Aiming Senior Arrows

One trend that has bugged me for more than a decade is parents, and pastors, encouraging their kids to move away. This is not the same as encouraging them to move out. Yes, raise kids who grow up and take more and more responsibility for themselves, and then commit to a spouse, and start a family, probably in their own house. All that is great. It is the post high school move-away-if-you-can that concerns me.

The end of May/beginning of June is graduation season. Our school will conduct its second evar commencement this coming Sunday evening. It gives occasion for me to look out the window again, stroke my beard, and ruminate in general, where should parents and teachers aim senior arrows?

I don’t think it is sin to go away to college. Other articles have been written, especially for Christian students, about priorities young people need to consider when choosing a college. Those are great. And of course not every high school graduate even needs to go to college, but that is another post.

But is it the best to send our kids away? Why pour into them for seventeen/eighteen years of life, including thirteen years of schooling, and then offer them nothing close to home after that?

We live in a fairly small town. It might be more exciting to move to a larger place and attend an established school. It would be an experience. I went to three different colleges, all of which were at least seven hours from my hometown. But we are raising our kids to love the place God planted our family, teaching them to love their city neighbors, and encouraging them to be salt and light here.

If they want to go away, and have good reasons for doing so, that will be fine. This isn’t about parental grabbiness. Everyone does not need to stay near home. But telling our kids that it is better to get out is counterproductive to generational change and maybe a sign of our own unthankfulness.

Like His Teacher

God continues to give me the merciful privilege of speaking with young men who believe that God is calling them to pastoral ministry. I am one of those guys myself, though I started down the shepherd’s road over 19 years ago. The most common and critical question is, Where should I go for training?

Not only is that a ridiculously consequential question, but there are too many ingredients that defy a canned response. Even if the young man demonstrates desire, character, and aptitude for overseeing work, practical considerations such as cost and distance often eliminate certain options at once, especially if they (or their parents) listen to Dave Ramsey every afternoon.

So what are principles and determining priorities? Having gone through the process myself, and having opportunity to think about and attempt to answer the question frequently, here is my “look for this” list.1

The Sacred Writings

Go to a place that believes the Bible has all the answers. This belief should be a living faith, both explicit and implicit. By explicit I mean that the institution affirms the inspiration, inerrancy, and sufficiency of Scripture. If the doctrinal statement is unclear, or if teachers are allowed liberty on the ground level, don’t even enter the building. The Bible in the pastor’s soul food, his training manual, and his shepherding staff. Being educated to doubt and question the Book is no blessing. This criteria eliminates a number of options, but based on statements of belief alone, there are still a fair number of flowers in the field.

Implicit belief in the Bible throws a bunch of those flowers into the oven to be burned. Attitude and practice are as important as, and maybe even more important than, an institution’s written documents. One window is the scope and sequence of the course work, as well as the electives. Are the original languages expected? Are they even offered? Are there more elective classes such as Genesis, Psalms, Matthew, and Ephesians? Or are subjects such as church administration, psychology/counseling, and leadership given greater priority? Though the latter group of classes aren’t unimportant, they are all secondary, and should be built on the Bible. It isn’t enough to sprinkle Bible verses into the syllabus. Be schooled in a place that loves the Bible and points pastors to study the Bible itself, most of all and first of all. We’re already in a very tiny corner of the evangelical field.

Examples to the Flock

Pursue a person (or persons) that you want to be like. Every disciple when he is fully trained will be like his teacher; choose well. Even the most non-conformist student can’t help but be influenced over the course of two, three, or five years of instruction. That’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s why Bible college and seminary aren’t weekenders. So go after faculty who love God’s Word and love God’s people. Watch them. Camp on their lawns. Get in their back pockets. Find those who have practiced finding the point of paragraphs and who have persevered in patiently pastoring sheep.

