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Ed Stetzer Interview

ed-minus100I’ve been looking forward to this interview for quite a while now. Below is my interview with Ed Stetzer:

Well, I feel it is only appropriate to start with Twitter. You are obviously a fan (Follow him here). Whenever you’re teaching a seminary class, does it bother you that on one of those laptops in the room, someone is likely tweeting or on Facebook?

What? Why would you start with Twitter? It’s not like my friends have debated whether or not I need a Twittervention!

Seriously, I very much enjoy how social media can create instant conversations with such a variety of people. Knowing that what you say can be broadcast around the globe instantaneously has a certain effect on my prayer life and preparation methods. God allows me to speak in many arenas and write for multiple sources, and I’m honored to know that something I say is helpful enough to bear repeating.

So, it would seem a bit hypocritical if I objected to others being on Twitter or Facebook while I am talking.

In all seriousness, what role do you see technology playing in the pastorate and what role do you think the seminary has to play in preparing pastors for ministry in a Twitter and Facebook world?

It was Marshall McLuhan who coined the phrase, ‘The medium is the message.’ We must acknowledge that how a message is communicated affects the message itself. Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook are nothing more than tools, like the printing press, radio, television, and the mobile phone. They can help in small bursts or can become a bane to relationship building. Their usefulness is determined by the manner they are used.

Seminaries would do well to focus their students’ attention to how the Scriptures define relationships and hold them in high regard. In striving for a biblical ideal of Christian community, we will then show proper discernment as to where the fun and usefulness of social media starts and ends.

Now, you have two masters and two doctorates, so you’ve spent more than your fair share of time in a classroom. Along with that you’ve planted and pastored multiple churches. Looking back, what role or impact did your formal education play in your pastoral endeavors?

Obviously, I am a big fan of formal education. I spend significant time subjecting, I mean teaching others in higher education settings. Today, I have the privilege of doing so at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago and Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. In both cases, I serve as a visiting professor.

For me, going to seminary was a necessity. I was a terrible student in high school (barely graduated and ended with a 1.7 GPA) and I didn’t have a basic biblical foundation because I wasn’t raised in a Christian home. But once I discovered what could be learned in college and seminary “ well, you’ve already noted I have more degrees than really seem necessary.

My seminary training helped me understand the nature of the church and God’s mission. That’s where I was taught to learn and to think critically about issues that deserve our attention.

Something I’ve noticed is this slight shift away from the traditional seminary model. We’re starting to see more programs like The Bethlehem Institute and Acts 29’s recently launched RE:Train, where you’re teaching. What do you think about this seemingly non-traditional approach to pastoral training? Is the traditional seminary model an old paradigm that needs to change or are these new programs a supplement to what the traditional seminary offers?

Glad you brought your softball questions with you today!

I find it encouraging to see local churches taking up the responsibility to train people who feel called to ministry leadership. The work of preparing the next generation of leadership is always with the church first. But, as we know, through much of modern Christian history this work has been accomplished by collections of churches “ denominations or networks. I believe it is a healthy sign that churches are stepping up to train new leaders and yet still are advocating other formalized training, as The Bethlehem Institute and RE:Train do.

Should seminaries change? Yes, and I think history shows that they have repeatedly changed. Strong schools carefully look at the challenges of their day and adjust both educational theory and methodology to accomplish their task of educating students in eternal truth. To use your phrase, the ‘traditional seminary model’ does need to change to stay strong and prepare students for today’s work. Otherwise, they will use outdated models and prepare students for work that no longer exists. I believe traditional seminaries and the new church-based training programs can coexist in a way that benefits each.

You spend a lot of time with church planters. Has LifeWay done any research on formal education and church planters? It seems to me, and this could just be the circles I run in, that a lot of church planters will plant their churches and then, several years down the road, begin to work on their degrees. Is that just my perception, or are there any stats that would support me?

We have not done any formal research about that particular question. But my general observation is that seminaries are talking more about church planting, so more church planters are heading to seminary. In general, the training that seems critical for church planters comes in the form of ‘boot camps’ or ‘basic training’ about planting a church, and then ongoing mentoring through the first few years of planting.

Following up on that question, and really all the previous questions, how important do you think seminary training is for pastors and church planters?

Obviously, I believe formal training in a seminary setting is helpful for a number of reasons. Perhaps first and foremost, our culture in America no longer has the ‘home field advantage’ of everyone holding to a Christian worldview. For church leaders who want to take their congregations on the journey of reaching and changing people, formal training in seminary can prepare their minds through theological courses and their hearts through the study of church history.

I realize some people are suspicious of seminary because they feel it institutionalizes the work of ministry. I would say to them, ‘You’re right. Sometimes it does do that.’ Seminary can make us into ministry professionals who are more concerned with the organization of congregational life than the people of the church. But I would push back against that attitude and say that most graduates will tell you the education they received has helped to shape a proper theology, ecclesiology, and missiology.

Seminary also offers something personal that we tend to lose as pastors and planters: camaraderie. As a planter, I was constantly around people and, at the same time, I was utterly alone. The time spent in seminary gives you the opportunity to learn how to seek out strong friendships and remain accountable in them. It is a side benefit to the education but a helpful one nonetheless.

That being said, I think that seminaries alone cannot provide all the pastors and church planters needed to reach North America and the world for the gospel.

We need to give people permission to pastor and plant churches even if they have not been to seminary. And, I believe, seminaries need to find ways to help equip those already on the field serving in mission and ministry.

My final question is one that I think you are particularly equipped to answer. From what I can tell you are married and have 3 daughters. Along with that you area columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, as well asserve on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today’s Building Church Leaders, and are a Contributing Editor at Christianity Today.You are aVisiting Professor of Research and Missiology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, a Visiting Research Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and are on the faculty of RE:Train. You serve on the Church Services Team at the International Mission Board and you speak at like a bazillion conference each year.Along with that, you just finished serving as interim teaching pastor at a 10,000 member church in Hendersonville and then there is that other thing… oh yeah,President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay’s Missiologist in Residence. (Did I miss anything?) So, my question is this:Many seminarians face the challenge of busy schedules. With classes, jobs, church responsibilities, and often young families, what advice do you have for them to find balance? How do you do it?

Apparently I don’t do it! I feel convicted just hearing your question!

Seriously, my travels and responsibilities do pull me in a number of directions, so my wife and I are very intentional about our personal time. When I’m home, I’m home with my family and we go fishing, play in the back yard, and eat Saturday breakfasts at Cracker Barrel. As long as I travel for a living, my wife and girls go as often as possible. Trust me, nothing keeps me more humble than taking one of my daughters on a trip where I’m the ‘honored-guest / hired speaker’ and spending half the morning helping with hair and wardrobe for her.

Besides, balance is a myth. Every day, we all have to decide what is most important and then try hard to make it happen. For me, God comes first. My family second. Then, it’s writing, research, and encouraging pastors and church leaders. For a planter, it’s winning hearts and building a church. For others, it’s counseling and teaching. Whatever your calling, distractions abound, so we must allow the Gospel to guide our steps to the core of life’s work: God’s fame spread to the nations, beginning in our households.

Plus, I’ve learned something else: Ministry and life will be there tomorrow; my daughters will not. They will be grown and gone before I can turn around. So it’s an easy choice to make.

Ed, thank you SO very much for your time. I know you have a limited amount of it. I believe this interview will be an encouragement and help to many people who are in or are considering seminary as part of their journey. Many thanks!

Written by
Ryan Burns

Ryan Burns is a past Marketing Manager at Faithlife and now works at Redemption Hill Church in Richmond, VA.

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Written by Ryan Burns