First Words

Good habits shape good ministers

Even the most mechanical routines can transform our inner lives.

I hated math as a kid. Arithmetic practically made me ill. Story problems were my archenemy. Neither the logic nor the joy that others derived from math class made any sense to me. I loved textbooks that had the answers in the back, which meant I could try to work in reverse and figure out how to arrive at those answers. The problem with that strategy was that it was devoid of discipline and absent of methodology. One doesn’t really learn math without discovering disciplined habits that move one from problem to answer.

Most of the really important things we do in life we do according to habits acquired over long stretches of time. A good life imbued with virtue is one shaped by intentional acts that are too precious to be left to haphazard behavior. Virtues don’t just magically appear in us the day someone cuts our umbilical cord. We learn generosity, reverence, and love over time, and we learn qualities such as these from other people. Trans­forming the virtues we observe into personal disciplines that become ingrained habits—this is what shapes an interior self and external being worth knowing. It’s what readies us for serving the Lord most capably.

Several articles in this issue point to the changing landscape of seminary education. Formal training for pastoral ministry is moving closer and closer to the congregational setting. This has obvious merit, though practical learning in any profession can never fully replace the intellectual discovery that comes through rigorous training of the mind. Seminaries appear particularly good at delivering content, though by nature less well equipped to grow disciplined habits and faithful practices in emerging pastors.