By Kenneth D. MacHarg
Just because I went to seminary doesn’t mean that I think every pastor must do the same.
But, I do think it isn’t a bad idea and that any pastor will benefit and be a much better, more accomplished, deeper servant of God if he or she does.
However, according to a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor many of today’s new pastors are rising up out of their home church and moving into the pastorate without the kind of formal education and shaping that an earlier generation not only wanted to do but, in some cases (such as mine), was required to do.
The Monitor explains, “What’s emerging…is an example of a quiet but revolutionary shift under way in American mainline Protestantism. Across the country, hundreds of long-established congregations are finding new roles for laypeople as the churches undergo a fundamental change from full-time to part-time clergy.”
The newspaper goes on to explain that one of the main motivating factors for this shift is the declining size of many traditional, Protestant churches which are no longer able to afford a full-time, seminary trained pastor. Thus, they are turning to lay members to assume the responsibilities on a voluntary or part-time paid basis to keep the church open.
The article also demonstrates that most American churches did not have full-time pastors until the early 19th century. And, in that era, many home-grown pastors had no formal theological or seminary training.
Yet, they did well, pastored effectively, and the churches prospered and grew.
One has to praise the Lord for that, and to recognize that God can call whomever He desires and infuse that person with His Spirit to guide, train and build him or her as an effective shepherd of the people.
However, it’s not just traditional denominational churches that are shrinking which are looking for local, untrained leadership to guide them into the future. Newly planted, independent or non-denominational churches are also starting up with dynamic leadership which has little or no training or experience in theological study, homiletics (preaching), counseling or even church administration.
As I observe the numerous newly-birthed churches popping up all over our part of the country in old grocery stories, school auditoriums, strip malls and other previously-used facilities, it is notable how many of their leaders are good people who are struggling to be theologically solid, trained in ministry skills, and effective in reaching out evangelically to those who are seeking a spiritual home.
I do have to express my concern, however, for churches and pastors where the leadership is sorely lacking in the totality of training that a theological degree offers. By that, I mean a full degree that is designed to train men and women for pastoral service from an accredited seminary or Bible college.
Why do I think this is so important? Because seminary or Bible college training produces pastors and other church leaders who are well-versed in biblical studies, theological doctrines, Christian pastoral counseling techniques, psychological and sociological training that provides a broad understanding of the milieu in which they work, homiletics which trains in the areas of sermon preparation and delivery, church organization and management, church history, missions studies and so on.
When pastors work their way through a full seminary training program, they go to churches prepared, seasoned by contact with other seminary students and caring professors, and professionally capable to leading their flocks with care, quality and compassion.
And it’s not just the classes and the books that are important. Equally crucial are the informal insights, nuggets of information and wise guidance that comes from educated, experienced professors who bring a life-time of service and knowledge to the classroom.
Many of the gems of wisdom that I picked up in seminary came in response to a student’s question or an off-hand comment from a professor that wasn’t in his notes, but came to mind in the context of another discussion.
Seminary today doesn’t mean that a family has to pack up and move a thousand miles away for three years. Many degrees can be obtained online or in seminary branches that are popping up in major cities around the country.
However it is done, churches and pastors can better assure that their leaders are adequately trained by providing them with an education offered by qualified teachers in accredited seminaries or Bible colleges.
The local church and the Kingdom of God will be blessed when we provide the highest quality, educated and trained leadership to our churches.
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