Why would someone choose to be trained for ministry by doing an apprenticeship rather than going to seminary? In one word, relationship. It is our firm conviction that true discipleship cannot happen without this key component. While it may be possible to build relationships with professors in seminary, the nature of seminary as an academic institution makes forming and maintaining these relationships difficult. Many professors in academic institutions are not pastors to begin with, and schools are not setup to ensure that teachers and students share life and ministry together. What is truly needed to train the next generation of pastors is to heed the admonition given by Paul to Timothy in 2nd Timothy 2:2, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
Notice the model that Paul lays out. It's really quite simple. Timothy had the responsibility to train up the next generation of leaders, and then they had the responsibility to train the next. No organization is created to carry out this key component of Christ's church being built. Paul doesn't instruct Timothy to form a team to round out the education of those being taught. He doesn't create an institution. It is not that these things are wrong. But often they can take away from the simplicity of what training for pastoral ministry is to be about, a teacher who has personal responsibility to entrust the truth and their lives into students.
In a typical seminary environment, no one is responsible for walking with the students in life and ministry to see how they are thinking through and applying the knowledge that they are learning in the classroom. This is not to say that the teachers in seminary don't care about their students. They certainly do. But when the teachers are not discipling and walking with students on a daily basis, we are not teaching as we should. We personally know and have seen the tension of teaching in schools for many years and being conflicted about not being deeply involved in most of our student's lives.
As Paul goes on to tell Timothy in 2nd Timothy 3:10-11, “Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings.” Paul didn't just teach Timothy information. Timothy saw Paul's life. It's the same thing that Paul emphasizes to the church at Philippi in Philippians 4:9, “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things...”
There is something powerful about an example that clearly communicates and applies theoretical truth. And so the model that Paul lays out for Timothy is a simple one, a model of multiplication. Through close relationship Paul invested in Timothy, and Timothy was to invest and entrust his teaching and life into those who would do the same. This is what Jesus did, what Paul did, and what Paul instructs Timothy to do. There really is no other model that we see in Scripture for how the next generation of leaders is to be trained other than the model of apprenticeship/mentorship/discipleship.
No matter how intelligent we are, it is always difficult to understand how to take theory and apply it in all of life. But every truth in the Bible is meant to be applied. Every truth is meant to change key aspects of our worldview that influence multitudes of decisions every day. Many times it is seeing someone do, live, or act a certain way that makes truths come alive for us. In our proud human nature all of us have blind spots, areas where we haven't applied God's Word to our lives. And so study and life must go hand in hand to truly understand what Scripture is seeking to communicate, which is always more Christlikeness.
One key problem is that we do not ask the Bible the right questions, unless we are in the right contexts. If we are in the ivory tower, it is inevitable that we will ask ivory tower questions. That is our context, that is what we are thinking about. But while the Bible does answer many ivory tower type questions, those were not primarily the types of questions that the Bible was written to answer. It is not to say that we shouldn't study the Bible deeply and rigorously. We should. But we should study the Bible deeply to understand how to deal with people. The Bible was written to deal with real life: People's thinking, hearts, and lives. The Bible should change our worldview and motives. It should teach us how to live consistent with the gospel in whatever context we are in. So we propose that our study of Scripture cannot be divorced from diligently seeking to apply the truth in the context of ministry as we study.
Notice what Jesus says in Luke 6:40, “A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.” This is part of Jesus' Sermon on the Plain. He has just taught His disciples what it truly means to be His disciple, and has laid out not only the Kingdom values of those who follow Him, but also the application of those values shown in loving our enemies. As Jesus concludes this sermon in 6:39-49, He drives home the point that it is completely useless to hear His words and not put them into practice. Jesus emphasizes that true learning cannot stay theoretical. Every true disciple will not just know what his teacher knows, but actually be like his teacher. Every time we hear a truth and don't put it into practice, we haven't truly learned that truth. So please don't go and study from someone who you don't want to emulate. True disciples will be like their teachers, and so must be those who practice what they learn in following their mentor's teaching and life.
Lastly, if we look at the qualifications for elders in the Pastoral Epistles, we see that Paul was more concerned about character than anything else. This is not to say that other things aren't important. But if we are truly going to train pastors for ministry, we must ensure that our focus is on how they are applying the truths of Scripture to their lives.
Why classroom instruction?
Now before you object and claim that thorough Biblical and theological education are needed to train for ministry, we will simply affirm that statement. When we are talking about an apprenticeship, we are not merely talking about practice without theory. We need both.
Paul emphasizes the need for careful and thoughtful study of the Word. In 2nd Timothy 2:15 he says, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” So we have designed an apprenticeship that includes rigorous study. We regard rightly handing God's Word as a serious and weighty responsibility.
All pastors must be able to “exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). All pastors must be “apt to teach” (1st Timothy 3:2). All pastors must retain the standard of truth and guard the gospel (2nd Timothy 1:13-14). All pastors must always be ready to preach the Word, to reprove, rebuke, and exhort with great patience and instruction (2nd Timothy 4:2). And all pastors must pay close attention to both themselves and their teaching (1st Timothy 4:16). Since it is Scripture that equips us for every good work (2nd Timothy 3:17), all pastors must be thoroughly taught the Word of God and how to rightly divide it. So yes, we agree that serious, intentional, didactic, academic teaching of the Word is necessary. And yes, many churches that emphasize the need for 'practical' training neglect or minimize rigorous study. But we are not one of them.
As part of our apprenticeship program, students will go through a full 93 unit seminary equivalent program that includes both Hebrew and Greek, walking through the entire Bible exegetically, and practical ministry classes. But this is done with teachers who are also their pastors, walking alongside students in life and ministry.
So as you consider how and where to train for ministry, yes, consider how to get the tools and deep, rigorous Biblical training that will prepare you for a life of ministry. But also consider how you are going to be discipled? Remember that every student, when they are fully trained, will be like their teacher. Go to learn from someone you want to emulate. Who is going to walk with you as you learn to put theology into practice? Where are you going to go so that you can regularly have conversations around the dinner table about the implications of the things you are learning? Are you going to regularly be in the home of your teacher and see how he treats his wife and children? Are you going to be trained by someone in the classroom who takes you into counseling meetings so that you can learn how to apply theology in daily life? Are you going to be given responsibility in ministry and then walked with step by step and given encouragement and direction as you learn? In short, will your teacher be able to say, “you have followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, and perseverance?”