Albert J. Tricarico, Jr.
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church is always looking for faithful men to take up ministerial labors in Christ’s church. Students at Reformed seminaries are in search of places to serve. These two objectives intersect nicely in what we call the Readiness for Ministry Seminar.
The two-day event takes place twice each year. This year the April seminars were held at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (GPTS) in Greenville, South Carolina, and Westminster Seminary California (WSC) in Escondido. Four general secretaries (of Home Missions, Christian Education, and Foreign Missions) attended, along with guests who were invited to participate as observers.
The seminar serves several purposes. It introduces the OPC and the work of its program committees to seminarians. It provides training on themes related to Christian ministry. It also makes preliminary evaluations of men whom the Lord may be leading to internships and eventually to pastoral calls in the OPC.
All seminars are not the same. Programs are customized, taking into account the number and experiences of the student participants. The enrollment was low this year, with only three students attending each seminar, so adjustments were made in keeping with a more casual atmosphere. In choosing material, we also took into account the fact that some of the students had attended in the past.
This year the training took two forms: lectures on subjects of interest to future ministers, and exercises that reflect situations a local session might face.
In “The Character of Pastoral Ministry” (at GPTS), Danny Olinger and Douglas Clawson delivered helpful lessons on the pastorate, using rich illustrations from the lives and doings of Orthodox Presbyterian servants of the past and present. Their teaching emphasized integrity in the ministry as well as the practice of evangelism and pastoral care.
John Shaw gave two lectures. “Planting a Reformed Church” (at GPTS) was a robust talk that highlighted our church-planting commitments and methods, as well as the work of Worldwide Outreach. In “Evangelism in the Local Church” (at GPTS and WSC), John made the case for understanding Christian witness in the context of local congregational life. The talk was filled with stories of men who are faithful evangelists and uniquely gifted to facilitate witness among God’s people.
Al Tricarico gave lessons under the title “Manners and the Ministry” (at WSC). The talk offered three tools that pastors must develop as they seek to lead and serve the body of Christ: a listening ear, affirming speech, and trust-building conduct.
The Readiness Seminar also features roundtable discussions of challenging issues that church sessions might address. The students take up the issues among themselves and the observers listen in. We call this exercise “Problem Solving in Reformed Ministry.” Of particular interest are the interactions between men who are called to treat delicate matters with wisdom and kindness. After the simulated session meeting ends, the whole group discusses the issue itself, along with ways of approaching people with love and faithfulness to the Word of God.
The principal assessment tool is the exhortation. Each participant is asked to present a message from an assigned biblical text in the form of a short sermon. Observers then evaluate the sermons with the goal of affirming the men and at the same time critiquing his content and presentation.
Interactions are not limited to the scheduled items, however. There is ample time during breaks and at lunch for men to enjoy each other’s company and share stories of God’s faithfulness.
In the final segment of the seminar itself, the students are invited to ask questions of the observers. Mainly these relate to the OPC, but they may also raise particular questions about the men themselves.
After the seminar, John and Al meet with the students individually to review their experience and advise them. This can happen on-site or over the phone at a later time. Students are also invited to give feedback on their experience.
As something of a spin-off of the Readiness Seminar, we sponsor seminary lunches six times a year at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, near our offices. These are times for OPC committee representatives to mingle with students in an informal setting. Speakers are invited to come and address issues of interest to students who are preparing for service in the church.
Recent topics have included “Engaging the Muslim Next Door,” “What I Wish I Learned in Seminary,” and “Lessons Learned as a Missionary to Africa.” While in California, we had a similar lunch, with John Shaw speaking on “Internships in the OPC.”
Until this year, I had never participated in a Readiness for Ministry Seminar. I offer these impressions as a newcomer to the event.
The seminar is packed with content. While every one of the subjects addressed by the speakers deserves deeper treatment than what one lecture can provide, each talk covered a lot of ground. They were all informative, rich, and edifying. They were also received with gladness by all who listened. The seminar began on Friday evening and ended at mid-afternoon on Saturday, so in reality the two-day event was contained within about eighteen hours, start to finish—a short amount of time to hold such substantial content.
Those who participated care deeply about ministry. To a man, the students were committed to pursuing sacrificial service in Christ’s church and shared their desire to be useful to the cause of world discipleship. Because of the small number of registrants, they were given extra time to deliver their messages. This was helpful to me as a listener, and I am sure the men themselves appreciated the extra minutes.
At both venues, the students received feedback with grace and appreciation. This was particularly impressive to me. We all noted this as evidence of spiritual maturity in the men who came. A servant-leader must be humble and willing to receive input from others (1 Peter 5:5).
The observers take their work seriously. As an observer myself, I felt free to comment on what I saw and ask questions of the gentlemen who came. However, as someone new to the seminar, I was most interested in hearing others and gaining insight from them. I wanted to learn and was not disappointed. The brothers made insightful comments that I am sure will, in the near or far term, benefit the students who came. Preparing men for ministry is not a light matter. Those who engaged understood this and did a wonderful job.
The results may be significant. This is in the Lord’s hands, of course. We wait on him to call men to serve and prepare them for life as shepherds of God’s people. Still, I have reason to expect that some of the men who attended the seminar will land as useful ministers in our church. I have spoken with some previous participants who are now pastors and evangelists in the OPC. As they reflected on their experience, they shared their joy in the opportunity to take part. It was useful to them. They are now useful to the church.
I wish that this seminar had been in place when I was in seminary and exploring ministry in the OPC. I know that I would have benefited from it. I write this to encourage you who read New Horizons to think about the seminar, tell students about it, and pray for the ongoing work of finding and training men for pastoral ministry in the OPC.