Hansen, Collin and Robinson, Jeff. 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018, pp. 155 , $17.99, Paperback.
15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me is a multi-author work. Each of the authors, however, demonstrate that at least a portion of their vocational ministry consists of time serving pastorally over a local congregation of believers. This equips each of the authors to be able to speak extensively and practically to the arena about which they wrote, giving the reader both confidence in their ability to assess and explain the situations involved but also the practical guidance for how to maneuver difficult situations that arise within the context of local church ministry.
In this work the various authors seek to establish, encourage, and root the reader in the practical realities that accompany life in the local church. Each individual seeks to address a different topic someone might encounter in vocational ministry that was potentially not covered during a stint of studying at a seminary. The first chapter argues that simply because an individual has education it does not make them competent for ministry, giving practical guidance in what to focus on and how to love people more than the knowledge one receives. The second chapter focuses on loving people more than the frustrations that they can cause in the midst of ministry. The third chapter emphasizes the need for the pastor to shepherd his wife effectively. Fourth, the author writes about how to engage with people who do not necessarily share the same theological, cultural or demographic background as the vocational pastor. In the fifth chapter the challenge is how to submit to and resolve conflict with a head pastor that the reader may have certain disagreements with.
The sixth chapter provides guidance on how an individual can strengthen the leadership of his church, including who to make leaders and how to equip them. Seventh, the author focuses on shepherding the hearts of the children of a pastor, how to encourage them to be involved in ministry and to grow to love the church. The eighth chapter focuses on the practice of walking through suffering with a congregation, how to shepherd towards peace in the midst of turmoil as well as preparing them to potentially face suffering in the future. The ninth chapter focuses on God’s calling to leave or remain in the present ministry role that one holds; the author provides multiple practical tips for when to decide to leave a ministry position. Tenth, the advice involves dealing with conflict ranging from among the members to among the leaders.
In the eleventh chapter the author challenges the reader with the need for the pastor to fight for and maintain his own walk with the Lord, without which the pastor will eventually burn out. The twelfth chapter gives practical steps to engage in the long process of developing trust among the members of a congregation. Thirteen, warns against the common temptation for a pastor to focus on their individual success rather than on the mission and purpose of God for them and their congregation. For the fourteenth chapter the author encourages sticking with a church for the long haul, the joy and sadness that can be experienced, but also the fruitful ministry. Finally, the author in the last chapter gives encouragement for the pastor and seminary student to rely on the timing of the Lord to direct and place an individual where He desires and when He desires, even though the process of not being hired is quite discouraging.
The main goal of the book is to educate church leaders on some of the realities that they will face in their context of the local church. As one of the authors states at the conclusion of the book, “…seminary is valuable but not sufficient. We do not intend to denigrate the valuable work of seminaries. Rather, we want to help young pastors, seminary students, and other aspiring ministers learn from our experience how God fits a man to be a faithful and effective minister.” (p.145) He is correct in saying this, for seminary is not sufficient for all things. However, it does not leave room for that fact that no written work is sufficient to give the practical side of ministry because every ministry experience will be unique. Therefore, whereas Seminary is not sufficient there is much that seminary can and does teach the individual pursuing pastoral ministry that prepares him to handle the stresses of the ministry and begins to lay the foundation of the pastor that experience will develop and strengthen over time. This book is, therefore, a resource that ultimately builds on the instruction and foundation laid throughout seminary.
Each topic discussed seeks to provide perspective on the life of pastoral ministry and even provide a helpful resource for some of the more prominent issues that a pastor will face. As far as being in the category of books that seeks to provide a quick guide to some of the more serious or severe situations an individual will face in pastoral ministry, this book is excellent. There are precious nuggets of wisdom that are sprinkled throughout the pages of the book. Therefore to have the book is to possess a resource that gives wisdom and advice to the various situations and pressures of pastoral ministry. It is also helpful for people who are just graduating seminary but also those who have been in the pastorate for a long time if they are facing new and unfamiliar territory in their current ministry.
Some of the more notable chapters of the book that provide some of the best direction for someone coming right out of seminary would be the emphasis on the dependence on God that must be characteristic of the pastor throughout his ministry. Also, the practical advice on when to stay or leave a ministry is invaluable and will be used by many who find themselves seeking the will of God in their current role outside of seminary. The chapters that emphasized the cultural differences between a pastor and his congregation as well as the one on leading leaders are invaluable for the individual entering their first pastorate.
As far as a book that gives multiple perspectives on various topics the pastor will face, this book is unique. It provides a large variety of topics in a central location and for that reason it stands out. It is a useful tool for the seminary student to engage with immediately following graduation.
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary