How I Wish Seminaries Described Themselves

How I wish seminaries described themselves in press releases (let the reader understand):

Our approach to pastoral preparation is time-tested, rich, and rigorous.

The university has been the handmaiden of the church for over a thousand years. The model of pastoral preparation of devoting years of one's life to study under specialized masters has produced generations of competent and faithful ministers who have lovingly shepherded Christ's church. Here at Traditional Model Seminary (TMS), we are committed to continuing this great tradition of pastoral preparation with a successful track record literally millennia long.

Teaching students to read the Bible is our real priority. How can the church call on Christ if its ministers don't know how to preach him, and how can they faithfully preach him if they don't know how listen to his word? Doctors don't learn medicine in the emergency room, nor lawyers the law during a trial, and those who care for souls should never learn on the job. Untold spiritual malpractice and shipwrecked souls can be avoided through proper pastoral preparation. That's why we eschew faddish "practical" courses and electives, and carefully steward the few precious years we have students to teach them how to interpret scripture. Running elder meetings, crafting church budgets, leading small groups, recruiting nursery volunteers — all things ministers need to learn, but not here at TMS. Our goal is to forge ministers who have studied scripture so faithfully they have no need to be ashamed of their handling of the word of truth.

At TMS, we believe that ministers of the word should be able to read God's word before they ever teach it. That's why basic competency in Hebrew and Greek is required before our students ever get to their exegetical courses. As Martin Luther said, if you lose the biblical languages, you lose the gospel. Outsourcing reading scripture to translation software is outsourcing pastoral care to your computer. There are no "survey" courses: a full 27 credit hours are devoted to instructing students in not only the particulars of the biblical canon, but also its sociohistorical context and the church's critical interpretive history of the biblical text.

We teach hermeneutics, not only as a class, but as a unified, interpretive lens shared in all of our exegetical and doctrinal courses. Scripture is the rule of faith and practice, so TMS ensures that students are not only taught the doctrines of the church, but the methods by which the church derives its doctrines from scripture. B. B. Warfield accurately called systematic theology the queen of the sciences, and TMS teaches our students to be scientists of the word: theologians for the sake of the church. Doctrine is formulated from an ecclesiastically confessional position, since TMS exists for the church visible, not abstract. Therefore, Reformed theology is not an appendix to doctrine, but our approach to doctrine. TMS charitably engages and learns from the theologies of the rest of the church, but we do so from the commitment to this specific vantage point.

"There is nothing new under the sun." We study church history, deeply. Pastors need to know the family history of God's people as they shepherd God's people. This the best tonic to what C. S. Lewis called chronological snobbery: The most secure footing for guiding the church through its current cultural waters is learning from the wisdom and folly of the church throughout the ages. Studying church history not only explains the house you live in, but how and why the house was built. It equips the pastor to go back to the sources to resource the church of today with the rich thought of the church in the past. That's why we read primary sources from all ages of the church, and why we humbly rely on the best secondary sources to guide our interpretation. The 12 credit hours we devote to church history only scratches the surface, but it does equip pastors to be students of the church for the remainder of their ministry and permeates our other courses.

Why is TMS' tuition expensive? Because the laborer is worthy of his wages. We want high quality scholars as professors, and we pay them to be here. We aren't interested in having a faculty of adjuncts, professors who can't afford to live from their occupation and therefore have their focus distracted from their vocation of pastoral preparation. Specialization of faculty follows one of the most basic economic principles: division of labor. Hiring faculty who are masters of their field allows our pastors-in-training to be educated by the best.

And our faculty are devoted to training pastors, so our education is intentionally devotional and personal. There is no Zoom instruction — disembodied pastoral preparation leads to disembodied pastoral ministry, after all. Rather, prayer, fellowship, chapel worship, faculty-facilitated mentoring, and camaraderie among students and faculty are part of our culture of pastoral formation amidst our rigorous education.

TMS prepares students for the sake of the church, and so our partnership with the church is crucial. We understand that not all students can afford to attend seminary, especially if they have families. But we do believe that pastoral preparation itself is a vocation, and being called to the ministry of the church demands focus on that preparation, even to the point of leaving a job or ministry for a season. That's why TMS partners with the church to house, scholarship, and provide grants to students who would otherwise be unable to attend. Students need church endorsement to enroll, and partnered local congregations have made themselves available to our students fulfilling required pastoral internships. If our students are all knowledge with no love, they are dangers to the church; and it is the duty of the church to conform pastors-in-training to the loving character of Christ. Training them in the knowledge they will lovingly administer is our seminary's specialty.

That's what we do: Pastoral preparation that is proven, rich, and robust. Welcome to Traditional Model Seminary.

Cameron Shaffer (M.Div, Redeemer Seminary; M.Th, University of Glasgow) is the pastor of Langhorne Presbyterian Church in Langhorne, Pennsylvania where he lives with his wife and children. He can be found online at

Related Links

"Equipping the Saints" by Mark Johnston

"The Two Parts of Seminary Education" by Danny Hyde

The New Pastor's Handbook by Jason Helopoulos