When reviewing Paul’s description of the Christian pastor in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, I was struck again by how much emphasis he places on exceptional character rather than exceptional gifts, and by his focus on what a pastor is to be rather than what a pastor is to do.


And yet, when seminaries are training pastors, when churches are seeking pastors, and when pastors are pursuing training, we often turn the Bible’s priorities upside down.

In The Effective Pastor, Robert Anderson comments:

During the course of each school year dozens of inquiries come across my desk regarding men who are being considered by churches and mission boards. I am supposed to rate those individuals according to qualifications that are specified in the reference form. Without exception, each inquires as to the abilities of the person being considered, his personality traits and the talents of his wife. Rarely does a questionnaire deal with character traits (3).

Seminaries, churches, potential pastors, and even experienced pastors, need to re-prioritize (re-biblicize) and get re-focused on character rather than function or gifts.

How can seminaries play a role in this character-building?

  • http://nwbingham.com Nathan W. Bingham

    Important observation. Huge question.

    I think closer connection between seminaries and pastoral training with the local church. Character development, growth in Christ, maturity, etc., cannot be separated from the local church.

    I’m interested to read the comments that follow.

    • Foppe VanderZwaag

      Extremely important and generally missing. Seminaries not only must seek ‘closer connection with the local church’ but be under the oversight of a denomination and a local church. To oversee the academic and doctrinal aspects but especially the personal training (mentoring) by seasoned elders and pastors.

  • http://asmallwork.posterous.com Ryan

    Do seminaries have mentoring programs? I think character is difficult to teach in a class setting, but in the context of close, Christian friendship (or discipleship) it is quite natural. Well-timed questions, offered in love, do much to help us consider our character and engage in the proper repentance and faith.

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  • Barry York

    Amen, Professor Murray. Thank you for expressing this.

    The comments above are well made. Men need to be in Paul/Timothy relationships with others in the seminary environment and especially in the local church. The personal investment of a professor and local pastor during my seminary years aided me tremendously in character formation, building on what my long-term mentor-pastor in my home congregation had done (and twenty-six years later is still doing!).

    Seminaries also need to do everything they can to stay close to the churches, so future shepherds can stay close to the sheep they are training to guide. Though I’m all for rigorous theological training, seminaries need to make sure they are not over stressing academic performance to the exclusion of character and servant development and evaluation. Giving more credit for longer term internships, encouraging more practicums in local ministries, having class assignments that have to be completed in the context of a local church, forming pastoral advisory committees, etc., might be ways to encourage this.

    Anyway, thinking and praying with you about this. Thank you as always for your insights.

  • http://www.cuttingitstraight.co.uk John Brand

    Vitally important issue, David. Thanks for raising this. As principal of a Bible College this is constantly on our minds and hearts and we are genuinely more concerned about character transformation than academic equipping. We are building in peer accountability structures and strengthening our pastoral and mentoring procedures. We are also looking at our awards system which currently focusses on academic achievement rather than on character transformation. We are,for example, thinking about an award for the student with the biggest servant heart – elected by students and staff. I would love to hear what others are doing in this important area.

  • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

    Nathan: I agree, the local church is a vital part of this. At PRTS we try to find every student a mentor in a local church.
    Ryan: We profs also also need to be mentoring the students as well so that growth in knowledge is not separated from growth in grace.
    Barry: I like your suggestions for encouraging more spiritual formation emphasis in seminaries. I’ll discuss these further with my colleagues.
    John: I love the idea of recognizing character and spiritual formation through the awards system. I agree, we need to swing the pendulum back towards the heart rather than just the head.

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