I’ve heard several people over the years describe how important their Bible College or Seminary experience was for them. I should probably say from the the beginning that I whole heartily believe that Bible College is important, if I didn’t think so I wouldn’t be enrolled in classes right now. I love where I’m a student and have benefited tremendously from being a student and seek to continue my education afterwards and eventually pursue seminary. Formal education is important, but it should not be a substitute for the local church.
I often hear brothers and sisters talk about how important their experience in formal Christian education was. The importance is that it was the time in which they were constantly surrounded by brothers and sisters. It was a time of constant encouragement. It was challenging. It was formative, in that it taught them Christian doctrine and practice. It was a time of diligent spiritual discipline. But, when they got away after graduation or between semesters they found themselves in a time of personal declension. Brothers it ought not be so. Formal Christian education can play a huge role in developing one’s faith, but it never was intended to be the only place. The Lord has given his people the local church.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. – Acts 2:42–47
Often the appeal of formal Christian education, especially if one is living on campus, is that you get pretty close to what is described in Acts 2. Acts 2 took place in the context of a local church and the Lord has designed every local church to live that way. The local church is where ministry takes place. The local church is where life takes place. The local church is where we spend our lives.
Education is formative, but in as much as it is formative it is preparatory. The Epistles we study in our classrooms about the ins and outs of churches were written to churches. The theology of the Bible is a practical and pastoral theology that is given to the church. It is my desire to see more and more students not only pursue formal Christian education to prepare for ministry, but to pursue a local church to prepare for ministry. I have gleaned and benefited tremendously from my classroom time. But what has been the most formative in my ministry has been being a part of a local church and being mentored by my pastors and elders while being in either of the colleges I’ve attended. Bible college (or seminary) isn’t a time to fully devote oneself to school and half-heartily attend a local church in preparation to serve the local church. It is of little benefit to spend little time with the local church if you intend to spend the rest of your life serving in one. Find a church. Join that church. Love that church. Serve that church. If you find one that is preaching and living the Bible, you’ll find that you’ll be surrounded by constant fellowship, solid teaching, and a place for worship. It is God’s design for the Christian and for ministers of the gospel. For those who are in Bible college (or seminary) I think you’ll find that you’ll get more out of your experience there if you’re faithfully involved in a local church.