pastors are not professionals and churches are not saved by education. They’re saved by Jesus Christ and him alone. Just ask a famous fisherman named Peter. He seemed to do pretty well for himself and the church he led without any letters after his last name.
So pray for me. I need God’s help to be a Christian, husband, father, pastor and student in that order. Pray my mind will readily grasp Greek and Hebrew. Pray I’ll be able to read quickly and retain what’s most important. Pray God will use these classes to make me more like the Great Shepherd. His glory matters most. If an Mdiv helps this jar of clay hold forth the treasure of Jesus, it will be time well spent.