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Students seeks seminary education to fill pastoral leadership gap

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)–Even commandos need a battle plan and instructions on how to use their guns. Joseph Moyer found that out the hard way — not in a war, but in a church.
“I was good at preaching, teaching and sharing the gospel, but trying to lead and pastor a church knocked the arrogance out of me,” said Moyer, a student at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif. “I spent four years being knocked around as a pastor, and God showed me I wasn’t ready to do this. Then God opened doors for me to come back here.”
Moyer became a student at Golden Gate in 1984, but left to pursue other studies and start a ministry. It wasn’t until a decade later that he realized he needed a seminary degree to be more effective.
As a teenager, he chose to follow in the footsteps of his father, John Sherman Moyer, a graduate of Golden Gate who currently is pastor of First Baptist Church, Albany, Calif. In order to do so, he had to stop pursuing a full Army ROTC scholarship to the University of San Francisco. “God told me I was to fight another battle, so I dropped that and started teaching and preaching while getting my bachelor’s degree,” he said. “God confirmed the calling through the church, but I got cocky after starting my master of divinity at Golden Gate.”
He spent two years at the seminary taking more academically-oriented courses such as theology, Greek, church history and preaching, but then left to attend to other advanced academic pursuits across the San Francisco Bay in Berkeley.
“I studied under some world-class scholars,” he said. “But though I weighed 60 pounds less back then, I had a fat ego.”
He began working at Jews for Jesus’ international headquarters in San Francisco while finishing a master’s degree in Christian studies in its department of mobile evangelism, serving for two separate stints totaling four years. There, he learned more about what it takes to be a pastor. “I served mostly in church relations, and I talked a lot with pastors and secretaries. I learned about the sacrifices pastors make yet how few really know what they’re doing. They can preach, but they can’t lead. Some pastors I talked to were on the brink of tears.”
The tears he saw many pastors shed became his own after leaving Jews for Jesus to work in churches himself. After a short stint as associate pastor of a non-Baptist San Francisco church in 1990 and 1991, he and his wife Cindy and their two children at the time moved to North Wales to do mission work.
“A small missions agency sent me over to help a church they said a conference center planted, but there was no church there,” he said. “Within a year, I closed down the nearly non-existent work because it was just too costly to the agency.”
Moyer and his family then returned to San Francisco and ministry at Jews for Jesus headquarters. He also returned to his Southern Baptist roots because of his theological convictions. In June 1995, he left Jews for Jesus to pastor a South San Francisco church, serving there two years. However, even on this side of the ocean, his struggles as pastor remained.
“I tried to lead the church through change,” he said. “We needed to minister to young people and children and use the large facility to its fullest,” he said. “Initially I had most of the leaders’ and people’s support, but I must not have made my vision clear to everyone. Opposition sprang up, but instead of anyone coming to me and working it out, undercurrents began to form in the church and caused division. Before I knew what was happening, I faced losing friendships with church leaders who had switched sides on me.”
He had to choose between being the focal point of conflict or resigning. “After receiving a lot of counsel from other pastors, I resigned. I got a good letter of recommendation from the chairman of the deacons, praise God, but that whole situation still haunts me. I had no clue what I was doing. God showed me I wasn’t trained to lead.”
His resignation found him, his wife and four children with no clear direction. However, his grandfather, who had wanted Moyer to finish seminary, had recently passed away. “My father got the estate, and he said we could use part of it to pay for school. I was thrilled. The Lord knew exactly where I should go next.”
Since November of last year, Moyer has been attending classes again. Since August, he has been pastoral assistant at Rollingwood Baptist Church, San Pablo.
“In a sense, it was a sacrifice. I’m not a pastor anymore, and there’s a mystique in being ‘Pastor Moyer.’ One pastor told me I was wasting my time by going back to seminary, and he was absolutely wrong. God used four years with Jews for Jesus and four as a pastor to teach me what I needed.”
One thing he has greatly appreciated about Golden Gate Seminary is instruction in leadership training and development. “I’ve learned the value of submitting myself. I’m not good at it, but I’m learning it. I’m a much better learner than I was the first time around. But one responsibility of being a pastor is raising up leaders. It’s the full flowering of discipleship. If I don’t raise up leaders, it doesn’t matter how good a preacher I am.”
The biblical idea of “cross-centered servant-leadership” is the crux of what sets Golden Gate’s education apart from pop culture’s leadership theories, he said. “That’s made a dramatic difference to me. Leadership is a subset of discipleship. If it gets away from that, it becomes pop culture. You can read a secular leadership book, and it’s different from discipleship or bearing the cross.”
Learning how to lead churches through conflict and division is crucial, he believes. “That is one of the best opportunities for showing Christ. We can love each other, though we don’t agree, and we can commit to work through a situation. We live in a culture convinced that you resolve conflicts by conquest. God’s church, though, is supernatural. Conflict among Christians will happen, but our solution is counter-cultural. When America sees believers and church leaders restore unity around Christ’s cause through taking up the cross in service, then we earn a hearing for the Good News.”
Moyer has vowed to be a learner and also a servant while he is at Golden Gate and is open to whatever God would have him do after graduation. “I wouldn’t have done all this if it weren’t worth it. God’s remedy for the gaps is my training at Golden Gate Seminary. Leaders are learners so I’m trying to be the best possible learner I can while I’m here.”

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