Monday, May 3, 2010

Teaching the Preacher: What Have They Really Learned?

Recently I had a conversation with a man on a pulpit committee. He is a Deacon at a church that is looking for a preacher. He was telling me about the difficulty he was having finding some 'fill-in' until they hire a new preacher. I asked him about the local Christian University and if they were helping. He said not too much, and the ones they had sent so far usually preached one sermon and the congregation told the committee to not ask them back! I asked what was going on with the crop of preacher boys.

He said, "They don't want to preach about the Bible, or even seem to want to mention the Bible." He went on to say that "they talk about other books they've read, but never say much about the Scripture." Sadly, I had to say I wasn't surprised. I've sat in a lot of pews, well not really pews but folding chairs, and I don't hear much of God's Word either! I learn about whatever latest and greatest book the "preacher" has read in recent weeks; and watch the amusing videos to support whatever point they are trying to make; but I don't hear much about God's Word.

This problem is greater than just one little country church in Northeastern NC. This speaks to the mentality of the preachers coming out of Bible Colleges and/or Christian Universities. These young preachers will most likely parrot what they've seen their peers do, or guys they admire do; or what they've been taught is 'acceptable and relevant' preaching from their preaching professors.

What did Paul do? The Apostle determined to preach Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). Here's what I think: You Cannot Preach Him That You Do Not Know!

The problem not only goes beyond a little country church struggling to find a preacher, it also goes beyond whoever teaches preachers how to preach. The issue boils down to this: What are students in institutions that bill themselves as a preacher training facility actually learning about Christ and His Word? Hear me on this: I've been through the whole hand-wringing on why Regional Accreditation is essential, and the whiney apologetic as to why it is necessary to churches and individuals from whom a college seeks to solicit support (that means money!) It goes like this:

A Bible College begins with a singular focus of wanting to prepare preachers. As it grows and accepts more students the issue evolves into what are students who don't want to preach, or females that aren't going to preach going to do? Without Regional Accreditation they cannot transfer very far, and so in order to help them out, and improve the institution's own prestige in academic standing, they pursue Regional Accreditation. (Actually I have a lot more to say on this subject, but these bare bones will do until that time comes.)

Regional Accreditation places a large financial burden on an institution. It requires an infrastructure of its own, and demands faculty have the 'right degrees.' I'm amazed at the measures an institution has taken to make room for those with the "right" degrees. But it also demands certain courses be taught in a program which requires a sacrifice in those truly essential courses that a preacher needs to have. I also cringe when I see the unnecessary debt that students from these schools accumulate in 4 years.

I didn't come along early enough to go to Cincinnati Bible Seminary when Gospels was a three year course. I didn't say three semesters, I said three years! I still hear some great saints talk about the thrill and privilege it was to sit under R.C. Foster (who didn't have a Ph.D.) and walk with Jesus for those three years. Now some schools offer ONE SEMESTER of Gospels and feel they've pretty well covered the subject. Biblical Doctrines now merits one semester, not a year; and the list goes on.

Science is valuable, as is math, as are computer courses. The list of general ed. courses all have some merit and the debate will not be settled soon about where they belong in a curriculum. But they will never replace what a preacher needs to know about the Word of God, and the Son of God revealed in those pages. And the more the Bible is removed from present day Bible College or Christian University curriculum the less-prepared preachers will be to actually preach God's Word. They won't know it, and it will become more and more foreign and irrelevant to them. And if there has to be some 'give and take' in the curriculum it ought not to be in the Bible and Theology areas.

Years ago I used to hear the yearly re-telling of how in Eastern North Carolina there was a "dearth [lack] of preachers," and the ones that were coming from Atlantic Christian College were liberals. A new Bible College was formed to prepare a faithful, i.e. conservative ministry. Far be it from me to say that those who fail to learn the lessons from the mistakes of the past will repeat them." I'm ready, however, to see a singular focus Bible College return to prominence again. I pray that preachers will return to preaching God's Word, and be properly equipped to do so.

C'mon, Murphy. Let's go outside!