In Favor of Church-Based Pastoral Formation – Part 3

In Favor of Church-Based Pastoral Formation – Part 3

#3 An Ecclesiological Argument

By ecclesiological, I mean that which touches on the structure and make-up of the church. Certain models of pastoral formation honor and uphold a biblical ecclesiology, and others threaten it to varying degrees. In favor of church-based pastoral formation, the ecclesiological argument is simple: pastoral formation is the responsibility of the eldership of the church; to cede the process to others changes the de facto leadership structure of the church itself.

Dieumeme Noelliste wrote that theological education is a “handmaiden to God’s economy”[1]. Ideally this is the role of theological education, to come alongside, support and serve the church.

However, what happens when a mother hands over the raising of her children to her handmaiden? The truism of the poetry of William Ross Wallace comes to bear: “the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.” (or at least rules the church).[2] Whoever conducts the formation of church leaders, indirectly leads the church. Therefore, in much of the western world the de facto leadership of the local church is not only those who have been biblically established as pastors and elders, but indirectly, the faculty of institutions of theological education, predominantly made up of those who are researchers and professors by trade.

This influence of seminary educators on local pastors and churches cannot be underestimated. The fate of Presbyterian Church USA cannot be adequately understood without realizing movements in seminaries such as Union (New York) and Princeton (New Jersey) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. How can the disparity between of the beliefs and convictions of the average United Methodist congregant and those of the average clergy member be explained, except to attribute a drift to the institutions which have prepared clergy? Denominations like the Southern Baptists in the United States recognized the influence of their seminaries upon a slide into theological liberalism and avoided the point of no return, reforming their seminaries in time. Other denominations did not have the same discernment and today are dying the slow death of unbelief.

The responsibility for the doctrinal leadership of the church is biblically vested in the elders. Pastoral formation is their responsibility. The incumbent biblical qualifications (1 Tim 3; Tit 1) serve as a guide to the type of man who will be apt to defend sound doctrine and reproduce himself in a future generation of leaders (2 Tim 2.2). To disconnect the process of leadership formation from biblical qualifications for eldership is to deliver the responsibility for the raising of the children over to the handmaiden.

Clearly there are viable institutional pathways for good seminaries (especially when run by groups and associations of healthy churches) to fulfill the biblical mandate for pastoral formation. They can carefully consider the moral and doctrinal qualifications of their professors in addition to their academic conquests. They can place elders to lead the formation process. However, if churches and denominations are to be led by biblically qualified elders, their process of pastoral formation must also be led by biblically qualified elders. This concept grounds the roots of pastoral formation in the local church, for it is there where elders are called and where they serve, they are the flocks over which they give oversight (1 Pet 5:2).

May elders call on the handmaiden of theological education to assist in their labors? Certainly, they may and should in so much as the diversity of strengths of giftings in the church are also manifested there. However, they cannot omit their responsibility to lead the church

[1]Noelliste, Dieumeme. Handmaiden to God’s economy: Biblical Foundations of Theological educationin Deininger, Fritz.Foundations for Academic Leadership. Nürnberg: VTR Publ., 2013 (P 15).

[2]Poetry of William Ross Wallace (1865) “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle is the Hand that Rules the World.”

About The Author

Jeremiah is the Director of the Pastors School of First Baptist Church of Atibaia in Brazil. He is married to Ana Karlina (2006) and they have one daughter, Manuela.

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