“I don’t need seminary training to be a minister.” At least, that’s what I told myself when I was in high school as I was considering my place in church. My Sunday school teachers had no official training. Most of the pastors I knew (which were shockingly few) had no training. God could use me just as I am. After all, the mission was simply to tell people about Jesus. How much training did one need to do that?
In college, I befriended an Iranian-born, Turkish-raised atheist named Sepi. I told Sepi about Jesus. Her reply was simply “my atheism works for me.”
That’s not what she was supposed to say.
She was so nice and cordial. So I tried a different angle. “People can’t just decide to follow whatever god or non-god they want to!”
“Why not?” Ha! I believed I had her now. I pulled out my cell phone and with an air of triumph said, “What if someone said this cell phone is god?” She replied, “Well, if that’s what works for them, sure.”
I walked away.
Barbara in the computer lab asked me how we could trust the Bible since it’s been translated 100s of times.
Ahmed in the tutoring center told me I followed the wrong prophet.
My roommate Brandon told me religion is stupid.
Among other things, college taught me that I was woefully unprepared to engage the world. “Making Jesus known,” implies also “making him understood.” To do that, I needed to know so much more about Jesus, the Bible, church history, theology, and this strange new thing I was dabbling in called apologetics. I needed to encounter objections to Christ in the classroom before getting steam-rolled by those same objections out in the field.
I had always said that Christianity had all the answer to life’s most difficult questions. However, I quickly realized I didn’t have answers myself or even knew the questions people were asking.
When I surrendered to the ministry, I was actually already actively involved in ministry. My surrender was a surrender to training for my future ministry. I had always believed that God would give me the right words to say, but now through training my mind, I would give the Spirit more to work with!
Thirteen years later, I look back and realize the danger of being a pastor with a heart full of love but a mind devoid of solid, defendable theology.
Because of my training, I have already heard almost every objection my congregants raise concerning Scripture, theology, ethics, politics, and the like
Because of my training, I have already encountered and studied other theologies my church members encounter for the first time and question me about.
Because of my training, I can tailor sermons to unasked questions many of the young people in the church are struggling with but are too ashamed to ask.
Because of my training, my mind has been sharpened and strengthened to not only compose strong arguments through sermons (and every sermon is essentially an argument for the congregation to believe something and act some way) but also to quickly and efficiently deal with objections or arguments I have not previously encountered.
Because of my training, I am confident in the answers that Christianity provides, and I am able to help other people gain that same confidence in a world that sends primarily one message: “Christianity is stupid.”
Southern Evangelical Seminary has played a vital role in my training by incorporating apologetic thought into every class of theology, history, and ministry. After every class I took, I always said, “I wish I had known that back then.” I wish I had known how to answer Sepi’s relativistic atheism (I do now). I wish I had known the one sentence that would have completely corrected Barbara’s misinformation (I do now). I wish I could have demonstrated to both Ahmed and Brandon how unsupported their positions were (I can now). I can do nothing for them now. But because of my training, I have a much longer list of new Sepis, Barbaras, Ahmeds, and Brandons to whom I have not only made Christ known, but have made Him understood.
One last thought. What if my Sunday school teachers had been trained? Do people need to answer a call to vocational ministry to get trained? Absolutely not. The call has already been given to both 1. teach them all that Jesus has commanded us (Matthew 28), and 2. do this by studying to show ourselves approved of God (2 Timothy 2:15). Through the Southern Evangelical Apologetics Lay Institute (SEALI), lay leaders and Sunday school teachers anywhere in the world can be trained and pass that training on to their church members for when they encounter their own Sepis and Barbaras in the world. SES is committed to evangelizing the world and defending the faith. If that is part of your mission, then SES can make you ready.
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