Sunday, October 25, 2009

So, Seminary you say?

Log entry - I'm not cool enough to have a Stardate or anything like that.

As I've been looking around on this voyage, trying to chart a good course, I come back again and again to a desire to serve Christ in pastoral ministry.   

Why pastoral ministry?  Pastors are in short supply.  They are also critical to the life of the Church.  A well-trained pastor, called by God and recognized by the local church, serves in ways others simply can't.  This is the person who is particularly prepared to help people see their lives and struggles in light of Christ's finished work on the cross.  He is preparing the saints to carry tis understanding of their lives in light of Christ to the rest of the world.  I said that pastors are in short supply.  That may seem incorrect, at least in this particular corner of the Bible Belt.  So let me tweak the statement by observing that genuine deeply confessional Christian pastors are few and far between.  We've got plenty of people who want the Church to be engineered in a way that seems wise to modern man.  We don't have so many people who want the Church to stand in stark contrast to our world's ideas of success, as it did two thousand years ago.  This situation will get worse, I think.  America's political climate seems increasingly hostile to the historic Christian faith.  We are becoming a progressive and liberal society, whatever that is.  As we pattern ourselves after more socialistic countries we seem to be moving toward a mindset which has little toleration for the exclusive claims of Christianity.  As that trend continues we will see fewer and fewer of those deeply confessional Christian pastors in our churches and communities.

So why me?  Why should I end up in pastoral ministry?  There is need, yes, but there's need for all sorts of other people as well, including in the field I've engaged in for the past fifteen years.  Is it a good idea to try to teach an old dog like me any new tricks?  Is this some sort of new desire?  The fact is, I have had a desire to participate in pastoral ministry since about 1983.  I've put that desire away again and again over the years.  In the past several years I've found that I have an increasing desire and vigor when I am teaching my advanced Greek classes which use the New Testament texts.  I see situations where believing, church-going students don't seem to be very grounded in their faith.  This concerns me.  My desire is to bring them the answers they need, to feed them with the power of the Gospel for the challenges they will face.  That seems a lot more important to me at many times than helping students know what tense a verb is.  But back to that thing about teaching an old dog new tricks.  Should someone of my age think about a second career?  I think I'm still young enough to have another career.  After all, who retires any more?  If I'm ordained by about age 50, I may have up to 25-30 years of active, productive ministry.  People of all ages need pastoral care.  And it's not like the pastor isn't doing something that I've been doing all along.  He is working with the words of Scripture and with people.  That's awfully similar to teaching foreign languages to people.

So what's it going to take for me to do this?  Of course, this is an ongoing voyage, so there will be more details later.  I'm working on some of the nitty gritty now, but find that seminary offices aren't open 24/7.  But here's some of what it will take to do this.  First, lots of people praying and encouraging.  Drop notes and responses on the blog or off it.  While you're praying for me, pray for your own pastor and people you know from your church who might someday serve in pastoral ministry as well.  Second, this will take four years or more of really hard work.  I'm not afraid of hard work, though I seem to work more slowly than I did some years ago.  But maybe I work smarter than I used to.  But hitting the books while working will be a challenge, no doubt.  Third, this will take some serious changes in circumstances.  I think of three "d" words.  We'll be departing from where we are now living.  There's no seminary within commuting distance.  We'll be downsizing.  It looks like there may be some good options for affordable on-campus housing at one of the two seminaries I'm considering.  But they are cramped quarters.  So is whatever we can afford to live in cheaply anywhere.  The third "d" is "deprivation."  There will be things we are used to having that we can't afford.  There will be times when I can't do things that I've been accustomed to doing because of financial and time constraints.  I don't picture this as being a huge factor in our lives.  We don't have a lavish lifestyle now, but I know there will be some of it going on.  The last thing it's going to take to do this is quite frankly finances.  As I've become an old dog I have learned some things, especially that indebtedness is a really difficult thing to get over.  We do not wish to have student loans.  It's simply something which is off the table for our discussions about how to do seminary.  I won't be able to work as much as I do now.  While we will be cutting some living expenses, we'll be adding tuition and fees, meaning we'll need as much money or maybe more than we use now.  So we'll be searching for all the scholarships, grants, and discounts we can find.  I'll also probably ask people to help out financially if they can and if they wish to.  This is not something I'll look forward to doing.  Yet I know there are times when we appreciate the opportunity to have a hand in enabling someone to do something for the good of the Church and our society.  So I'll be naming dollar amounts needed at some point in the future.

So when do we depart?  Where are we going?  The two questions are actually in reverse order.  We need to figure out for certain where we are going first.  The two seminaries I'm looking at are both called Concordia Theological Seminary.  One is in Fort Wayne, Indiana, while the other is in Saint Louis, Missouri.  The Saint Louis seminary is a little more expensive but has on-campus housing which would be very inexpensive and convenient, probably making up all the cost differential.  But both are in the running.  When does this happen?  I'm not sure just now if we are looking at the summer of 2010 or summer of 2011.  It depends on how admissions details sort out.

Meanwhile, we've continued to keep our eyes open for a dream property to move to, but it seems those dream properties don't respond well when we open our eyes to look at them.  We're up in the air for now, but will keep you posted on the charting of our voyage.

From the Ohio River valley in Huntington, WV, logging out for now.

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