10 Things They Never Taught Me in Seminary

“It is impossible for seminaries to teach their students everything they need to know for future ministry.”

A pastor friend wrote a book called What They Never Taught Me in Seminary. I drew the cover and inside cartoons for him, which suggests he didn’t learn as much about discernment in school as he might have.

Preachers are always going on about what they didn’t learn in school, and what they should have learned. Some of the courses divinity schools now offer resulted from those very graduates mentioning subjects they felt they needed.

One required of all masters level grads of my seminary, the direct result of alums’ wishes, is called “Interpersonal Relationships.” I’ve taught it a few times myself.

Now, let’s point out up front that it is impossible for seminaries to teach their students everything they need to know for future ministry. What they are trying to do is prepare them with enough basic skills that they’ll be ready to face whatever comes. After all, the Holy Spirit is alongside each one to teach and instruct and guide.

All right. That said, like most pastors I do have my list. Here are the ones that come to mind.

1. My seminary never taught me about church finances.

How to plan a church budget, how to promote it, how to administer it or how to encourage people to tithe.

2. Seminary never taught me about balancing my marriage and my ministry.

Consequently, mine was seriously out of balance from the start. Without a strong wife and several good counselors who talked straight to both of us, our marriage would not have survived and thus our ministry would have failed.

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3. Seminary never taught me how to find mentors or how to become one.

4. While our seminary classes warned students about sexual improprieties and adultery, not one word was said as to what should be done after a minister crosses that line.

Is there life after this kind of failure, and if so, how does one find it?

5. How should a pastor deal with a wayward board of deacons?

Not a word on this or similar situations, like an inert group of deacons who do nothing and need direction.

6. How to administer a staff that includes both part-time and full-time ministers.

I took the prescribed courses on church administration, but mostly what I remember was the professor going on and on about the years he served on staff at a huge church in Texas. The how-to’s were nonexistent; the takeaways were nil.

7. The changing technological culture.

I smile at this, because in the mid-1960s there seemed to be no change and no technology. Church offices held rotary phones and a mimeograph machine, and that was about it. Bulletins were produced by print shops. Secretaries worked huge machines called “addressographs” to mail the bulletins out each week. In the sanctuary, we might erect a screen on a tripod to show slides. That and the microphones were our technology.

8. How to deal with termination.

How to help terminated ministers. How to terminate an ineffective minister. How to pick yourself up and screw your head on straight and re-enter the ring for another round. How to recover from failure.

9. How to train church members to share their faith.

True, we had courses on evangelism, but nothing like the practical stuff that would come along a few years later in programs like WIN Schools and Lay Institutes for Evangelism.

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10. How to understand our denomination.

How the denomination works and to what extent we should get involved and/or support its various outreaches. Are denominations biblical? What do we do when one jumps the tracks and becomes thoroughly unbiblical?

These days, seminaries are a far different than when I came through. In those days—the mid-60s—there were no off-campus extensions and nothing was done online. (No one even knew what “online” or “off-line” meant.) The degrees seminaries offered were the most basic, and there were only a few of those. Today, the list of offerings is amazing. At a graduation, you read the various degrees people are getting and you stand in awe; i.e., a master of theology with an emphasis in Islamic studies or an emphasis in missionary philosophy.

I am so grateful for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and its amazing faculty and administration. Our President, Dr. Chuck Kelley, is another in a long line of stable administrators who bring great vision and commitment to the ministry calling. I point with pride to that beautiful campus on Gentilly Boulevard in East New Orleans as my second home.

I owe this seminary far more than I can ever repay.

Joe McKeever spent 42 years pastoring six Southern Baptist churches and has been writing and cartooning for religious publications for more than 40 years. This article was originally published on McKeever’s blog.

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