3 Things Seminary Didn’t Teach Me About Planting a Church 

By Noah Oldham

God uses all sorts of means to equip those He calls to plant a church. I’m thankful for seminary education. I’m also thankful for the lessons I couldn’t learn in a classroom.

When God called me to plant a church in 2006, there were two things I knew I needed. First, I needed a church planting residency. At that point, most of the leaders in my life – though experienced in so many facets – had little to no knowledge of church planting. Second, I knew I needed seminary education. Yes, I grew up in a church that valued the teaching of Scripture. Each week I had the opportunity to sit under three sermons, each from Scripture, given by three different pastors. As a college student, I would make the drive home as often as I could because my college Sunday school class was taught like Bible college. But understanding the call God had placed on my life – to plant a church in an urban center in order to specifically reach the ardent, educated atheist – I knew I needed seminary education.

I still praise God on a regular basis that one of the first conversations I had with a potential supporter for the new plant resulted in a fully-paid seminary education. And I still praise God that I was able to work through seminary while planting a church. This dynamic made everything from systematic theology to church history come alive in ways I can’t imagine it would have had I taken the traditional classroom route prior to planting.   

Seminary was such an important part of my development. Yet there are a number of skills necessary to planting that seminary didn’t teach me. I’d like to share three of those with you.  

 1. How to cast a compelling vision 

I believe the most important skill someone needs to plant a church (because a call from God isn’t a skill) is the ability to cast a compelling vision. Think about it. How do you build a team of partners and raise funds? How do you gather a core team? How do evangelize faithfully and effectively? How do you preach in a way that calls disciples to true obedience? All of these require the ability to cast a compelling vision. Yes, seminary can (and should!) teach you hermeneutics and homiletics. Seminary can teach you the mechanics of all of these important aspects of church planting. However, the ability to do them well can’t be learned in a classroom. It happens in the lab of experience as a would-be planter puts in the reps necessary to develop this necessary skill that touches nearly every aspect of planting a healthy, multiplying church.  

 2. How to “pronounce peoples’ last names” 

There is an ongoing joke among my church staff right now. Like never in the history of our church, in this season, we are finding out that what we all assumed were the pronunciations of certain families’ last names, aren’t. Some of these mispronunciations make sense because last names in the average church are filled with silent letters, interesting diphthong rules and the blending of various ethno-linguistic backgrounds. But some pronunciations have just blown our minds and left us believing some people are wrong about their own last name!  

You see, in today’s world, we often “see” last names before we hear them. Emails, social media and even visitor connection cards mean we may not hear someone say their own last name until we dig into relationship with them personally. Seminary taught me a lot about leadership, evangelism, discipleship and managing teams of people to accomplish the mission of the church. Seminary also packed my head with Hebrew and Greek language rules. Yet none of that equipped me for the basic, necessary function of church planting: relationship building. I learned very quickly that if I was going to plant a church, I had to develop people skills. Despite my personality profile, communication preferences or ability in any other area of church planting, if I couldn’t pursue people for deepening relationships, I wasn’t going to succeed in the call to plant.  

3. How to refill a paper towel dispenser 

No one goes to seminary to become the church custodian. A prospective planter wants to learn to preach. He wants to be equipped in biblical languages, systematic theology and missiology in order to plant a church to reach the unreached in his context of calling. And while all of this is good and necessary, what seminary almost assuredly does is leave you only as the most biblically educated and equipped person in most rooms. Need someone to preach? Sign me up! Need someone to lead a Bible study? Pick me, pick me! Need someone to lead a doctrine class? I’m your guy!

Acts 6 shows us that church leaders need to be able to give their time and attention to the pressing spiritual needs of the church, like Scripture teaching and prayer. Yet the life of Paul and many of his letters remind us that, in the world of church planting, a leader must go beyond his biblical education in order to allow the church to get off the ground. I have two seminary degrees. But every Monday when I walk into the church bathroom after a weekend of activity, I’m reminded that we’re still planting this church because the paper towel dispenser is empty and there’s not a custodian to refill it. If a leader is not willing to humble himself and do the little, yet necessary things because “that’s not his calling,” then I’m not sure he understands the call to plant.  

It has been said that God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called. And God uses all sorts of means to equip those He calls to plant a church. I’m thankful for seminary education. I’m also thankful for the lessons I’ve learned that I couldn’t learn in a seminary classroom.  

Take time to consider today how God is preparing you. 

Published October 3, 2022

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Noah Oldham

Noah Oldham is Lead Pastor of August Gate Church, a church he planted in the St. Louis area in 2009. He currently serves as the Senior Director of Culture and Care for Send Network. Noah holds master’s degrees in Biblical Studies and Christian Leadership and is a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach. He writes, speaks, and trains in the areas of two of his greatest passions: preaching and physical fitness. Noah and Heather have been married since 2005 and have 5 children.