on preparation for ministry (updated)

This is a risky post for me – if read by the wrong person or people I could get in a lot of trouble – mostly because of the circles in which I travel – but do know this reflects my own opinion.

If you are sensing a call to the ministry or to missions – whatever you do – do not go to Bible School.

If God says to you directly “I want you to Go to Bible School.”  Well, then you need to go.  But as a general rule, in most cases, Bible School can be hazardous to your ministry effectiveness.  Why?  Because there is often more to ministry than just Bible related issues.

Instead, if you want to be a pastor, I might suggest getting some general business degree – while churches are not businesses, they are often run like them in many respects – I mean someone needs to keep the books, manage the finances, know how to work in the best interest of the church from a business perspective and given that the vast significant majority of churches in America 50 to 100 folks – unless they happen to have someone in the congregation with a servants heart to help out with this kind of stuff – many of this kind of thing falls to the pastor.

If you want to be a missionary – get a practical degree such as teaching, business, linguistics, or even something far out like a chemistry, environmental science degree, even a medical degree or one in urban planning and community deelopment .  This way you’ll actually be able to be of some benefit to wherever you go other than just starting a Bible School or doing evangelism.  These are needed of course but so are medical skills, science skills, teaching and so on.

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UPDATE: As an example, a missionary family I recently met, who live in an undisclosed location, the father is a specialist in agricultural development and are utlizing that skill where they are as relief workers.  In their first term, they served the people by hepling them build a chicken farm and to fish farms.  In effect, in meeting their physical needs it opened up the door for them to meet the people’s spiritual needs. 

This is modern missions

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Pick either a Christian University and get a liberal arts degree that is practical and has a variety of transferrable skills – or go to a State College or University and get plugged into a Christian group on campus for spiritual support while studying in a secular anti-religious environment – this is pretty good prep for being out there in the world.

What about getting a theological education?  Save that for seminary 0r if you choose a Christian University – have ministry or Bible be your minor – but even then, I would suggest saving it for seminary.  Additionally,  stay away from things like missions majors, youth ministry degrees, and Bible majors.  Those will be of less help in ministry prep in the long run than if you get a good liberal arts degree and save the ministry prep for seminary.

That’s my $.02.

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12 responses to “on preparation for ministry (updated)

  1. Brian, there is so much good advice in what you are saying. In a way, however, I disagree on the Bible degree part. Interestingly, I had a missions major and feel it really equipped me to pastor in the city. Principles I learned about cross-cultural communication work really well in an urban setting.

    My only thought counter to what you are saying is if we get business degrees we may want to keep on with this horrid model of running churches like businesses. It may look successful, but the measurements of success aren’t necessarily Kingdom measurements. Also, I would recommend if people do not get an adequate foundation in Theology, Bible Study Methods, and Hermenuetics at the undgrad level, they really NEED seminary.

    George Wood, Gen. Supt. of the A/G, made an excellent case for theological education (which for him was at the Master’s level). He said it helped him form the discipline to KEEP THINKING years into ministry.

    I like the idea of business or some other major in that one may find themselves in a place where they need other skills to help with income. If they plant a church or pastor a small church, that is incredibly helpful.

    Yet, we need MUCH better theological education (in the A/G anyway) than we’re seeing right now. I see far too many pastors getting their messages out of some kit or off the internet and very few getting a true word from God.

    • Dan I understand completely – I guess I did not mean get a business degree to run the church like a business but more for the sake of handling the day to day stuff – and I absolutely agree that kingdom success cannot be equated with business success – that said, at our district council this year I realized I would like to see at least one on the leadership have an MBA.

      I agree too with the issue of needing better theological education in the AG – I do think it is on the upswing though it might be taking longer than some might like! I would contend additionally that many AG pastors NEED seminary even if they went to CBC.

  2. Brian,

    I understand the need for someone to have SOME business sense in the District Office. Our own district got burned BADLY by some investments that they SHOULD have known better. However, I also think they would have been well served to have that chunk of money handled by a professional firm to make sure tight guidelines were followed. It would have been money well spent and would have saved the District a MILLION DOLLAR LOSS. (They also need the business sense in the office. I’m not going to quibble on that.)

    As to further theological education, I am in agreement. Even if pastors don’t go back to get a Master’s, they should consider auditing from time to time. Goodness, we spend thousands of dollars on these pragmatic conferences. It would take us so much farther if we’d shave a little off from that and spend some time learning to dig deeper in the Word and feed our sheep better!

    • Somewhere there has to be some balance. I have seen both sides of the problem maybe Bible College needs to incorporate some business classes? The lack of theological training is hurting us (I’m not AOG but I do belong to a growing penetcostal fellowship), and it just seems that most even those that are pastors are just not that interested in further study. They will spend thousands of dollars and go to conferences but none will spend anything at all in further theological training.

