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I love you, even if I don’t know you. I love you because you have chosen to do a very hard thing for the very best reason. I love you because you have given your life to being prepared to be excellent at a job for which you will be underpaid. I love you because I love the Church and she needs you.
It is for that last reason that I love you, that I love the Church and that she needs you that I am writing this letter. In the past year, the little church plant I pastor turned a corner, we went from drawing down the seed money the Lord graciously provided, to operating, very modestly, in the black. So having a second pastor here has gone from a pipe dream to a possibility, even if it is one that is still a few years away. As a result of this new condition, I have begun paying attention to you, to what you say in blog posts, podcasts, and on social media. I say this in love, too many of you need to get it together and get your priorities straight.
When I say too many of you need to get your priorities straight, I mean two things. First and most alarmingly I see and hear far too many comments about non-gospel issues. From outrage over executive actions, to advocating for political candidates to making comments on virtually every social movement you may find distasteful. If you desire to minister to the church effectively, you simply need to stop this, because it is not your job. Consider Paul’s inspired charge to his protégé Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:1-7,
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
Let me be clear, vocational ministry is battle, and you as a seminary student are in basic training. The time has come to put aside your public passion for electoral politics, libertarianism, economic philosophies, and everything else that is not a gospel issue. Furthermore, too many seminary students seem to think it is OK to insult, malign, or revile political leaders they disagree with, this is unambiguously sin. These are the inspired words of Peter (1 Peter 2:13-17):
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
If you fail to obey these commands, you are in sin. Period. If you feel comfortable publicly labeling one of the leaders of the country “spineless” (this is actually an insult, I read that a seminary student hurled at the Speaker of the House) how can I trust you to not sin publicly in any other way? How can I expect you to be a good faithful soldier of Christ to fight alongside me for the people whose care the Lord has entrusted to me? An inability to control your tongue (or your typing fingers) is simply unsoldierly. Don’t believe me, read article 88 of The Uniform Code of Military Justice:
“Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”
Now (this very second, not your seminary years) is the time to start acting like a soldier of Christ, and put aside civilian pursuits.
Secondly, you need to get your priorities straight when it comes to what you spend the most time on. Now I am not talking about focusing on your family, your job, obligations to your employer, and your studies, in that order, although much could be said here. What I am talking about is the focus on error I have observed in many seminary students. I get it, it is infuriating to see the word of God twisted and abused by those who claim the name of Christ, and it is heartbreaking to ponder the damage that false teaching does to so many, and that many are ushered into hell by men (and women) who are promising salvation. But error and outrage about error should not be what you meditate on and publically comment about. Paul put it this way:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)
Now of course I am not saying that you should be silent when there is error. What I am saying is that if you live in California, you are from a church in North Carolina and you are listening to and then sharing online a podcast that dissects an error laden sermon from a church in Minnesota, you are thinking, meditating, and speaking on the wrong thing. [If you are spending a lot of time being a consumer of “discernment ministries” you might want to read this.]
When someone comes to you to be comforted because their child is dying; or because they have a physical malady that causes constant suffering; or because they are in dire financial straits after being laid off; or because they are struggling with pornography; or because they are struggling with a rebellious child and fear for their soul; or for any number of the other reasons that believers seek the counsel and comfort of their pastors and elders you will realize that the hours you spent pondering and speaking about the myriad of obvious gross theological errors in The Circle Maker or in the preaching of (insert name of obvious heretic) have been utterly wasted.
Something that a well-seasoned pastor told me while I was in seminary has stuck with me. He pastored in a much different social context than I ever considered, and so his application of a principle I knew well pierced me to the core. He said to me “when a chicken blight strikes your county you need to have a word of comfort from Scripture for your people.” As much time as you have to listen to or read things not related your schooling should be spent preparing to minister to people. When a blight strikes the people you will one day minister to, they will need to hear from you about what is pure, honorable and lovely, not about what is wrong in Minnetonka. You need to fill your heart and mind with what is pure and lovely so that it can flow from your heart, out of your mouth and to the people you will serve. As error threatens the church you will serve, you will have plenty of time and opportunity to learn about and refute it. Now is the time to learn about and speak of and meditate upon the pure truth of God. Trust me, you will need it in ministry.
Finally let me say this to you. There is absolutely no shame in leaving seminary. In fact, if you realize that you are not fit for (see 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-5) or called to (does the local church affirm your perceived calling?) pastoral ministry the godliest thing you can do is to stop pursuing vocational ministry. Stick-to-it-ivness is not a Spiritual gift. The church needs lay elders, deacons, and servants of all stripes, and someone humble and mature enough to realize pastoral ministry is not for them and to act on that realization by leaving seminary and returning to the local church is sure to be a blessing to that church. Don’t think it is failure to not complete seminary, if you are not called to pastoral ministry.
Beloved, now is the time to think rightly about ministry and to begin living as a soldier of Christ. Ministry is more consuming and demanding that you imagine, if you don’t get your priorities straight now, it will be nearly impossible to correct them in the heat of battle. Now is the time.
I love you, I love the church and I know that she needs you. So I implore you, use your seminary years to become the kind of man the church needs. Start now, she needs you, pastors need you, and we are paying attention.