Recently my wife and I had the privilege of attending Western Seminary’s celebration banquet for the graduating students of the Portland, OR, campus. (Western Seminary also has campuses in San Jose and Sacramento, CA.) We were both moved by the reports from students.Since then we received the following summary letter from the president of the seminary, Randall Roberts. I believe it is worth reading by every Christian. I have received permission to reprint it in its entirety:
“I learned that a pastor who doesn't pray is like a chocolate Easter bunny… he might be sweet and pretty, but really he's hollow, seasonal; and sooner or later, he's gonna get eaten up.” That memorable image was shared by Sol Rexius, one of the six 2012 Portland graduates chosen to give brief testimonies about their time at Western.
You have heard us talk a lot lately about gospel-centered transformation, so I thought it might be interesting to view that commitment from a graduating student's perspective. To that end, here is a slightly abridged version of the rest of Sol's remarks:
“I've been a Christian for 23 years, a husband for 9 months, and a college pastor at the University of Oregon for 8 months. I love my God, my wife, and my job—in that order, but in different ways. And with my remaining time, I want to tell you about some of the most important things I learned at Western Seminary:
*I learned that no amount of schooling can prepare you for the complexity and diversity of real-life ministry, but a good seminary education really gives you a head start.
*I learned that leaders must be readers, and readers must be doers.
*I learned that there are a lot of people in this world doing a lot more courageous things than I am. I know this because I had class with them.
*I learned that success in ministry should be defined not by great numbers, but great faithfulness.
*I learned that people who only see things in black and white need to recognize that there are some grey areas in the Christian life.
*I also learned that people who only see things in grey need to recognize that there are some things that are in fact black and white when it comes to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
*I learned that going on Carl Laney's Israel study tour is a life-changing trip, and you might even meet your future wife at the city gates of Jerusalem—just like I did.
*I learned that one of the most effective preaching tools is a praying wife.
*I learned that you can't be a bad husband and a good pastor at the same time.
*I learned to trust a man who is humble enough to say nothing more than God says and bold enough to say nothing less.
*I learned that influencing people for Jesus is way more exciting than impressing people with me.
*I learned that being a good leader means learning to say ‘no’ to a lot of really great things so that you can say ‘yes’ to the right things.
*I learned that, contrary to popular belief, sometimes you actually need to walk away from open doors and kick down the closed ones.
*I learned that a preacher's authority comes not from the elegance of his vocabulary, but from the truthfulness of his message.
*I learned that motivational-speaking can help, encourage, and even transform people, but only gospel-preaching can bring dead people to life.
*I learned that at the core of the gospel is a person to receive, not just a set of doctrines to affirm.
*I learned that if you want to see God raise up another generation of strong, godly, biblical, and courageous pastors then you better start praying for it… just like my mother started doing 22 years ago when she attendedthis very graduation banquet, and heard a speaker just like me get up and tell the crowd to begin praying for such a thing.
*I learned that knowledge without wisdom is impersonal, and wisdom without knowledge is impossible.
*And so I learned that going to seminary is not a waste of time and that dying for the gospel is not a waste of life.”
In addition to Sol’s testimony, we also heard other graduates talk about how they were going to use their Western training to provide Christian counseling in Poland, leadership training in Egypt, and ongoing pastoral leadership in Anchorage. Two others will be filling key staff roles in Christian schools. The incredible diversity of strategic ministry roles expands even further when you hear the stories of the dozens of graduates who have just completed their programs at the three Western campuses.
I shared these words at the conclusion of the Portland graduation banquet: “We have heard testimonies tonight that reflect the variety of gifts and callings found in this year's graduating class.What they all share in common, however, is a personal commitment to the uniquely transforming power of the biblical gospel, a message that is desperately needed in every generation and geographical location. They also share in common a significant amount of personal sacrifice required to come to seminary to be equipped for faithful and fruitful ministry, as Western students currently pay around 80% of the costs of their education. As president, I'm committed to finding ways to make seminary more affordable, and one way to do so is to invite people like you to help lighten that load through your gifts. So as you leave you will be offered some information about how you can help students like these cover the costs of their training, and I would encourage you to prayerfully consider this strategic stewardship opportunity.”
You see the same headlines that I do about the current crisis of educational indebtedness. Total student debt in this country now exceeds one trillion dollars. Whether you describe it as a million million or a thousand billion, that's a lot of money: $1,000,000,000,000 (to save you counting, there are twelve zeros).
And remember, Western is a graduate school. So students bring with them an average of $25K of undergraduate indebtedness before they even start here. Then they take programs ranging from 60-90 credits at $445 per unit (a tuition rate in the low middle of seminaries nationally). Finally, they graduate and assume positions as pastors, missionaries, counselors and teachers, typically for modest salaries. We try to help by keeping our expenses as low as possible. Look at our annual reports, compare them to other schools our size, and you will be impressed by how economically efficient we are in offering a top-notch education.
But we still need your help to make our training more affordable for the kind of faithful shepherds that you want for your kids and grand kids. So I offer to you the same invitation that I presented to those who attended this year's Portland banquet: please prayerfully consider what more you could do to help lighten a bit that financial burden. Generations that take seriously the need to educate well the next generations never regret that investment. That is all the more critical for Christians who recognize the importance of passing on “the faith once delivered.”
Thank you for helping us help people like Sol and his fellow Western students.
Your brother in Christ,
Randal Roberts, President
It is my prayer that some of my readers will put Western Seminary (and other fine seminaries) on their regular prayer list. To learn more about Western you may click on the their listing at the right under “Worthy Websites.”