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Church involvement essential to seminarians’ growth, profs assert

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Some 14,000 students attend Southern Baptists’ six seminaries. Each week, they labor to fit their family, school and work somewhere into their schedule.

But what about church? Sure, seminary students attend church, but should they be actively involved in it? Should they be serving in their church, teaching Sunday school classes and volunteering for various ministries?

Yes, say two Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professors who spoke on the topic Sept. 5 at a seminary symposium. The two professors, Timothy Beougher and Eric Johnson, told the students in attendance there are theological, ethical and practical reasons why seminary students should actively participate in a local church.

Johnson, associate professor of personality and pastoral theology, said when he was in seminary he found it “easy to get the sense that Christianity was largely an individualistic experience. … In some way, I think church involvement is seen as an add-on, an option [and] an accessory to the Christian life. I think that’s particularly the case in America. We’re such an individualistic nation. But that concept is foreign to the New Testament.

“It seems to be a fundamental assumption of the New Testament that a believer is in the church,” Johnson said.

A person not involved in a local church will find it difficult to love and serve other believers, Johnson said. This is particularly evident, he said, when reading the apostle Paul’s letter in Romans 12, where he charges believers to “be devoted to one another” and to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

“It’s impossible to do that” without being involved in a church, he said.

Beougher, professor of evangelism and church growth, agreed, saying there are three basic reasons why seminary students should be active church participants:

— The Bible demands it.

Quoting Matthew 16:18 — where Jesus tells Peter “upon this rock I will build my church” — Beougher said Christians are called upon to love the church.

“The church is God’s divine institution,” he said. “It is his divine creation. … I want to love what God loves, and therefore I want to love the church. I want to invest my life in the church.”

While admitting that church ministry can sometimes be difficult, Beougher said that “we are to walk by faith and not by sight. We are to believe that the church is God’s divine institution — even when sometimes it doesn’t appear to be that.”

— Southern Baptists expect it.

“Churches all over this convention are paying for your education in a major way,” Beougher told the students. “To whom much has been given, much will be required. I’m not suggesting you have a legal obligation … [but] I would suggest that it is an ethical and moral obligation.”

Referring to Galatians 6:7, Beougher said he fears that some ministers are reaping what they sowed in seminary — a lackadaisical attitude toward the local church.

“One day you are going to stand before a group of people, and you are going to say, ‘The local church is important. I want you to sacrifice of your time and of your energy and of your talents [and] to serve Christ here in the local church.’ The question is, will you be able to do that with integrity?”

Seminary students should also tithe, Beougher asserted.

“If you want to stand before your people someday and challenge them that they can trust God with their finances — to the point of tithing even when they’re struggling to make ends meet — then model it while you’re in seminary,” he said.

— A future ministry will benefit from it.

Beougher said the value of field education cannot be overstated.

“You can learn things in a local church [that] you cannot learn here in seminary,” he said, adding that students can make a mental list of do’s and don’ts for their future ministry. “You can learn how to relate to laypeople. Some ministers have no clue how laypeople think. You’ve got to know how laypeople think.”

Ministers, he said, should know how to deal with all types of people, ranging from an 80-year-old man who is bitter to a teenager with spiked hair and a bad attitude.

“There’s an element of that dynamic that simply can’t be reproduced,” he said.

During a time of dialogue, one student asked how schoolwork should be balanced with church ministry — particularly when a schedule is already full.

“It’s a question of prioritizing,” Beougher said. “It’s a question of limits. Jesus did not meet every need that was before him. There are times that we have to back off and say no. It is one of the great challenges. … That’s a daily battle.”

Part of the answer, Beougher said, is recruiting other people to help out in a church’s ministry.

“Humble yourself and say, ‘I can’t do all of this by myself,'” he said.

However, Beougher said, a student’s education should not suffer. He pointed out that Billy Graham once said if he could change anything about his youth, he would study more and preach less.

“That may seem contrary to what I’ve just been talking about,” Beougher said. “I want you to take your schooling seriously. … You need to learn God with all your mind. You need to devote yourself to your studies. It becomes an issue of balance.”

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust