Want to know a deep secret about seminary presidents? Evangelical seminary presidents in particular?
By the way, a seminary (sometimes called a divinity school or theological college) prepares pastors and teachers and Christian leaders for ministry. It also provides graduate education in Christian studies for lay people who want to think Christianly about their vocations. The last I heard, there are over 250 seminaries in North America. Some 70 of which are evangelical, (accounting for 50,000 students).
Here is the deep and fairly unknown secret. You might think that seminary presidents are so “into” their own schools or are so deeply divided that they never talk to each other. Not so. Many of these leaders actually meet together once a year, not for business, but for fellowship, encouragement, conversation and prayer. It is a gathering called FESP—The Fellowship of Evangelical Seminary Presidents. This week I attended FESP for my second time.
Let me tell you why this particular group of leaders is worth thinking about. First, these presidents and their schools have been entrusted with the mission of preserving and propagating the gospel. They lead efforts to teach the Word of God and promote Biblical wisdom which we desperately need in North America. This is not to say they are all doing a great job at this. But they do have a huge influence on the spiritual formation of the next generation of church leaders and on the direction of the church.
FESP started in 1976 when the presidents of Trinity, Gordon-Conwell, Bethel and Fuller thought it would be good to talk to each other. Brilliant idea! Now-a-days each gathering has about 40 plus schools represented in any given year. They come with their spouses. Some of these leaders come from the academic world, some come from the business world, and some come from the church. They represent the broad spectrum of the evangelical world that can embrace the confessional standards of the Lausanne Covenant.
FESP is a “collaborative fellowship committed to encouraging, supporting and nurturing one another in ministry.” And do we ever need support! To quote the FESP Information Booklet, “the schedule most presidents keep is exhausting . . . . The presidency is also a lonely position in many ways—bearing budgets, faculty, students, donors, etc. Isolation often leads to frustration and stress. FESP offers a venue for presidents to meet together, develop friendships, and share common struggle sand successes.”
Add to this that seminary presidents carry the weight of the institutions they represent. These leaders get shot at from all sides, yet they have a trust from the Lord to be faithful. They have an obligation to stay close to and to serve the church. And they exert great influence in shaping the theological discussions of our day.
So FESP offers an opportunity for this group of leaders to meet face to face and get to know each other away from the publicity machines. It is a forum where leaders “check their egos and logos at the door” and meet as Christians who are trying to serve the Lord and his church.
Truth be told, the first time I went, I half expected to meet a lot of large ego leaders. But that was not the case. After meeting, you realize that every one of them feels the excitement of serving the Lord, the challenge of leading seminaries in this decade, and the pressures of intense spiritual warfare.
Someone said that when you teach a seminary student, you are teaching not just a student, but many congregations. Each student represents hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of people. You could also say that each seminary president will influence many, many thousands of people due to the very nature of leadership training. For that reason they need our prayers.
If you have read this far and care about this kind of thing, let me close by suggesting how you might pray for those who lead our Christian graduate schools.
1 Pray that they be faithful to Christ, and unwavering in their commitment to the truth of the gospel and the Scriptures. Yet pray that they and their schools stay open and flexible to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
2 Pray for wisdom as they influence the discussions and direction of the church in North America. Pray that their lives would be characterized by both the grace and truth of the Lord.
3 Pray that they stay close to the church, so they can serve her and her leaders well.
4 Pray for spiritual protection for them and their families. Like pastors, these leaders have large targets on their backs. Many of the leaders I spent time with this past week feel under attack.
Would it surprise you if they were? As Paul wrote, “for our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm” (Ephesians 6.12).
That’s part of the secret lives of seminary presidents we seldom think about.