M.Div., Pastoral Ministry emphasis
Why did you come to Westminster?
I was a youth minister in Alabama for six years, and I knew I wanted to go into seminary. Over the course of two years, my wife and I began to explore different seminaries, we went to four, and talked to several others. When we came up here, we noticed that there was a tremendous respect for being scholarly, but that was also paired with being practical.
There were a couple of things that drew us; one was the counseling program, as well as the academic rigorousness. Since I was a youth minister for 6 years I had already had some experience in a local church, on a pastoral staff, and being in the lives of other people, but my greatest need was the in-depth understanding of the languages, and other academic things. I was even warned by other places that “this will make you a scholar, but it won’t make you a pastor.” But we have found that that’s not true at all. In fact, after our first year of coming here (my wife is in the MA counseling program), we both agreed that our marriage was better because of Westminster than it was before. So we have tremendously benefitted from coming here. We’re both southerners, and we were actually excited about coming up to the north, just to experience a different culture. It has really exposed some pride, some self-righteousness, and you can really see some of the weaknesses of your own culture when you visit another culture.
Were there any professors that influenced your decision to come here?
To be honest, I knew more about the history with Machen, and had read some of his books, more than I had read the current professors. But it has been outstanding. There have been times where, sitting in Old Testament History and Theology for example, where I have literally thought “this was worth the move from Alabama,” just to hear this emphasis of the Gospel.
What are some of your hopes for after graduation?
I would love to be a senior pastor eventually; but I would love, after graduation, to go be under a senior pastor and learn how to shepherd the flock.
Joshua Chamberlain during the Civil War actually had the degrees to take a higher promotion on the battlefield because of his academic accomplishments, but he knew hid didn’t have the training. So he said, “I won’t take that position unless you let me train under a Westpoint General.” And, because of that, he was able to turn the tables in one of the most decisive battles during the Civil War. I always thought that was a great model for pastoral leadership: humbling ourselves to be trained by other men, not just in the academic realm, but how do I lead a session? So my hope would be that I could go somewhere and learn for a couple of years after seminary. How do I relate to people in a way that builds them up?
How have you found the Westminster education beneficial, not only for knowledge about the scriptures, but also for practical knowledge?
After the first semester, I thought the way you pastor a church was entirely based on the way you study Hebrew. And I still hold to that, because when Libbie Groves teaches you Hebrew, she says “here’s the vision for the entire semester, here’s what you have to do every day in order to accomplish that vision, and if you try to anything apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, you will fail.” And I thought, that’s how you lead people! You give them a vision, you equip them every step of the way with the practical things that they can do each day by helping them fix their eyes on Christ, and then full reliance on the Holy Spirit. That seems to be just as much how you pastor a church as you teach Hebrew.
What are your interactions with other students like?
It’s been great. There was a study group in the spring of eight students, and seven different nationalities represented. That just shows me the diversity in the kingdom of God, even here in the midst of preparing for seminary. We’re all young, and sometimes that can be dangerous too because knowledge puffs up, but love builds up, and sometimes there can be that prideful, youthful arrogance that can actually more hinder the growth of the church than advance it. But, overall you see men and women who are trying to humbly find out how to share Jesus with other people and grow in their own relationship with Jesus. It’s been really refreshing. And there is a great community feel, my wife has actually found some of the closest friends she’s ever had during her time here at seminary.
How have you found the mentored ministry program here?
When I first heard about the program, I wasn’t too thrilled. “By the way, in addition to everything else you’re gonna learn here, you’ve got to find 400 hours to serve, and pretty much for free.” So that’s taking away pretty much any opportunity for income, especially when you are married, and that’s big.
But this summer, I was able to work under a pastor that was planting a church, and it had grown in 10 months from 80 people to 1200 people. He had been a pastor for 20 years, and this was his first church plant, first time as a senior pastor, and it was invaluable. It was phenomenal to see him work with the elders, to see him be such a humble man, but yet godly, and to be a decisive leader at the same time. That was just as valuable as some of my other classes.
What would you say to someone that is considering possibly going into seminary?
I would have them consider a couple of things. One, do they have an internal call with an external call. Is there anyone else that agrees that they should go to seminary, especially in the church, elders, pastors?
Also, what’s their vision for seminary? It seems that sometimes the end goal is not just knowledge, it’s to make disciples. We’re here to spread the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea, and it’s good to be equipped, and I would never stop anybody from coming to learn this information, because it does transform your life, the Lord uses it to bring about great change in his kingdom. But I’d also ask them “why do you want to come?”
Another thing is that I would ask them where they are financially. I’m gonna take a verse out of context, but don’t start building your tower without counting the cost first. So I would highly encourage people to come, but I would ask them to wisely seek out Godly wisdom, and especially come under care in some kind of support system that can pray for them; that could encourage them, because it can be lonely; and also one that can financially contribute to their needs. I don’t understand why people go through seminary alone if they are committed to a covenant community.
What would you say to a first-year student about the work that they are doing?
The thing I would emphasize the most, is always remember the Gospel. It can be really easy at this point to forget the basics: simple stuff like reading your Bible, praying, going to church, the basic means of grace. Just remember that it’s about communion with God, fellowship with the Spirit, rejoicing in the Son. This is a thank offering for the redemption that we have, empowered by the Spirit. The end goal is not to finish a paper, the end goal is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Now is probably the time that that can really be lost, because the paper’s gonna come, the test is gonna be there, and you really have to focus your eyes on Christ, even in the midst of those stresses, more than anything else. Also, recognize where the Lord has you, it is a privilege. Sometimes I’ll think about all the people that have ever lived on the face of the planet, how many people get to experience what I’m experiencing right now?