Things they never taught me in seminary.

A pastor friend wrote a book by the title “What They Never Taught Me in Seminary.”  I even drew the cover and inside cartoons for him, which suggests he didn’t learn as much about discernment in school as he might have.

Preachers are always going on about what they didn’t learn in school, and what they should have.  Some of the courses divinity schools now offer resulted from those very graduates mentioning subjects they felt they needed. One required of all masters level grads of my seminary, the direct result of alums’ wishes, is called “Interpersonal Relationships.”  I’ve taught it a few times myself.

Now, let’s point out up front that it is impossible for seminaries to teach their students everything they need to know for future ministry. What they are trying to do is prepare them with enough basic skills that they’ll be ready to face whatever comes.  After all, the Holy Spirit is alongside each one to teach and instruct and guide.

All right. That said, like most pastors I do have my list. Here are the ones that come to mind today….

–My seminary never taught us about church finances. How to plan a church budget, how to promote it, to administer it, or to subscribe it (i.e., encourage people to tithe).

–Seminary never taught me about balancing my marriage and my ministry.  Consequently, mine was seriously out of balance from the start. Without a strong wife to call me down and several good counselors to talk straight to us both, our marriage would not have survived and thus our ministry would have aborted.

–Seminary never taught me to find mentors or how to become one.

–While our seminary classes warned students about sexual improprieties and adultery, not one word was said as to what should be done after a minister crosses that line. Is there life after this kind of failure, and if so, how does one find it?

–How should a pastor deal with a wayward board of deacons?  Not a word on this or on a similar situation: an inert group, deacons who do nothing and need direction.

–How to administer a staff which includes both part-time and full-time ministers.  (I took the prescribed courses on church administration, but mostly what I remember was the professor going on and on about the years he served on staff at a huge church in Texas. The how-to’s were non-existent; the takeaways were nil.)

–The changing technological culture. (I smile at this, because in the mid-1960s there seemed to be no change and no technology.  Church offices held rotary phones and a mimeograph machine, and that was about it. Bulletins were produced by print shops. Secretaries worked huge machines called “Addressographs” to mail the bulletins out each week.  In the sanctuary, we might erect a screen on a tripod to show slides.  That and the microphones were our technology.)

–How to deal with termination.  How to help terminated ministers. How to terminate an ineffective minister.  How to pick yourself up and screw your head on straight and re-enter the ring for another round. How to recover from failure.

–How to train church members to share their faith.  True, we had evangelism taught, but nothing like the practical stuff that would come along a few years later in programs like WIN Schools, Lay Institutes for Evangelism, etc.

–How to understand the denomination, how the denomination works, and to what extent we should get involved and/or support its various outreaches. Are denominations biblical? What do we do when one jumps the tracks and become thoroughly unbiblical?

I suspect the reason no one taught these things is that they didn’t know either.  But simply calling attention to them and saying “We do not know what the answer is” would have been a step forward.

Seminaries are a far different proposition these days from when I came through.  In those days–the mid 1960s–there were no off-campus extensions and nothing was done on-line.  (No one even knew what “on-line” or “off-line” meant.)  The degrees seminaries offered were the most basic, and only a few of those. These days,. the list of offerings is amazing.  At a graduation, you read the various degrees people are getting and you stand in awe.  A master of theology with an emphasis in Islamic studies.  Or an emphasis in missionary philosophy.

So, nothing in the above should be interpreted as saying the seminaries are not doing a far better job in these areas now, only that they should have 50 years ago.

I am so grateful for the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (website is and its amazing faculty and administration.  Our President, Dr. Chuck Kelley, is another in a long line of stable administrators who bring great vision and commitment to this calling.  I point with pride to that beautiful campus on Gentilly Boulevard in East New Orleans as my second home.

I owe this seminary far more than I can ever repay.

2 thoughts on “Things they never taught me in seminary.

  1. Joe. I also graduated from NOBTS twice. Great school. Nearly everything in your article is covered in my new book “Pastoral Ministry for the Next Generation”

  2. I attended a smaller independent Baptist school where the general answer to any problem was to “plow-on-through”, a sort of butt-your-head into any opposition or any question. As my personality was not designed for that sort of ministry by collision, I learned to adapt early. It is true that any idea of giving a student all that he or she needs in order to succeed in ministry is silly. No 3, 4, 5 or 6 year program can adequately equip someone; but the Holy Spirit is a competent and skilled teacher, if we learn to listen.

    Experience is sharp Instructor, but I do wish I had more mentors or that I had been patient enough to seek more of them out.

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