The Sum of Your Usefulness


By now I hope you’ve received a copy of the Fall 2020 issue of the Serious Joy Newsletter. (You can read an electronic version here; if you’d like a print version, let us know—we’d be happy to send you one). This issue highlights our distinctive approach to seminary education as a pastoral apprenticeship and features testimonies spanning 50 years of “faithful men teaching others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). In fact, I can trace my own lineage through five generations of apprenticeship documented here: Daniel Kleven, the apprentice of Dieudonné Tamfu (p. 7), the apprentice of Tom Steller (pp. 5–6), the apprentice of John Piper (pp. 4–5), the apprentice of Dan Fuller (p. 5)… and the stream continues on.

I interact with potential seminary applicants almost every single day. Some are absolutely certain that God has called them to the ministry and to seminary, but others are wrestling with the decision more intensely. Maybe they’re older, they have a family, finances are tight; should they make the four-year commitment to prepare intensely in this way? Is it worth the investment?

Recently in my Th.M. studies I came across a sermon by Alvah Hovey called “Preparation for the Christian Ministry.” Hovey was a professor at the Newton Theological Institution from 1853–1903, and in 1856 he delivered the sermon at the annual meeting of the Northern Baptist Education Society. I would commend the entire sermon to anyone wrestling with the decision of whether to come to seminary.

In the sermon, Hovey acknowledged that there were some men, including John Bunyan, Andrew Fuller, and Thomas Baldwin, who never had the opportunity to study formally but were nevertheless greatly used by God. Even in Hovey’s day, there were pastors who went straight into the ministry, some who because of “their advanced age and domestic relations, and superior intelligence” were justified in “omitting a course of preparatory study” (443).

However, the fundamental question on the table—and the phrase that has been lodged in my head ever since I read it—is this: would “the sum of their usefulness be made the greatest by entering at once upon their ministerial work” or would the “greatest possible usefulness” be attained by first spending some time in focused preparation? This question is “worthy of patient thought,” and indeed, many of our applicants are wrestling with just this.

This is the question that every one of us must answer: as far as I can tell, based on the leading of the Holy Spirit, the counsel of others, and all the wisdom I can find, will the “sum of my usefulness” in the service of King Jesus be greater if I spend time preparing or if I launch straight into ministry?

The kind of math we use as we patiently think about this is not simple arithmetic. You can’t simply add up the number of years you serve, because the true “sum” might be greater if you first spend four years preparing, so that you are even more “useful” in the long run. And who knows—you may actually last longer in the ministry if you spend time sharpening the tools you’ll need to labor in the Word rather than burning out quickly as the work proves harder than you thought.

It’s important to note, too, that this “sum” is not added up in terms of the size of your future church, the amount of books you might publish, or the number of Twitter followers you have. It is not calculated using equations based on “the things of man” but on “the things of God.” A faithful pastor serving in a small congregation with fifty people might actually be more useful to King Jesus than the megachurch pastor with a podcast. 

I believe the sum of our usefulness will ultimately be calculated like this: how much was Christ truly seen and deeply savored? Truly seen in the word, truly seen in the heart, mind, and life more and more transformed into his image, and truly savored in the soul of the pastor, his family, his congregation, and his neighborhood. 

For a small band of brothers, we believe that you will see Christ more clearly and savor him more deeply if you come here and study for four years. You will wrestle with the text of Scripture in its original languages and see, more clearly than you ever have, the beauty and truth of Christ. You will savor him deeply with your cohort and your professors. You will sharpen one another “as iron sharpens iron,” and hopefully you will look and “taste” (2 Corinthians 2:16) more like Christ in four years than you did when you came in. And in this way, the “sum of your usefulness” will be greater for having come to Bethlehem College & Seminary, than it would have been had you not.

If you’re still giving “patient thought” to this question, and you’d like to talk or pray with us about it, please reach out to me. Applications are due December 1.


Daniel Kleven, M.Div. ’20
Director of Admissions
[email protected]


Prayer Requests:

  • Pray that our families and communities will truly see Christ and deeply savor him in our lives.
  • Pray for all the students prayerfully considering whether God is calling them to Bethlehem College & Seminary as deadlines approach.
  • Pray for the continued protection of our community from sickness.
  • Pray that the Lord would provide the 162 Serious Joy Scholarships yet needed for our current students.