Monday, August 31, 2009

Educated pastors?

Note to my readers: I write this blog primarily for the encouragement and exhortation of other Christians. While I welcome feedback from those who are not Christians, I'd appreciate it if you directed most if not all of that response through personal messages to me, so as not to distract from the real purpose of the post. Thanks.

Several times recently I've run into what strikes me as a very strange opposition to seminary training for pastors. The underlying idea, from what I can tell, is that (and I quote) "God doesn't call the equipped; He equips the called." Now, there's some merit to that statement - God does provide spiritual power and gifting we need when we calls us into a ministry. He certainly raises up spiritual leaders in places where seminaries don't exist, or where those that do exist are bad. I'm bothered, though, by the resistance to further education for those who will be teaching and shepherding the sheep.

I understand where the resistance comes from, I think. There is a swinging ball and chain of theology in Christendom, and it delivers as terrible a blow at the extreme of intellectualism as at the height of emotionalism. American believers have seen the coldness and death of intellectual congregations without emotion or application. Along the way, many have seen pastors arrogant and self-assured because of their seminary degrees, strutting where humility was needed. Years ago, the coiled spring exploded, and the force of that recoil is not yet spent. In many circles, the sin is not merely intellectualism but intellectual engagement. "Doctrine" is a scary word, "theology" a dangerous thing to be avoided. Most people in that camp probably wouldn't say it that way, but the undercurrent remains: there is a quiet but strong antipathy to the higher education of pastors and teachers.

There are a number of problems with this, but I'll stick to the one I think is the most important. It's not Biblical.

To set the record straight from the beginning, I'm not condemning pastors or congregations where the pastor doesn't have formal training. Many incredibly gifted preachers and shepherds don't. My concern is with those who reject seminary training for all pastors, seeing it as pointless at best and wrong at worst.

If we survey the patterns and directives of the New Testament, a pattern emerges very quickly in the lives of its leaders. Not all of the leaders of the church were "educated" men—but all of them were deeply educated when they began to lead in ministry. The disciple-apostles included relatively uneducated fishermen... who then spent at least three years immersed in ministry and training under Jesus Christ. Paul was one of the best young Jewish scholars of his day, with a classical education to back it up. His disciples, Timothy and Titus, both traveled with him extensively before taking on pastorates themselves. Both of them were instructed to teach sound doctrine. Timothy was explicitly told to study to show himself approved. James told the teachers that they were under a stricter judgment than the ordinary believers in the church.

My conclusion is that the New Testament quite firmly indicates that those with authority should be seeking to grow in wisdom and in knowledge. What that looks like for each pastor will vary immensely. Some will never go to seminary; some will spend a decade there. We need training in the Scriptures, in good doctrine, in disciplemaking, in worship, in teaching well. Where better to get it than from those who have gone before us?

1 comment:

  1. Like so many things, it's certainly possible to do well and be used by God without training (I'm thinking of disciple-making in particular, since that's my experience through the BSU), but training was an invaluable help to me. Some of it I picked up from watching godly people, but much of it I needed to talk through and study in scripture with others. Hear hear!


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