In this post pastor Josh Vincent explains the value of Phoenix Seminary’s new Ministry Apprenticeship Alliance in partnering local churches with the seminary to train students for ministry. The MAA program enables students to learn about ecclesiology, preaching, and pastoral care in the context of a local church where they observe and work with their pastor and experience in real time what they are being trained to do. At the same time they earn up to 18 hours of Master of Divinity credit. Learn more about Trinity Bible Church’s internship program.
The local church must raise up pastors for ministry, but by God’s grace, the local church doesn’t need to do it alone. Phoenix Seminary has committed to their motto “Scholarship with a Shepherd’s Heart” by coming alongside local churches to assist them in providing topnotch theological education through their innovative creation of the Ministry Apprenticeship Alliance (MAA). In doing so, Phoenix Seminary is assisting churches in achieving their God-given responsibility of raising up and equipping pastors ready to meet the challenges that will confront them with grace and truth.
The Urgent Need
Our city and state face a desperate need for qualified, trained pastors to revitalize dying churches, plant new churches, and shepherd existing churches. The Phoenix metro grew by over half a million people over the last eight years with no pause in sight. At the same time, a 2017 study ranked Phoenix 90th out of the 100 largest U.S. cities in biblical literacy just above Hartford, New York, Las Vegas, and San Francisco. Furthermore, Thom Rainer has stated that between 6,000 and 10,000 churches close in the U.S. each year. We can quickly get overwhelmed feeling the burden of too few harvesters and too many challenges to bring in the ripe harvest that surrounds us. The population continues to increase, churches continue to decrease, and we live amidst a famine of the Word of God. There is a palpable sense that we need qualified, trained pastors as much, if not more, than ever. To turn this problem on its head. The harvest is ripe. Phoenix is the land of opportunity longing for a movement of the Spirit. So, raising up qualified pastors to gather and care for the sheep of God comes with fresh hope. Where will the pastors come from who are equipped to meet challenges like these? They don’t exactly grow on trees or cacti.
The Church’s Role in Producing Pastors
Listen closely—seminaries don’t produce pastors. I know that might sound controversial on a seminary blog and especially coming from a pastor who went to seminary. So, let me be clear. I believe seminaries are both crucial and insufficient for producing pastors and missionaries. I say seminaries are crucial because few churches, if any, can afford the time and resources necessary to employ trained experts gifted by the Holy Spirit to teach Greek and Hebrew, systematic theology, church history, etc., while also shepherding the flock entrusted to them. But make no mistake—it’s the job of local churches to raise up men for ministry.
My conviction on this has been shaped both by God’s Word and my own personal experiences. My call to ministry is all too common. I graduated from college with a sense of calling to pastoral ministry and with a conviction that I needed other qualified pastors both to train and test me for ministry to see whether they sensed that an internal calling fit my personality and gifts. That seemed to be the biblical model. Paul passed the mantel of authority to elders in Acts 20 and instructed Timothy and Titus to hand off the mantel of leadership to elders who already displayed the character and gifts necessary for serving as an overseer in the house of God.
I asked the pastor of the local church in which I grew up if he would be willing to help me work through my desire to pastor. I will never forget what he said: “I’m not really into that kind of thing.” Two thoughts shot through my mind. First, where would I go to figure out whether I should be a pastor, and second, that if I ever pastored a church, I would most certainly be “into that kind of thing,” i.e., training and testing pastors for ministry. I later found a pastoral internship that changed my life by teaching me about what the Bible had to say about church leadership and government, preaching, and pastoral care. Afterwards, I attended seminary and received training in the biblical languages, systematic theology, and church history, before becoming a pastor.
I entered ministry locked and loaded with a great library but quickly realized that pastoral decisions don’t always afford you the time to research answers or seek numerous counselors. Instead, my ministry experiences have developed a kind of ministry muscle memory that kick into effect when difficult issues arise. Much of leadership is more caught than taught. Seminary taught me the deeper things of God, his Word, and his people by imparting skills and instruction in the areas mentioned above; training in the local church then shaped me further in profound ways as I watched godly men serve and apply God’s Word to real people facing real challenges in real time.
The Seminary’s Role in Producing Pastors
We can all point to extraordinary examples of God’s special grace to self-taught men like Charles Spurgeon or Martin Lloyd Jones. But, I’m a normal pastor as are most pastors. As a normal pastor, I face extraordinary challenges both practically and theologically each day. Even more so given the Internet’s proliferation of spiritual information, good and bad. That’s why I say seminaries are crucial, crucial for almost every pastor to be ready for the challenges they will face. Seminaries are crucial because the opportunities for fruitfulness are immense for those trained, equipped, and skilled at applying God’s Christ-exalting Word to every sphere of life. When seminaries work alongside local churches, as Phoenix Seminary has with us, God can equip more pastors who combine a deeper understanding of who God is with how that ought to play out in the practical everyday life of the church. More theologians will love the church to the glory of God. When healthy seminaries lock arms with healthy churches, God can do great things. God will do great things.
How You Can Be Involved
So, let me encourage you to consider three things. First, consider sending future pastors to Phoenix Seminary to be trained for ministry in the context of a local church while developing a robust theology. Second, consider financially supporting those preparing for pastoral ministry in your congregation so that they can receive this kind of training. Third, if you are a pastor, consider locking arms with another like-minded-church who already has an MAA program at their campus. Those students can take classes at another church, while committing over a hundred hours of service in the context of your local church. You may also want to consider how God might be calling you to lock arms with Phoenix Seminary, as my church and others have, to train pastors how to make disciples in your tradition.
Let’s not waste time. Let’s equip more pastors who love Christ’s Church. Let’s pray that the Spirit uses them to bring about a fresh revival of the hearts of God’s people to the end that more people glorify God and enjoy him forever!
About Josh Vincent
Josh Vincent is married to Cari and they have three lively sons. He earned his MDiv from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is currently working on a DMin with Phoenix Seminary. In addition to leading The Gospel Coalition Arizona and serving on the board of Hope for Addictions, he is the senior pastor at Trinity Bible Church where he is thrilled to be part of bringing about greater health and fruitfulness, experiencing the growing love of this body, and the palpable sense that our best days are coming.