Seminary and Pastoral Character Formation (Miller)

 I’m convinced that face-to-face seminary training is a highly valuable part of the path to gospel ministry.  And of course rigorous studies are a very important part of seminary training.  Future pastors need to know the languages, systematic theology, church history, homiletics, and so forth.  But there is more to seminary than just increasing head knowledge.  A solid multi-year seminary education also benefits a future pastor’s character and conduct.  In other words, extended day-to-day and face-to-face interaction with fellow students and professors is a character shaping experience.  Seminary is for the head and heart of a future minister in Christ’s church.  Here’s how Samuel Miller put it:

…The discipline of the mind, and especially the heart, the temper, and the general character, is among the most important part of professional preparation (for gospel ministry).  …Even if the requisite amount of facts and principles could be crowded into the mind of a young man in six months, or even in six weeks, still one essential object of theological education would be unattained; which is casting the whole man, if I may be allowed the expression, into the proper mould for a minister of religion.  This includes the correction of bad habits; the formation of new and better habits; the gradual discipline and ripening of the intellectual powers; mellowing, softening, and at the same time invigorating, the graces of the heart; bringing down high thoughts of himself; ascertaining his own defects and foibles; learning the value of gravity (seriousness), self-command (self-discipline), prudence, and Christian dignity; studying human nature and the world; studying clerical character as it too commonly has been, and as it ought to be; in short, unlearning many things which have been learned amiss, and correcting many erroneous views, and juvenile propensities, which nothing but time, and suitable associations, accompanied with much observation, watchfulness, prayer, and conflict can possibly, under God, enable him to accomplish.

…If such a young man had read all the books in the world, and heard and treasured up all the learned lectures that were ever delivered, within these or any other walls, he would still be unfit to go forth as a minister of the Gospel – to be a teacher, and example, and a guide in the church of God.  Such a one needs the friendly hints, the fraternal counsel, the gentle Christian attention of a band of fellow students.  He needs to be taught by experience; to be admonished, and mortified, and humbled again and again, before he can be brought to ‘think soberly,’ to feel what his own defects and foibles are, and to acknowledge that others are greater and better than himself; before he can learn habitually to respect the feelings of others, to treat all around him with a delicacy, to be ‘swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.’ And all this is not, ordinarily, to be acquired in a year or in two years.  It is, usually, a slow process; and the longer it can be continued, within reasonable limits, the better.

Samuel Miller, as quoted in “An Able and Faithful Ministry, pages 178-179.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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