The London Theological Seminary has changed its name to the London Seminary. Here, Principal Robert Strivens explains why.
Q: Why have you changed your name?
A: Changing our name to London Seminary might feel like a radical step, but we want to reach a wider audience — for instance, all those evangelical churches and people who don’t know much or anything about us. We also want to move away from using initials.
‘London Theological Seminary’ was a bit of a mouthful, and often got abbreviated to LTS. Unless you already know about us, those initials won’t mean anything. So we were looking for a shorter name to express more clearly and memorably who we are and what we do. In fact, it’s only our name that’s changed. We’re continuing to do exactly the same things as we did before.
Q: Isn’t ‘theological’ rather an important part of your identity?
A: Absolutely. We believe that a theological approach to pastoral training is essential to prepare someone for a lifetime of ministry. About half of the teaching time in our two-year course is dedicated to direct study of the Bible and its languages. That includes close examination of the biblical text, and the development of an appreciation of different biblical genres. Our theological approach continues to be reflected in the entirety of the course, as well as in all our literature.
Q: Does the change in name reflect a shift in your approach to pastoral training?
A: No. We’ve made no changes to our theology, approach or teaching methods. We continue to provide training that’s rooted in the principles laid out by Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, one of the founders of the seminary.
Lloyd-Jones, who was once a chief clinical assistant to the King’s physician, had a University of London research degree by the age of 25. Having experienced the best academic education on offer, and seen its limits, he believed that a seminary for training preachers and pastors should be in an entirely different realm.
He wanted students to be scholars only as a step on the road to becoming experienced preachers. For him, ministerial training was all about preparing general practitioners of the Word, rather than evangelical specialists. Today, this is embodied in our ‘learn how’ approach.
Q: What’s the significance of the ‘learn how’ phrase?
A: At London Seminary, we train and equip men to be pastors and preachers. That’s our core purpose — one that we see as biblical. We think it’s essential for students to know what they do well, and where they can improve. So, while our course is based on classroom learning, and while it’s intellectually challenging, we value practical application just as highly.
For example, if you learn biblical languages (Greek and Hebrew) to a certain level, you’ll develop a firmer grasp of the message of the Bible and this will help you to teach others. We’re unique in that the orientation of our content and approach is wholly vocational. We’ve tailored every aspect of our course to prepare our students to go out and engage in pastoral ministry, effectively and on a long-term basis.
Q: So is this just a ‘how-to’ approach?
A: Not at all. It’s true that our orientation helps us equip students to deal with the rigours of church life, but the course and its demands are anything but simplistic. We believe good practice is founded on good theology, so we take a rigorous and in-depth approach to the examination of Scripture. Our students develop insight into how Christian doctrine works as a unified whole, and look at approaches to mission, world religion, evangelism and apologetics, among other things.
We also encourage them to think about a whole range of contemporary issues and attitudes. By grounding them in a deep understanding of God’s Word, we help students to learn how to assess all the subjects they study — theology, history, practical issues or medical ethics — through the lens of the Bible.
Q: How do students ‘learn how’? How exactly do you implement this?
A: Through all our course topics, we focus on teaching students how to understand and communicate the Bible more clearly and deeply. Most of our lecturers are themselves pastors, or have significant experience pastorally, and our teaching approach involves huge amounts of interaction, and plenty of opportunities for discussion and questions.
We’ve designed our assessments to help us develop in students the characteristics they’ll need for ministry, and they experience this regularly through placements, mentoring, and being part of church life week by week.
By giving them this practical experience throughout the course, we equip our students to apply classroom learning to their individual pastoral ministries.
Q: Why is it important to ‘learn how’?
A: Pastoral ministry can be hard work. You also need a broad set of skills. One day you might be sitting with a young mother who has terminal cancer; the next you’re being asked to explain an obscure Greek word to a Bible study group.
To sustain this, pastors and preachers need to prepare carefully across a broad range of topics. We see pastoral ministry as practical, not academic, so we gear our training to reflect this.
Through some of the UK’s best pastor-teachers, we address real pastoral and practical realities, equipping students to deal with difficult situations in a way that honours God. We work hard to give them all the essentials they need for a life in pastoral and preaching ministry.
Q: Some people juggle study with work. Can you give them that option?
A: Yes, it’s easier than ever to study at London Seminary, because we now offer part-time and modular study. We’re flexible, and our location is central. Today, the internet offers students a plethora of online study options, but we take the view that interacting with lecturers and fellow-students in a physical classroom is the best possible learning environment to prepare for a lifetime of ministry. Our part-time students tell us that training with others, on campus, increases their levels of motivation, challenge and achievement.
Q: Do other aspects of life at London Seminary make you special?
A: Our leafy campus at the edge of the city has given us the space to build a friendly, close-knit community where personal relationships flourish. As we’re not tied to any denomination, our students come from a wide range of backgrounds, with up to a quarter from overseas. This brings its own richness, enabling those in our community to experience insights from many other cultures and church contexts.
Q: Can you quantify the value of the training you provide?
A: We have bursaries and subsidised accommodation to help those with limited means, but many of our students pay for their training.
What’s the value of that investment? I would say it’s huge, because our expertise and experience allow us to give students a solid foundation for a lifetime of ministry. Some people assume that seminary training is the expensive, gold-plated option. In fact, compared with other providers, our all-round and comprehensive training is very affordable.
To continue the financial metaphor, most of our students find that investing in London Seminary training pays them and their ministry dividends, for years and years. For more information, visit www.londonseminary.org