If you are a pastor or church staff member, or if you aspire to leadership in a church setting, what is the best way for you to pursue training? If you don’t belong to a denomination that has its own standardized process for ordination, you may very well already be out on the field in ministry (or thinking of pursuing it) without knowing whether or not you are actually ready for it. The weightiness of the task of shepherding Christ’s sheep is far too great to take this question lightly (Acts 20:28). Unprepared leaders will do more damage than good to the church, and souls hang in the balance.
What do you need to be a good leader in a church setting? Scripture is clear that you need character above all. The qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 are almost entirely about personal godliness and upright moral character. A man who does not walk with God in integrity has no ability to lead others to do so. But in addition to character, you also need a broad base of knowledge and the skills to deploy that knowledge strategically to the hearts of your people. You need to know the Bible and theology. You need to know the inner workings of the human heart. And you need to be able to bring those two things together in preaching, evangelism, pastoral care, and counseling. Pastors/elders must be “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2); a pastor/elder “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).
How can you develop the character, knowledge, and skills that you need for this task? The answer to that question depends heavily on your setting, which necessarily affects the range of options open to you.
THE SEMINARY OPTION
Regarding seminaries, let me begin with the observation that no seminary can prepare you in a comprehensive way for local church ministry. Many things that you need to learn will only come with experience and, ideally, mentoring from experienced pastors. But good seminaries offer a number of advantages in preparation:
Access to the teachings of scholars who are experts in their respective fields.
A structured curriculum with accountability that provides motivation for education that most people cannot attain on their own.
Relationships with professors and fellow seminarians that can last a lifetime and that often result in ministry partnerships and opportunities.
Immersion in the specific tradition and denominational identity of a given seminary, which can be very profitable for ministry to churches in that denomination.
Seminary education will cost you money and time. Count the cost, but if possible, I believe it is always preferable to have good seminary training over not having it. You don’t necessarily have to move to the campus of a seminary, although there are many good experiences that happen on a seminary campus. With so many options for distance education available today, seminary training can happen anywhere. But it is always preferable, wherever possible, to learn in a classroom setting instead of an online setting. Online education has much value if it is your only option, but it simply cannot compare to the dynamic of conversation and personal presence that occurs in a classroom. The apostle John preferred personal presence to paper and ink for a reason (2 John 12).
If you pursue seminary, you should also seek out whatever opportunities you can find for being trained and mentored by pastors in a local church setting. This component of your preparation is invaluable and, I would argue, often more important than the classroom component. Good seminaries offer credit hours for this kind of internship/apprenticeship. Pastoral ministry is a craft that is best learned from faithful, experienced pastors, and then supplemented by the expertise of scholars in a seminary setting.
Here in Jackson, TN, we bring both worlds together. Our pastoral apprenticeship at Cornerstone Community Church gives aspiring leaders the opportunity to learn from the mentoring of experienced pastors, all the while earning credit through the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition, the Jackson extension center of SBTS provides students an opportunity to learn in a classroom setting, while supplementing their seminary pursuit with distance education options whenever necessary. Whatever your setting may be, seek out an opportunity to be trained both by pastors and by seminary professors if at all possible.
THE NON-SEMINARY OPTION
Are there factors in your life that make seminary impossible? For example, are you a rural pastor struggling to make ends meet who can’t begin to contemplate the possibility of an added expense for education? If so, don’t despair. Aspire to faithfulness where you are with what God has given you. Build relationships with other pastors from whom you can learn. And make use of the resources that you can access due to the widespread availability of information in this information age.
But where do you start, and what resources should you pursue? I hope this website can help guide you in that process. If I had to summarize the various proficiencies that any good pastor should have, I would say he should be a man of character, with broad and thorough knowledge of the Bible, of systematic theology, of church history and historical theology, of apologetics and the currents of contemporary culture, and of skills for pastoral leadership. I have developed this Ministry Resources section of this website as a hub to provide you with guidance in pursuing proficiency in each one of those areas. I hope you find it helpful, and if it furthers your equipping to shepherd Christ’s sheep in any way, may God be praised.