May is the month of graduations, not only for high school and college students but also for seminary students. I remember both of my graduations from Southern Seminary (I completed both masters and doctoral studies at Southern), and they were big days for my family and me. Kaye and my parents attended and we celebrated alongside friends. I felt a sense of relief each time as the extra pressure of studying was lifted, but then a new responsibility arose — the responsibility of applying everything I learned to my life in ministry.
As students are graduating this month, here are three reminders to reflect on as you step into a new ministry role or continue in the one the Lord has already given you. These reminders are just as just as important for those that graduated five minutes ago as they are for those that graduated five or fifteen years ago. I say “reminders” because you have been instructed A TON and C.S. Lewis wisely stated, “People need to be reminded more than instructed.”
Set the example.
As a recent graduate you are likely considered to be young by many in the congregation that you serve. Remember the apostle Paul’s challenge to the younger pastor, Timothy: “Don’t let anyone despise your youth, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity” [I Timothy 4:12].
Younger leaders can set the example in character and integrity, not just in enthusiasm. In fact, notice what qualities the apostle Paul did NOT challenge Timothy to display as he set an example. Paul did not say, “Set an example in energy, creativity, and innovation.” The qualities we often affirm younger leaders for are not what Paul challenges Timothy to display. The characteristics that young leaders are often told they bring to the table are not the characteristics the church most needs. Creativity and new perspective can be helpful and effective. But they must be grounded and fueled by love, faith, and purity.
Love the people.
Seminary certainly helps develop a passion for teaching, a love for studying the Word, and insights on how to take the timeless truth of Scripture to an ever-changing culture. But all of your seminary training is worth nothing without a burden and love for the people you serve. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “to love to preach is one thing, to love those to whom we preach quite another.” Pray for the people you serve. Spend time in the community. Be among people. Good shepherds smell like sheep.
Rest in the power of the message.
The power is in the message, not in the messenger. “The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). We steward and communicate the good news, the best news the world could ever hear. We get to declare the only message that has the power to transform the human heart. The power is in that message, ultimately, and not in our ability to declare it. Yes, you should hone your craft. Yes, you should continue to learn and grow. But you can also rest in that reality that the power is not in you. The power is in the message that you steward. Charles Spurgeon stated, “The power that is in the gospel does not lie in the eloquence of the preacher; otherwise men would be converters of souls.”
If you are interested in pursuing theological education, I highly recommend you consider Southern Seminary. My time there was highly valuable and I am grateful for that season in my life.