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What Makes Shepherds’ Seminary Unique And Necessary?

By Tim Cantrell

Praise God for great seminaries and academic institutions that have been bastions of biblical orthodoxy.  But in many fields of service, such institutions are unavailable (or have gone liberal), so local churches are having to rediscover their God-given role in pastoral training.  From passing the buck to parachurch schools, the local church must return to passing the baton, “entrusting these things to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).  But this will require strong theological unity and in-depth cooperation amongst one or more churches and their leaders.

Patterned after good models and mentors [1], our seminary is the fruit of twenty-plus years of church planting and church-strengthening, until we had a coalition of five likeminded churches ready to take on such a large project.  Each church donates their pastor’s time, as part of his biblical calling to raise up the next generation of pastors (1 Tim. 5:22).  Christ has ordained that churches produce pastors; other institutions may assist but cannot replace the church’s role.

Our students should be biblically qualified, gifted men whom God has clearly called into pastoral ministry through their local church identifying them.  Too often a man ‘went’ to seminary instead of being sent by his local church who can verify and vouch for his godly character and gifting (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).  At our seminary we tell applicants, “You need to smell like sheep to study at Shepherds’ (Seminary).”  We take it very seriously when a local church sends us one of their best treasures – a proven and tested man, to undergo our rigorous, four-year program.

While in seminary, our job is not to expose students to a smorgasbord of views, but to impart a definite body of sound doctrine and biblical truth so that we produce pastor-theologians ready to love and lead a flock (1 Tim. 4:6-16; Acts 20:17-35).[2] To do that we must have a faculty of teachers who are united not only in doctrine but also in ministry practice, and who can model pastoral ministry outside the classroom in healthy local churches and in mentoring our men.  This is the accreditation that matters most in God’s eyes.

Today’s typical seminary graduates leave with more questions than answers, more doubts than convictions.  How then will they ever lead a flock with confidence and feed them with sound doctrine?  May God use our cooperation as local churches to train up faithful shepherd-expositors who will show their love for the Chief Shepherd by feeding His sheep (Jn. 20:15-19; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). 

The Apostle Paul’s mandate to young Pastor Timothy is clear, “Retain the standard of sound words….  Guard the good deposit….” (2 Tim. 1:13-14). J.C. Ryle summons every preacher:

Dare to make up your mind what you believe.  Dare to have distinct views of truth and error.  Never, never be afraid to hold decided doctrinal opinions.  Never…rest contented with a bloodless, boneless, tasteless, colourless, lukewarm un-dogmatic Christianity. …Take up a distinct, sharply cut, doctrinal religion!

…Christianity without distinct doctrine is a powerless thing.  …The men who have done the most for the Church, and made the deepest mark on their day and generation, have always been men of most decided and distinct doctrinal views.

…It is doctrine, clear, ringing doctrine, which, like the ram’s horn at Jericho, casts down the opposition of the devil and sin! [3]


[2] That doesn’t mean we don’t teach students to understand opposing positions thoroughly, to represent that position accurately and refute it biblically, logically, and precisely.

[3] pp. 416-19, Holiness (1889).

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