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How important is education for a pastor?

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Question:  I have two questions that I desperately need help with:

1. I am currently serving on the pulpit committee at our church. We did not require college or seminary training from our applicants and did not reject applications of those without degrees. One applicant just received his second Ph.D., and interviewed very well with the committee and the church body. One committee member is very adamant all one needs to preach is found in the Bible and far too much attention is paid to education. Help me with this line of reasoning, because I am having trouble with understanding how learning form the wisdom of men of God is not a positive thing.

2. My second questions involves this same candidate. This same committee member has a problem with the fact the applicant has spent the last eight years teaching at universities, writing Sunday school literature and furthering his education without holding a pastoral position. The comment is, he was called to preach and is neglecting his call. One again, I am not following and I admit I am not a scholar of the Bible.

Any Biblical references or words of wisdom will be greatly appreciated.

Thanks and may God richly reward you for your services.

Response:  I am happy to help if I can. I would first wish to point out two obvious things about myself: 1) I am not privy to your individual church's (or denominations') specific doctrinal stances on such matters (and so will answer from my understanding of scripture alone); 2) I have a Ph.D. (plus two M.A.'s and two B.A.'s) so that my view on the importance of education should be clear at the outset.

In much of the contemporary American evangelical Church, there is abroad a prejudice against education. I believe the reason for this is that institutions of higher education generally and seminaries in particular have had a tendency since the beginning of the last century to swing away from a child-like faith in God and in His Word toward skepticism and hyper-criticism. However, to condemn for that reason all higher education (or, even worse, all those so educated) is clearly a mistake. How can one claim to be able to explain what is in the Greek text or the Hebrew text if one has not had years of detailed training in the original languages? How can one claim to be able to explain the development of a theological principle in the context of what the Bible really says if theology has not been formally studied? How can one pronounce upon historical and cultural details of the ancient world that illuminate and explain Bible passages if one has no formal training in ancient history? In short, if your church is seeking someone whose training includes the basic tools for studying scripture, it is almost without question an essential that the person have at least a seminary degree (or a secular equivalent).

This, of course, begs the question of what your church is looking for. It certainly does not require Greek or Hebrew, or theology, or ancient history to do what is done in most pulpits around the country on any given Sunday. If your church is looking only for "exciting preaching" of 10-40 minutes once or twice a week, if rhetoric is the objective rather than content, then perhaps no education is necessary. However, the statement you report "all one needs is what's in the Bible" I would agree with - but what's in the Bible can only be known beyond a superficial level through exhaustive personal study, and without the language tools, academic methodology, and core information provided by systematic training, such study is clearly handicapped. That is not to say that a Ph.D. or two or more makes a person a good potential pastor. But to my mind, having a good education is certainly not something that should prima facie disqualify a person.

On your second point, it certainly seems that your poor candidate is a victim of a terrible "catch 22". For he is seeking a pastoral position and being told he can't have one because he doesn't have one. The fact that he wants one isn't good enough - if he had one, he could have one, but he doesn't, so he can't. Perhaps if he had been working for the last eight years, that would be OK, but because he was learning things that might be of use in contributing to a congregation's spiritual growth, he has clearly not been doing his duty. L.S. Chafer is reported to have said that if he were a young man preparing for the ministry, he would want about 10 years of preparation for every year of service - so important did that great man of God hold formal education as a basis for proclaiming and teaching the Word of God.

I don't know your church or your congregation. I know enough about churches in general to know how divisive searches can be (and how divisive hires can be). If it were my own choice to make, and mine alone. I would pick the person who gave the most promise of providing good solid spiritual food, who would most likely be the best at providing the teaching of the Word that would contribute to my own personal growth and to that of the rest of the congregation as well. There are a lot of factors that go into this, even if one has perfect information. Education is only one factor, but it is an important one. My own rule of thumb on this would be the opposite of the one with which you seem to be confronted, namely, not to reject outright a person with no formal education, but to be very wary of hiring anyone who could not really dig into the Word for themselves (without having to depend entirely on translations and commentaries), and do so in a true and orthodox way. For it is the communication, explanation, and teaching of the truths of scripture that is clearly the pastors main responsibility, at least from the biblical viewpoint:

Until I (i.e., Paul) come, devote yourself to [public] reading [of the scriptures], to encouragement [through preaching], to teaching.
1st Timothy 4:13

Let those elders who lead well be held worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the Word and in teaching.
1st Timothy 5:17

Be zealous to present yourself to God [as one] approved [in what you do], a workman who does not need to be ashamed, [like a skillful carpenter] "cutting straight" the Word of truth.
2nd Timothy 2:15

I hope this e-mail is of some help - please do not hesitate to write me again if you would like to talk about this some more.  You may also get some help from the following links:

Pastoral Support, Pastoral Preparation, and the Purpose of Assembly.

Pastoral Authority, Popes, Pat Robertson, and Pelagianism.

        Some Questions on Church Polity

        Church Polity

        Tent Making

        Pay the pastor

        How much should we pay the pastor?

        Pastoral Support

        The Local Church

Yours in the One whom we all strive to follow and please, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill


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