Worthy of the Best
By: Alistair Brown
One or two thought my opening blog wasn’t much of a blog and was more like a sermon. Well, it wasn’t supposed to be a sermon, but I was trying to say something fundamental, something at the heart of our Christian experience and attitudes. Besides, I think blogging something you believe strongly does have a lot in common with preaching. If not then there’s a lot wrong with preaching.
A question I really ask myself is this: If I was just beginning to work out a call to Christian ministry, would I enroll at a seminary like Northern?
I don’t jump automatically to an answer. That’s because I can remember what it was like when I was 19 or 20, sensing that call and wanting desperately to get on with Christian service as soon as possible. I wanted a quick hit of education and training, and then I’d go and win the whole world to Christ. No lack of ambition; a great lack of humility.
My rush for a training quick-fix was stopped by a wise man who told me, “The work and the Master are worthy of the best”, and he laid out a plan for me that involved years of study. I sensed God’s voice to me in his words, and in the end my preparation took even longer than he suggested. I have never regretted a day of it, and I didn’t know then how each part of my study would prove useful as the years went past.
I’m disturbed, then, when I find people in Christian leadership roles with an “education-lite” approach. Some think little to no training is needed. Some want just enough for accreditation. It’s as if only the call matters, and developing knowledge, skills and character to match the call are optional. They’re not.
Here are a few of my concerns:
God really does deserve our best. The words said to me years ago were true. How can we believe in the greatness of our God and the importance of his work and imagine that he’s okay with us just doing the basics in order to serve him? That makes no sense to me.
God’s people really do deserve our best. Would I visit a doctor who’d done half a course of study? Would I engage an architect who hadn’t been through a full degree? I wouldn’t. So why should God’s people be led by someone who has stopped short?
What’s enough to get you started isn’t enough for the long term or when the going gets tough. No one-time training will ever be sufficient for decades of ministry, and no training covers every complex difficulty that will arise. But there can be training which gives a depth of knowledge, understanding and personal development that makes a critical difference insuring that ministry is vibrant, relevant, thoughtful and wise. Not just for year one but through all the years.
When times are tough, it’s harder to give time to training but it’s more important to give time to training. Many churches are struggling. Pastors are often in short supply. It’s tempting to hurry people through training to get them out there. But cutting corners in preparation has a high price. It’s paid by pastors who break down with stress or weariness. And it’s paid by congregations who long for more than their pastor can give.
So I really would come to Northern Seminary. It’s not the only good seminary, but it’s the one I know best. I know the high academic standards, ministry-relevant training, deep emphasis on godly personal development, and a faculty grounded in biblical faith and with passion for the gospel.
There will always be someone who avoided all kinds of formal training and seems to do well. That’s true in ministry and other professions. Often their ‘success’ doesn’t last, but even when it does there are exceptional factors at work in their life. They are not the model for most of us. And there is no one who achieves great things for God without lots of determination and very hard work.
People with determination and a heart to work for God, for God’s people and for mission to the world are exactly the students I want at Northern Seminary.