Eyes Wide Open: Should a Theology Student Preach? Ideally NO! [Insert Gasp from seminary students]

I’m in this really weird stage of life. Everywhere I turn I am hearing new truths. I’m being pushed in new ways. It’s almost shocking. I’m literally walking around with eyes wide open. I don’t want to close them because I am afraid I will miss something. Everything is so bright, shiny, distinguished and new. I also realize that 10 yrs from now I’ll probably have my eyes wide open again, but for different reasons. I’ll look back at my papers, journals, blog and won’t be able to believe my ignorance, theological infatuations, and spiritual immaturity. Haddon Robinson, a distinguished preaching professor here at Gordon-Conwell said, “It takes you three years to finish seminary, and it takes you about three more to get over it.”

I’m trying to keep my current experience in perspective. One of the ways I do this is by reading Helmut Thielicke’s “A Little Exercise for Young Theologians” every few weeks. He dominates…  It is less than 50 pages and takes less than an hour to read through. Man it packs a punch. He wants to remind theology students that life is bigger than this… some of his chapters include “Unhappy Experience with a Theologian’s Homecoming,” “Shock of Infatuation with Theological Concepts,” and “Pathology of the Young Theologians Conceit.” Yeah, good stuff! He says,

“The study of theology often produces overgrown youths whose internal organs have not correspondingly developed. This is a characteristic of adolescence. There is actually something like theological puberty… it is a mistake for anyone who is in this stage to appear before a church as a teacher… he has not yet come to that maturity which would permit him to absorb into his own life and reproduce out of the freshness of his own personal faith the things which he imagines intellectually and which are accessible to him through reflection. We must have patience here and be willing to wait… I do not tolerate sermons by first-semester young theological students swaddled in their gowns. One ought to be able to keep still. During the period when the voice is changing we don’t sing, and during this formative period in the life of the theological student he does not preach.”

That sucks to hear but maybe I need to accept it. In my own life, my own faith, my own experience, I am actually not that far along. As Thielicke says, I’m fitted, “like a country boy, with breeches that are too big… into which I still must grow… meanwhile, they hang loosely around my body, and this ludicrous sight of course is not beautiful.” I’m doing my best to remember I’m not ready yet! I have a long way to go. A professor telling me I have “potential for something big” doesn’t change the fact that I am still very small. Just because I know what the Septuagint is, I can trace postmodernism and spell TULIP doesn’t mean I’m ready to preach. I’ve noticed some theology students take themselves really seriously. I think it’s funny, but I usually receive blank stares if I try to joke about it… Theology students, take a chill pill! You aren’t all that. You only know a few people who are. You are going through puberty, no one is impressed… Crap, I’m talking to me too. I think my voice just cracked…

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4 thoughts on “Eyes Wide Open: Should a Theology Student Preach? Ideally NO! [Insert Gasp from seminary students]

  1. I’ve got a question I’d really like “answered”, something I’ve spent alot of time thinking about and debating during my own time studying the Word under godly leaders and teachers. How much knowledge of biblical doctrine and theology is necessary to provide a good, soul-stirring sermon or discourse? Insert example A… I personally had the oppurtunity to meet a young, godly man from Romania who had come to America to study the Word, and, most importantly, to Preach The Word! This young man gave a sermon at the church my family attended at the time and he preached from his heart. I remember to this day what his message was about – Paul and the book of Acts, because he had me in tears at the beauty with which he spoke of his Lord. He was so in love with Jesus. Pure passion. Not theologically knowledgable; not yet, but as a strong believer he spoke from his heart and experiences.
    This young man was able to attend a great Bible school and then went to seminary and several years later as an adult I was able to hear this same man preach – now married, with a wife and three children and hours of training under his belt. Was this the same man who so stirred my soul before his doctinal teachings? I found his sermon dull, full of references that were too lofty for myself or my husband to understand. Perhaps it is a different type or style of preaching. I don’t desire my “ears to be tickled” but I do want to be shown and left in awe at our amazing Lord. How dare a sermon about our God ever be described as “boring.” The challenge for the modern-day preacher or teacher of the Word: how do we then balance pure ‘youthful’ passion with theological information and doctrine. How much theology is “too much”; is there such a thing as “too much” ; can a sermon flow based on the preachers experiences alone? Do you follow me at all?
    Going to be leading a small group Bible study and could use insight. Plus I am just interested in your opinion in this matter.

  2. Hey Emily! Wow, those are some really good questions, I wish I had good answers. Thanks for sharing that. I’ll include some of my thoughts on this. First, I think its impossible to love what you do not know. That is, anyone who loves God knows at least a little bit about Him. So although this preacher initially had no formal training, that doesn’t mean he didn’t have theological or doctrinal knowledge, in fact it had to be this knowledge which catapulted his passion. If you ask me, “theology” is the struggle of putting into words the mystery of God. Our theology shows us the true nature of our faith. The infinitely-unknowable God knowingly revealed Himself to mankind, and theology is a wrestling with this mystery. This happens in and outside of seminaries.

    One of my favorite writers of all time was never formally trained (A.W. Tozer). God clearly works through non-seminarians. THANK GOD! Unfortunately many get carried away with their training they forget its’ proper place. My NT interp prof just last week told us to never tell an audience that certain greek words are “postpositive.” Why? Because although it is important for us to know, it is NOT important for most congregations to know. This is the challenge for the seminary-trained pastor. What do you share, and what do you keep to yourself? My prof said any time he hears a pastor say, “in the greek…” he winces. So do I, cuz usually most people don’t care. It takes work to explain to an audience the relevance… and many pastors don’t do this adequately. Too often unfamiliar words lead to frustrated hearts.

    Seminary can heal and it can destroy. The seminarian makes this choice. For me, I’m not here to learn a bunch of big words which I can then explain to my future congregation. Yeah, I’ll learn a bunch of new words, but most I’ll keep to myself. Instead, I’ll try to capture the essence of God by using everyday language when I speak to everyday people. Like I said in a previous blog… sermons shouldn’t just “spout dry (heavenly) language.” There ought to be a connection to life and I think you picked up on that. If a pastor loves God and is experiencing His presence, the congregation will know it! Also, many lessons I’ll learn here will come from outside the classroom, so it is important to have a healthy perspective of God. Our teachings will be boring if we think God only shows up in class. NO, God is moving everywhere, and we simply need to open our eyes and watch!

  3. great thought….i too love AW Tozer… recently read The Pursuit of God … it changed my life, seriously…

  4. I was reading this post and the responses to Pastor John and Frank and we had fun discussing it! I think you have a healthy grasp on the subject. BUT i do think you have had some WONDERFUL sermons already and i dont think its wrong for you to preach even before your trained.

    I think teaching all the fancy words are great and FUN to learn for the student, but may be more confusing for the congregation. A select few may understand all the big terms but for the most part, ordinary people like myself hope to have a sermon simply based on God’s word that is spoken in plain english so I can understand it. If we look at who Jesus is, how He preached and how many people He reached….we should learn from his tactics.

    He spoke in parables…He spoke in stories….He gave examples….He spelled things out for people so that they could understand what he was saying.

    After all its not the WAY things are preached (a well prepared message will help, and most can relate) but…its God who will touch people lives and hearts and change them, we as humanoids do not have that ability.

    God doesnt need a bunch of educated smarty pants….he just needs willing servants to share his word….like MOSES for example.

    Anyways, fascinating subject :)

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