  3. Robert – exactly. Dan – we are in basic agreement. Perhaps they just need to be sure the business director is an MBA but I suppose that doesn’t have to be a must.

    The thing I was trying to emphasize is that the AG needs a paradigm shift in understanding how missions works – just about everyone besides us has moved on from the bible school-evangelism model for missions to more pragmatic approaches. I know you dislike pragmatism but we need to see that it is just as missional to help a community develop a clean drinking water system or dig wells as it is to start up Bible Schools and plant churches.

    One thing I do appreciate about NCU (at least on paper) is that you can easily double major in Bible and some other practical degree, which is not the norm.

  4. Brian, I think NCU has more to offer in missions to help with development projects, etc., so it’s more encouraging to see. They have an outstanding TEFL program as well. They still have the “traditional” missions major, but it is far less emphasized. They do indeed need a paradigm shift. The faith promise method is needing an overhaul and no one wants to talk about it. I tried several years ago and was shut out in a hurry.

  5. Brian,

    I appreciate this post, just as I do with all of yours. As a fellow classical Pentecostal (IPHC), I never grow weary of emphasizing the need for individuals in our tribe to go to seminary. My, oh my, how many woes and embarrassments we could avoid if we had a firm grasp on the Word of life!

    As an aside, do you have some contact information that I could get a hold of? I’d like to pick your brain on some things regarding theological education. If you’re reluctant to publish it on this site, shoot me an e-mail at jhaltman@gmail.com, if you’d like.

    Grace and peace,

    Jonathan Altman

  6. Pastoral ministry, where possible, should require more than just “Bible training.” But it should never require less than this.

    Effective leaders, even those trained in the business world, can be great. But if they are steering the ship the wrong way, they may do proportionately more harm than good.

    While I don’t disagree with your thesis that other aspects of ministry are important (e.g., administration, leadership, etc.), if one had to choose between Bible training or other training, I’d recommend Bible training, hands down. But, then again, that sounds like a false either/or to me.

    Full disclosure…this coming from a guy with a business minor, and a seminary degree.

  7. Brian,
    I partly agree (and see that the comments above have tackled what I would have). I have a Missions major and have pastored now for 11 years. I personally think that getting a missions degree was far more beneficial than if I had gotten a pastoral degree. The emphasis on studying cultures has benefited me more often than not. Now finishing up an M.Div. I decided to not follow any sort of pastoral track, but instead to focus on other things I felt would be more beneficial (like extra language training, more advanced classes in theology, etc.). IOW…I’ve had almost no training as a pastor, but seem to do pretty well at it and feel like the best thing I could have done was to NOT get pastoral training. Though perhaps my personality (type A) and background (pastors son married to a pastor’s daughter) have contributed to this for me, where others perhaps might have needed what I didn’t.

  8. I appreciate what you all are saying – hopefully wasn’t saying don’t get Bible training – was trying to save that for seminary – I can appraciate the missions major emphasis in a pastoral ministry context, I really do.

    I have the MDiv and did much of what Rick is talking about – had not something come up that did, I would have seriously thought about an MA in Intercultural studies too. I was just advocating saving Bible and theological training for seminary because most pastors are bivocational so I was advocating the undergraduate get a degree that would get them a job, i.e., computers, business, social work, counseling, teaching, so on. Then go get the MDiv to prepare for the pastorate or to do missions/ministry elsewhere, etc.

    Again, in advocating the business degree, I wasn’t trying to advocate running a church like a corporation (they are communities of faith) so much as I was advocating the pastor, who most likely will pastor a small church learn skills to handle the “business” side of things, e.g., keeping the books, sound financial management and so on, things that are often required of the small church pastor. But this is not a “must” of course, just a suggestion.

    For example, we pastor a small church – there is no one at the momement in our congregation who we come even close to trusting to help us with the books (or who is capable) so it falls to us – shoot – we wonder if one of us should have had an accounting degree. Lol!

    I hope this helps.

  9. Brian,

    This makes perfect sense. In your case, where you are out in the middle of almost nowhere, it’s difficult to even look for help.

    In my case, in an urban setting, I have a little more advantage. Where I lack in some area, I can look to other resources to help. A lot of times it’s free. Sometimes I end up paying a small fee. My church isn’t large, so I’m careful with that. Yet, there are times I WILL pay someone to help because we just simply need that expertise. I can’t learn it all, nor should I. It takes a team to get things done in this world.

    I hear what you are saying and completely understand. I agree with how you see training as well. We actually counsel our boys to earn degrees in something other than ministry at first, unless they really believe they are called to ministry and really want to get theological training first.

    Dan

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