2.5 Growing in Grace at Westminster
A central aspect of Westminster’s mission is to “train students to serve in roles of the global church in the 21st century, including pastors and theologians.” It is our intention to contribute to the spiritual formation of all of our students, male and female, in the various degree programs. While theological education is a significant part of this “forming,” we believe that theological education alone will not adequately fulfill that mission goal. Formation is more than education; it also involves what B. B. Warfield called the “religious life” of theological students. Westminster is committed to a first-rate academic training, but we are also committed to the equally high standard of helping our students “grow in grace” as they study for ministry.
In theological education, we believe there should be no separation between learning and godliness as the goal of learning. The New Testament speaks of truth that is in accord with godliness (Titus 1:1) and of godliness that is produced through the knowledge of Christ (1 Peter 1:3). Our concern about the intellectual preparation of students for gospel ministry, and for service in the kingdom of Christ, must never be divorced from a concern for character traits that are necessary for Christian ministry.
A minister must be learned, on pain of being utterly incompetent for his work. But before and above being learned, a minister must be godly. You are students of theology; and, just because you are students of theology, it is understood that you are religious men—especially religious men, to whom the cultivation of your religious life is a matter of the profoundest concern. In your case there can be no ‘either-or’ here—either a student or a man of God. You must be both.
As Warfield reminds us, there is something wrong with a student of theology who does not study. But there may be something equally wrong with a theological student who only studies. The mastering of Greek paradigms, Hebrew syntax, exegesis, systematic theology, apologetics, and church history takes significant effort. But as rich as those things are in their capacity to point us to the Christ of Scripture and to his church, it is possible to study those subjects in all their richness and yet be spiritually bankrupt in the end. Just as we design our academic curriculum for intellectual growth, we also have sought to design it for growth in godliness and holiness. In order to achieve this goal we have put a number of practices and policies in place.
2.5.a Cooperation with Churches
Growth in grace is not something that can happen within a theological seminary alone. Christ gave the church to his people as the place where they receive the means of grace. Christian growth in godliness is to be a process that takes place in the context of the church. Westminster’s goal can only be fulfilled when the Seminary, the students, and the church work in cooperation. Therefore we seek to foster good relationships with local churches where seminarians may worship, serve, and be mentored during their days of theological study. We value the input and advice of these churches and their leaders as we work with students.
The primary responsibility of the Dean of Students and the Associate Dean of Students is to provide pastoral care, counsel, and encouragement for the students. They are available for consultation throughout the academic year and are eager to provide, in cooperation with local churches, mentoring support for students during the entire period of their theological education.
2.5.c Ministry Preparation Commitment
As part of the first course in practical theology, all Master of Divinity students are required to complete a Ministry Preparation Commitment in which they commit themselves to involvement in a local church, the completion of mentored ministry assignments, and the pursuit of personal growth in grace. This commitment unites the Seminary and the local church in providing opportunities, support, and encouragement for students as they prepare for ministry. Progress in the completion of the commitments made in the Ministry Preparation Commitment is monitored through an annual interview with the Dean of Students.
The Seminary provides regular opportunities for worship through chapel services in the Fall and Spring Semesters. Chapels are conducted by members of the Faculty and visiting speakers, who are often local pastors. One morning each week students meet in small prayer groups that are led by Faculty members.
Each year the Seminary sponsors an Institute on Biblical Preaching and a missions conference. On these occasions notable international speakers are invited to the campus, along with many visitors. These conferences have been significant times of spiritual growth and the development of a global vision as students prepare for Christian service. In all these ways, Westminster seeks to discharge its commitment to forming men for the pastoral ministry and to encourage all students in their devotion and service to Christ.