There will be things you see that you won’t want to do. That, too, is expected and profitable in the process. Only Christ is the Chief Shepherd and only He is a perfect shepherd. But in general, it’s proper to follow leaders who follow Christ. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Pursue training by men whose hearts are in a better condition than their grammar. Find those worn by church discipline battles in living rooms, not only exam grading in classrooms. Pay attention to men who minister publicly and from house to house. Pastoral ministry is personal, so search out men that will train you as a person, not as a professional.

A Church to Cherish

Plan to invest in church ministry while being trained for future church ministry. Most of what I learned about being a pastor had little to do with books or papers or exams. Learning to pastor comes by learning to care more for people and less for grades. Effective Bible colleges and seminaries put tools in in the shepherd’s box, but the point is to use the tools, not gather and admire the tools indefinitely.

It makes absolutely no sense to put off heavy ministry involvement under the excuse of training for ministry. I understand the sentiment, that it might enable someone to finish school more quickly, but that approach is counterproductive. My wife would be appropriately disturbed if I abandoned her for three years in order to learn how to be a better husband.

When choosing a college or seminary, the trainee must be as certain as possible that there is a healthy local church in the area. It doesn’t have to be a perfect body; those don’t exist anyway. But the more closely associated a school for pastors is with a church, the more likely the graduate will be equipped to bless.

So go to a place with exemplary men that live and keep His Word and spend their lives for His bride. These aren’t arcane principles, but they frame a paradigm that very few places fit.2


  1. The title for the post springs from Luke 6:39-40. The list sparks from 1 Timothy 3:12-4:4, 1 Peter 5:1-3, and Ephesians 5:25-32 respectively.
  2. At least that I’m aware of.

I Don’t Believe It

I love Dr. John MacArthur. Much of my spiritual and pastoral growth can be attributed directly to him as the human instrument. When I packed my Ford Probe and moved to Los Angeles in 1997 for seminary it was because I wanted to be a student fully trained with him as the teacher. There is no one else I would rather listen to preach. And thanks to Phil Johnson and other editors his body of published material is without modern day equal. He is one of God’s strongest and clearest messengers and I sit up straight when he speaks.

More than likely, most of the people who read this blog know and love Dr. MacArthur as well. So it’s no new revelation to say he’s the preacher who never met a passage that wasn’t his favorite. Each week, every next verse he unleashes is the most “rich” one. I really do admire his endless positivity, especially in light of everything I imagine he’s seen and heard. His sanguine perspective also spills over into a proclivity for hyping whatever he’s thinking/talking about in the now. I’m amazed how excited he is, or at least sounds, about anything he’s announcing.1 It’s more than admirable, it’s endearing.

That said, I don’t always believe everything he says. Sometimes sweet things are too good to be true and you get to a point where you can’t handle any more honey.

A good case in point would be the introduction of his recent chapel message, The Responsibility of a Christian College, in which he claimed that being at a Christian college is the most intense spiritual experience a believer could have.2 As president of The Master’s College I understand he’s obligated, and I think in his case genuinely excited, to promote the school. But this characterization of life at a Christian college is more like a caricature, and the exaggeration gives a dangerous and unhelpful impression.

For the record, I don’t have a problem with Christian colleges, or The Master’s College in particular. Just the opposite is true. For the last seven years I’ve promoted, organized, and driven students thousands of miles for Preview Weekends at TMC. Some of my favorite people are TMC students or graduates and I wish I could have gone there myself. Furthermore, I attended three different Christian colleges before finally graduating from one of them.

So I agree, as MacArthur opened his message, that Christian colleges should produce “distinctive Christians,” defined by him as those “who’s sanctification is evident.” That’s good if not self-evident. But I couldn’t believe what he said just a little under two minutes in:

Being a Christian in a Christian college should be the most formidable, the most aggressive, the most progressive, the most intense time of sanctification that a believer could ever know. …to be a true Christian, and to be put in this setting, with its level of spiritual intensity, biblical understanding, biblical literacy, theological clarity, ministry opportunity, is a level of intensity in spiritual experience that has no parallel. No youth pastor can produce this level of discipleship. No family can produce the breadth, height, length and depth of this level of discipleship coming from so many different directions, all singularly focused, all founded on the same convictions, all pursuing the same objective.3

For sake of full disclosure, it’s true that Pastor of Student Ministries is the title on my business card. Maybe I’m howling because one of the rocks he threw hit my head, but I don’t think that’s the only reason.

