On the Importance of Residential Seminary Education
I am privileged to be the pastor of a congregation with a long-standing tradition of receiving vicars from Concordia Theological Seminary (CTSFW), Fort Wayne, Indiana. It is a joy, even while it is a lot of work, to supervise, mentor, coach, encourage and discuss theology with men through their vicarage year, doing a small part to prepare them for that (as yet unknown) place the Lord has for them to serve as one of His undershepherds.
Part of what can be a real struggle (if we let it!) of residential seminary education and the Master of Divinity Program is that men and their families are brought out of their comfort zone. They have to part with other paths, other plans, old friends, old ways of life–and do the hard thing–move on and forward, open up, meet new people, sit humbly and learn, as they seek to serve people with the counter-cultural Gospel of our Lord. This means learning to preach, and speak confidently the truth of God’s Word. Desiring to be an overseer in the Church is a noble task, and yet, is never going to be an easy task, never totally going to be a “comfort zone.”
I remind the vicar that there is comfort for them in God’s Word in the midst of not being so comfortable for two years on campus, at vicarage, then back on campus. The Lord of the harvest asks His people to pray that He raises up more workers for His harvest (Matt. 9:38). He promises to raise up shepherds for His people after His own heart (Jer. 3:15, 23:4).
The journey undertaken through the Seminary is therefore the right thing to do and worth all the time spent in class and on vicarage. Our gracious Lord is at work through it all, blessing His Church, answering those many prayers and fulfilling his promises through humble and faithful students and professors, and through generous congregations that make sacrifices in order to host vicars and provide a caring place for the vicar to learn and grow.
I am glad it was that way for me during my time at CTSFW and vicarage. To be formed and shaped for the pastoral ministry, “the old had to go, the new had to come.” It was difficult indeed to say good-bye to longtime friends, to steady paychecks and to a nice place to live. It was difficult to pack and unpack everything (four times in four years!), difficult to make new friends, difficult to live on part-time work, Food Co-op shopping and the generosity of many kind people.
But it is not impossible! “For nothing will be impossible with God,” the angel tells Mary (Luke 1:37) and all of us. Our Lord says to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9) It was sufficient, still is and must be as a minister of the Gospel. To me the joy of residential seminary education and sending men out on vicarage is that through it all, we trust and take comfort that the Lord is at work doing as He promises, preparing men to be faithful shepherds of His own flock through a process which appears to the world to be not so comfortable, not so easy. This we know is true, a real comfort through it all, for He has redeemed us all, through His justifying death and resurrection, and Jesus lives, ascended and ruling His Church in love.
The Rev. Jacob R. Sutton (firstname.lastname@example.org), CTSFW 2007, serves as pastor of Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church, Terre Haute, Indiana. On the Importance of Residential Seminary Education