“15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me” Is Not Anti-Seminary, but Is Pro-Preventive Maintenance 

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I’m something of a fanatic about preventive maintenance in my vehicles. Every time my last oil changes nears 3,000-miles mark, I’m looking hard for a Jiffy-Lube. I change the belts in my car before they start squeaking, and I keep the tires rotated. I keep the brake pads checked and listen almost obsessively for any new noise my vehicle shouldn’t be making. The new book I co-edited with Collin Hansen, 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me (Crossway/TGC) is essentially aimed at preventive maintenance for new and/or young pastors.

There is a serious gap today between orthodoxy and orthopraxy among inexperienced, seminary-educated pastors.

Why would a fresh seminary grad need preventive maintenance?

Ask a longtime pastor to identify the most difficult years of his ministry and he’s likely to say, “Those first five years.” And he will likely tell you they were difficult because he had unreasonable expectations. He’s also likely to tell you he was met with circumstances for which he was ill-prepared, even though he had studied theology and the Scriptures at a seminary or Bible college. Statistical research bears this out: one study showed that nearly two out of three seminary graduates who enter pastoral ministry have exited permanently within the three years. Other studies reveal different number (some worse), but with one voice all trumpet forth the same lament: Pastoring in the 21st century is all-out war and there are many casualties.

There is a serious gap today between orthodoxy and orthopraxy among inexperienced, seminary-educated pastors. Confusion abounds as to how a pastor should view issues such as the call to ministry, suffering in ministry, making changes in the church, teaching difficult doctrines, and the like. And the fallout is evident in the dead ministries of young pastors littering the evangelical landscape. One pastor friend was fired because he planted grass in front of the manse without the deacons’ permission. Another was dismissed after six months because he attempted to change church polity from a deacon-led to plurality of elders. A staff member friend foolishly quit because he disagreed with the lead pastor over two of Dever’s 9Marks. The wife of another friend had a nervous breakdown soon after her husband became embroiled in controversy within the church. Some of these young pastors’ wounds are self-inflicted, others come through blind-sided attacks and unforeseen issues unique to local church ministry.

nearly two out of three seminary graduates who enter pastoral ministry have exited permanently within the three years.

We desire to see this book—indeed our entire series—minister in some small way to pastors in that difficult, potentially catastrophic five-year gap. We hope God will help them see the dangerous tip of the iceberg, submerged and hidden, which threatens to sink their ministry. But to avoid the iceberg, they must know it lurks in the waterway ahead before they reach it.

From learning how to triage doctrinal teaching and ecclesiological change to suffering well, shepherding his family, and the benefits of long-term endurance, 15 Things, and future volumes, aim to serve as “preventative medicine” in the ministries of young pastors. They serve in an age where ministerial engine wear happens all too quickly. But with the right maintenance, ministries can run long and strong into the future.

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