If he would have said something like, “Sadly it’s true for many Christians that the most intense time of spiritual growth is in college” I’d have no complaint. Certainly that is possible. My objection is that his statement makes it sound ideal.

But if Christian college is truly the ultimate place for spiritual growth and sanctification and discipleship then that’s awful for the majority of past and present believers who never went to a Christian college for whatever reason. We should make everyone enroll immediately for every semester and attend classes at some Christian college as long as they’re alive.4 Every family, and church, should organize themselves around the college schedule. Apparently the rest of us are really missing out.

Obviously that’s not biblical. God ordained the church and the family as His institutions for instruction, discipleship, worship, ministry, and personal obedience. Christian college may be a small brick in the wall, but to say it is “a level of intensity in spiritual experience that has no parallel” discourages almost everyone but donors and undermines MacArthur’s message and ministry for over 40 years.

Professors cannot take the place of preachers/pastors and parents. They’re not supposed to. College is also patently NOT discipleship, unless discipleship is defined in terms of classes and chapels, which I’ve argued against elsewhere. In addition, roommates and RAs cannot provide what older, and younger, and otherwise different parts of the Body can.

When I look back on my own Christian college experience, sanctification was indeed formidable. But I always attributed that more to the fact of living in close quarters of a thousand other selfish sinners. And we certainly had some spiritually intense discussions, but most of the intensity was due to our youthful arrogance, not our theological acumen. I’m very thankful for everything I learned and wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m even more thankful that it’s done. In fact, trying to be a loving husband, a diligent dad, and a faithful shepherd has no parallel in terms of intensity.

My point is that no Christian college can provide the breadth, height, length and depth of spiritual experience. I don’t believe it. Dr. MacArthur himself has preached and published otherwise for a long time. I don’t think he believes it either.


  1. For instance, though he’s greeted new visitors thousands of times I’ve never heard his welcome sound stale, rote, or disinterested.
  2. He certainly meant being at a “good” Christian college, and presumably he would consider a “good” one to be like The Master’s College where Scripture is the authority and personal holiness is prized.
  3. I transcribed this quote from the podcast of Chapel @ TMC. At the moment there is no other way to access the message than by subscribing to the entire podcast. Note to the media department at TMC: if you’re going to make the audio available at all (for which we are very thankful), why not create a more inviting way to access the chapel messages than only through iTunes? Anyway, I suspect this quote is exactly the kind of material that might be published in a future edition of The Master’s Current, though I hope it gets buried or lost on the editor’s desk.
  4. We’re also going to have to do something about the hefty $120,000 price tag for this level of sanctification.

Comments (copied)

Chuck Weinberg said April 30, 2008 at 5:44 am:

Hey Hig, Thanks for your leadership and truth declaring on our behalf. Thanks for your willingness to disagree, when necessary, with someone you love. Our family has been through some “intense sanctification training” lately, and you’re exactly right, it’s the Body that brings all those things so sweetly together. Thanks again for your work at TMC and seminary to move you along in the process, but thank you even more for your continued growth in sanctification over the past years you have been involved in our ministry. You, and Mo, have growth significantly and so has our 128 staff and students. God is Good. Chuck

Clyde said April 30, 2008 at 8:58 am:

i agree with your disagreement. Jesus established the church. He never established LABC.

$ talks. This is a good example.

