The Disease Described
I believe there is a serious disease that is impacting our training of people for ministry and leading the flock to have a wrong impression of maturity in the Christian life.
A key ingredient is missing. There is a heavy focus on material, but a lack of purposeful application of that material to the student’s (or flock’s) personal life. In particular, the motivations/treasures of the worship center called the heart are being neglected.
In addition, for the average person in the pew, the element of being mentored through a process of application of biblical truth is missing. This leads to the impression that doing the religious activity of going to church and hearing content in Sunday School and the morning service is enough. This is all that is expected in the Christian life and must be what it means to be a faithful, maturing Christian.
This approach to teaching and preaching is similar to the statement, “build it and they will come.” The contentitis version would be, “teach it and they will grow.” Or “give material and they will be prepared to do ministry.”
But why is this a disease? It is a sickness because it leads to unhealthy attitudes and behavior. It leads to the attitude of, “if I know information I must be mature.” Can’t this lead to pride and assumptions of being prepared for ministry just because you know content? Ask any seasoned pastor if seminary trained him adequately for ministry and the answer is usually a resounding NO! It may have taught him how to deal with the Bible but more than likely it didn’t teach him how to deal with, love, and lead people (the flock). And it is almost guaranteed that the school did not purposefully mentor him in the area of his character/heart. The professors hope the student is applying truth but it is not required. The pastor hopes the flock is being a doer of the Word but it is not structured.
Allow me to remind you that the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) does not say, “Go make disciples…. teaching them all things that I commanded you.” It does say, “Go make disciples…. teaching them to OBSERVE all that I commanded you” (emphasis added). There is a huge difference between teaching people content and teaching people how to live it out. The one leads to contentitis and the other leads to character development and true competency.
Why would we train future counselors how to assign homework so people can be doers of the Word without requiring the counselor-in-training to do the same? In addition, we would not teach the church that sanctification happens automatically just by hearing and reading content. Why then do we train future leaders of the Church in a way that implies this is so? Not enough purposeful character development is taking place.
Further, a Scriptural anthropology would not teach that humans are “bobble heads.” Can you picture the bobblehead of your favorite sports figure? This is the analogy that James Smith uses in his book Desiring the Kingdom where he describes our anthropology as teaching that people are more than a brain. We also have hopes, loves, desires. We are affective at the level of the heart. If this is so, then how should our methodology of training change? Yet we train as if they are just a big head full of information.
I am thankful that many years ago I came across a training philosophy that has helped me stay balanced as I endeavor, by the grace of God, to train people for ministry. This approach can lead to well-rounded training that produces healthier, humbler counselors and pastors who are maturing in their faith.
It might also help the future pastor see the importance of personal discipleship and not just bombarding people with truth!
Keep the 4 C’s in mind while training:
Content (Head)—Of course we believe that biblical truth is foundational and needs to be rigorous, but our training cannot stop here.
Character (Heart)—Wouldn’t it be wise for a future pastor or soul care provider to be required to focus on personal application, not just behavior but also his or her own heart motivations? I require mentored personal growth projects where he or she works through a process to understand the “treasures,” desires, and appetites of his or her heart. They are just doing what they will be asking their counselees to be doing.
Here’s why this cure is crucial to the training process for people preparing for ministry. Wouldn’t it be great if the future pastor could see while in “boot camp” (seminary) that his control desires are going to lead to a domineering tendency as a shepherd? Can you see how that might save a future congregation a lot of heartache?
Wouldn’t it be wise for a counselor in training to understand how his people pleasing tendencies might influence the way he counsels? In addition, it would be wonderful if the future counselor came to the realization that he has control tendencies. He may then realize that because of those tendencies he might turn the counseling into a lecture by dominating the conversation rather than lovingly shepherding and interacting with the counselee. He would be a much more effective counselor and the pastor would be a much more effective shepherd as they start their ministries.
Competence (Hands)—In addition, we must teach skills. How to actually work with people, how to come up with an agenda, and the proper way to ask questions are essential skills.
Church Community (Home)—Lastly, our training happens in the context of the wonderful organism called the Church. We have the blessing of believing in the local church and practicing the “one anothers” as part of our environment for training.
Please join me in the fight to eradicate the disease of contentitis.
For Further Study
Questions for Reflection
What would thorough equipping for a pastor involve? What does it take to equip a counselor? What difference has applying Scripture to your life both at the behavior and heart-level made? How has recognizing your heart/treasure tendencies changed the way you lead and the way you counsel?
Ernie serves as the Pastor of Counseling and Discipleship and the director of the Grace Center for Biblical Counseling at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida. In addition, he is the Chair of the online degree in Biblical Counseling at The Master’s University and author of “Marry Wisely, Marry Well.”