Knowledge and Humility

October 13, 2012

Max Benfer, M.A.R. ‘06

Rev. Max Benfer graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary in May of 2006, and since then he has been working in his hometown church, Severna Park Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Severna Park, MD. He is currently the pastor of assimilation, men’s ministry and adult education. “I started going there in 1980, became a member when I was a teenager, and then left for seminary. My wife and I moved back home not knowing what I would do and where I would end up for ministry. They called me to do an internship there, and while I was doing my internship I was able to pass all the licensure and ordination exams and I got ordained in ’09.”

While he has been out of Westminster for over 6 years now, he still looks back fondly on his time here as formative in his development as a leader in Christ’s Church. “Westminster was the perfect combination for preparing me for a pastoral role.  I say that because I left there both more knowledgeable and more humble at the same time.”

Max still remembers the opening convocation message by Dr. Trueman his first semester at Westminster, from Philippians 2. “The title of it was ‘What is the Christian Mind?’  He just asked us, ‘what kind of mindset do you want to have when you get out of here?’ One of the things that he said that initially struck me was, ‘you’re studying here because other people are sacrificing for you to study here.  There are other people making the world work, who are working 9 to 5, and you’re here sitting in a library.’ That made an impression on me. Then he said, ‘have this mind in you that was also in Christ. Christ did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, made himself nothing, came as a servant.  When you go back home, are you going to take all this knowledge that you’ve gleaned here, that somebody else sacrificed for you to glean, and go back and use it to bash people over the head, or are you going to come back and use it humbly as a servant?’ And that was the first message I heard, before even starting classes here.” Listen to Dr. Trueman’s convocation message in our audio archives here.

That convocation message set the tone for Max’s time at Westminster, and he continued to be humbled by the teaching he received at Westminster.  He was especially impressed by his professors: “These men who know so much, who are so learned and at the same time so incredibly humble, showed how much they submitted to the authority of the Word of God, even with all their vast knowledge. To me, it just set the tone of my whole ministry coming back, it put me in the right mindset.”

One thing that Westminster especially gave Max was a confidence in the Word of God.  He tells a story of when he went back to his home church after seminary: “The first thing they asked me to do was teach an adult Sunday School class. When I stood up to teach that class, there were men sitting there who were elders when I was 6 years old.  Here I was: called as an intern, and I was asked to teach men who had been studying Scripture since before I was old enough to read the Bible.  That was an intimidating thought!  But the intimidation went away because of my Westminster education. I quickly realized that even though these men had been studying Scripture a long time, I had been given a tool, and I had been given knowledge that was still beyond what they knew, so it gave me the confidence immediately to get over that hump of being the new guy, being an intern, feeling inadequate to do this.”

While Max is grateful for his time at Westminster, he realizes that he has learned even more from being a shepherd of Christ’s sheep. Many things he simply couldn’t have learned in seminary. “I think within my first six months, we had a woman, a member of our church, be shot and murdered by her son.  The next day—we were already dealing with her husband who was heartbroken and their son who was put in prison—while we’re reeling from that, the next day another family from church had their 9-month old baby girl die.  Within two days, after only being there six months, that’s my introduction to church ministry. I don’t think anything I have gone through could have prepared me for that.”

While seminary can’t prepare a pastor for the kinds of tragedies Max describes, he has found that Westminster has prepared him well for the day-to-day operations of leading the sheep. “I’ve heard it said, ‘don’t go to Westminster if you want to be a pastor, go to Westminster if you want to be a professor.’ Whoever says that, I think needs to stop saying it—it couldn’t be more wrong.  I think someone who says that is saying the church doesn’t need theological precision. Someone who says that is saying that the church, Christ’s sheep, can get by with milk. At Westminster, you get an education that is rigorously biblical, and rigorously confessional, and I think that’s something that church desperately needs right now.

“To think that the best way to be a pastor and to feed his sheep is to be in a school that is going to go light on your biblical knowledge and theological knowledge, I think that’s completely backwards. You, more than anything else, need to be trained in the Word, and trained theologically, because believe me, you will get the practical side of it when you get out there.

He goes on, encouraging current students: “In your main day-to-day workings, when you’re working on a sermon, or you’re preparing a Sunday school class, or you’re trying to set up a curriculum, or you have a member come in and ask you about a theological issue out of Scripture—that’s mainly what you’re going to be dealing with.  Are you going to be well-prepared for that? Are you going to be well-prepared to feed God’s sheep, or are you going to be only able to give them milk? What is your level of preparation? Your level of preparation is going to influence your confidence and how well you think you can feed the sheep.  So I think by all means, get the best education you can get, because you’re not going to have the time to do it [after seminary].”

“Westminster professors never let you rest on your laurels, they’re constantly pushing you to know more and keep pursuing the knowledge of God long after you’ve left Westminster. But I’ll say this, and I think this is an important ‘but’: they’ll push you to do so, not just for knowledge that puffs up, but they’ll push you so that you can know the God you serve better, so you can better serve the God you know.”

Max asks for prayer that God would continue to use him to serve his church and God’s people better. Please continue to pray for Max and Severna Park Evangelical Presbyterian Church, that many would come to know the living savior through his ministry.

Also, if you would like to contribute to the work of Westminster in training men and women to proclaim the whole counsel of God throughout a changing world, visit our online donation page.