Jesse Martin said April 30, 2008 at 9:43 am:

Hmmm, I don’t think I care for his dogmatic declaration either. When I first considered colleges, there was almost nothing I wouldn’t have given to be able to attend that college as well – a few years removed from that decision and looking at the growth and intense discipleship I have received through the ministry here in One28 – I KNOW I have received more ministry opportunity and personalized exhortation from the Godly men in this church than I would ever have received from a teacher that is forced into the formality of the academic arena. My deepest gratitude to your “second best” efforts Sean!

bean said April 30, 2008 at 10:05 am:

@clyde – i agree with the disagreement too. and i agree that money talks. but i did want to jump in with a tiny (maybe weak) defense of the book you linked to. from what i understand, many of the “spin off” books are handled by the publisher and macarthur (or phil) has very little, if anything, to do with them. he obviously has very much to do with his message at chapel, though, so there is no getting out of that.

and yes, the next question is why you would let your publisher have that much control and influence…i did say it might be a weak defense.

Mijah said April 30, 2008 at 11:16 am:

Although I am about to graduate from said college in a little over a week and I did sit through that very chapel message, I do agree that he definitely exaggerated the point of the Christian college experience being unique. Honestly, as I listened to him, although what he was saying was superlative and declarative, it didn’t surprise me. The day he gave that message, it was a view weekend, so there were over a hundred prospective students and their parents visiting. We (TMC students) all know that view weekends is when the visitors see the full face of the college. It isn’t that they see anything fake or false, but all Master’s is and represents and stands for is showcased for the visitors. With that said, MacArthur is stepping into the pulpit in front of prospective customers and with enrollment down, it didn’t surprise any of us that he was saying the things that he was.

But that is no excuse for undermining the authority and priority of the local church. I could give plenty of testimony to how God has shaped my life here, but there is no chapter and verse on the necessity to attend Christ’s college.

When I have heard leaders around here say that the college has something that the church wishes it had, I have understood that to mean we live alongside the very people who are discipling us and who we are discipling. We don’t just meet two times a week, but day in and day out we see each other live and confront sin and forgive and love and encourage. Although I see those benefits, living around people that are primarily your own age is not exactly what Titus 2 speaks of.

By the way, you can access the podcast by just visiting the feed through the web browser, where then you can download individual files without subscribing. So, just plug this feed into a browser: http://www.masters.edu/podcast/chapel/chapel.xml

GP said April 30, 2008 at 3:10 pm:

This makes me embarrassed to say where I went to school. I agree with footnote # 4. What you said about husband, dad and shepherd was right.

Dave Crawford said May 1, 2008 at 5:11 pm:

“In fact, trying to be a loving husband, a diligent dad, and a faithful shepherd has no parallel in terms of intensity.”

No kidding.

I truly don’t understand, however, how the book The Extraordinary Mother, which was linked above in the comments, typifies the expression “money talks.” The phrase means a compromise on essential principles for the sake of money. Since the content is biblical, I don’t see how a spin-off book does this, regardless of whether it was initiated by the author or the publisher.

SKH said May 2, 2008 at 11:02 am:

Alright, first of all and to all who have commented thus far, thanks for the feedback and encouragement.

Second, I don’t want to jump into The Extraordinary Mother discussion too deep except to say, Dave, it’s okay, we promise not to tell Jen what’s coming for her Mother’s Day gift.

Leila Bowers said May 5, 2008 at 9:03 am:

Looking back on my schooling experience, I wish I could have mixed private and public university. I certainly would have loved the depth of Biblical insight and knowledge provided by a school like TMC, but the fight to be “in the world and not of it,” the opportunity to meet many diverse Non-Christians, what it means to battle for truth in a hostile environment, refining critical thinking with Biblical truth – that ‘training’ through the UW and UVa was also excellent.

However, Andy and I have often discussed that, if I (or he) had grown up at a church like Grace, we would have been far more equipped for a place like the UW. I didn’t fully understand discipleship, God’s sovereignty – so many things! And I know a good church would have been a more effective equipper than time at a private college.

Biblically, is the ideal mode of sanctification through something like a Church environment or a School environment? I agree with others, and SKH, that this is more a charge to bolster the depth and life-on-life elements of the Church than start investing in the Stock Market in the hopes of being able to send all our kids to TMC…