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The Editorial

Re-jigging our colleges

I met with Mike Ovey before his untimely death.

John Benton, Editor

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We sat together in a coffee shop on Waterloo Station. He was concerned that a substantial percentage of the men who trained at Oak Hill were not lasting in the ministry. He talked of a ten-year watershed: if he could get them to hang on past that, then they would stay for life. But before that many dropped out. He got me thinking: are we training men for the ministry in the right way?


The vast majority of what is taught at our Bible colleges concerns preaching the Word. Students learn Greek and Hebrew and hone their Bible-handling skills to the maximum. This, of course, is good and right. Paul charges Timothy: ‘Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth’ (2 Timothy 2.15). But is this meant to be our sole concern in preparing candidates to become church leaders?


Embedded among the qualities of character required for leadership in 1 Timothy 3.1-7 are two proven abilities. One is the ability to teach. But the other is the ability to manage a family well (vs.4,5) – in other words, ‘people skills.’ This seems a very necessary area, yet it is almost totally neglected. Of course, not all students will be married, but prospective pastors need to be taught how to care for people. In fact, this is the aim of ministry. Preaching and teaching are not ends in themselves.

In my experience it is actually ineptitude or downright ‘lording it’ in dealing with people that causes most problems in churches and therefore the biggest headaches for leaders. There is a sense in which what a father is to his family a pastor needs to be to his church. So I would argue that biblical parenting not only needs to be somewhere on the college curriculum, but that it should constitute a substantial element of the course. If a student fails in this area there must be large question marks over whether or not he is fit to be launched upon some unsuspecting church. But there is more to say.


Iain Duguid writes: ‘When we neglect to pray in order to get out and do, we are proclaiming a practical theology of self-reliance, whatever our theological formulation may be. It is striking that seminaries typically have few courses teaching future ministers of the gospel about prayer compared to those instructing them how to preach or witness. Is it any wonder, then, that we frequently turn out pastors who have not learned how to wait patiently upon the Lord and seek his Spirit’s power? Such pastors, in turn, naturally preach more to their congregations on the importance of witnessing than on the centrality of prayer. The result is that our churches are frequently intensely busy places, but the busyness is ours, not Christ’s. Christians need to remember that they are founding members of the new Spirit-filled community – or, more precisely, that Christ, the new Adam, is the founding member into whose community the Spirit builds. This means that our greatest need is not to be more active but for the Spirit to be more active in and through us.’ * The apostles emphasised ‘prayer and the ministry of the word’ (Acts 6.4).

Our theological training courses need re-jigging. (I wonder if I’m going to be called into the headmaster’s office at London Seminary?)

*Ezekiel (New Application Bible Commentary), by Iain M. Duguid, Zondervan, pp. 75, 76.