Dr. Clarence “Bud” Bence has served within the Wesleyan denomination for most of his life. He first pastored a church in Rochester, New York where many of his congregants would comment on his ability to “teach” the Word rather than “preach” it. From there he was led to pursue a graduate education leading him to teach at many Wesleyan colleges.
Dr. Bence taught at United Wesleyan College in Allentown, Houghton College, and finally at Indiana Wesleyan University for the last 32 years leading up to his retirement in 2013. Dr. Bence is still an adjunct faculty member at Wesley Seminary IWU and holds the title of Church Historian in Residence. As a teacher many of his students commented on Dr. Bence preaching in class rather than teaching. “I haven’t decided if I am a teacher who ought to be preaching or a preacher who ought to be teaching.” Dr. Bence laughed as he shared in the irony.
Growing up as a pastor’s son, Dr. Bence never intended to be a minister; his desire was to be a medical doctor. In fact, he attended his first two years of college successfully taking pre-med classes. It was in a small prayer chapel at Houghton College where Dr. Bence felt God specifically calling him to pastoral ministry. Dr. Bence changed his major within 48 hours.
After graduating with a degree in philosophy with minors in church and history, Dr. Bence attended Asbury Seminary, the official seminary of The Wesleyan Church at the time. Dr. Bence encourages ministerial students taking undergraduate studies to find an area of interest to broaden their effectiveness as a pastor. “Once God called me to ministry, I was so glad I did not immediately try to take ministry courses,” Dr. Bence shares. “I knew once I got to seminary, seminary would focus on the courses for preaching and theology. My undergraduate studies on history helped me have a rich understanding of the history of Christianity. If students on their way to seminary take different courses from those listed in the seminary catalog, they too can develop their richness in various areas.”
Once students begin to attend seminary, Dr. Bence would urge them to immerse themselves in as many ministry opportunities as possible. “Participating in ministry while studying it provides an opportunity to take what is learned and relate it to experiences in the local church,” Dr. Bence explains. “It becomes like a laboratory to test what has been learned in the classroom. A pastor has to be a lifelong learner to be effective. A seminary education is valuable because it covers a broad range of skills necessary to be a pastor. It also teaches ministers how to learn so they are able to continue learning after their formal education is complete.”
A seminary education helps pastors obtain credibility in our educated society and gives depth to ministry. Dr. Bence views education and more specifically a seminary education as a necessity in the life of a pastor. “Ministry is a multi-faceted vocation requiring too many skills in various areas to get in four years of an undergraduate education,” Dr. Bence says. “Seminary doesn’t teach ministers everything they need to know but it teaches the complexity of what it means to minister in this modern age and provides a foundation to be effective in those multiple areas.”