Archive for May, 2013

Training for the Ministry

May 11, 2013

A few years ago a well-known evangelical leader remarked to me that not only was there a shortage of men for the ministry, but also some of those who were available were just not suitable.  Why should this be?  Why is there such a shortage of suitable pastors?  There are plenty of Bible and Theological Colleges.  What is the problem?  Why are so many churches unable to find a pastor?

It is the writer’s conviction that part of the problem is defective training, which in many cases is not training at all.  Another factor is the deadly teaching that is seeping into some Christians’ minds that there is no such thing as a call to the ministry.  It is not the purpose of this paper to deal with that latter error, but to attempt to deal with the question as to how men should be trained for the ministry.

The answer, I believe, is, not by lectures.  Lectures do not train people.  They may inform.  In some cases they may even inspire.  But they do not train.  Training involves practice, effort, interaction, guidance, example, correction, discipling, and even rebuke.

In his book What’s The Use of Lectures? Donald A. Bligh argues that the lecture method “may be used appropriately to convey information, but it cannot be used effectively on its own to promote thought or to change and develop attitudes…” [1]  The worst possible form of lecturing is that in which the lecturer dictates his notes and the students copy them down.  This method has given rise to the jibe that “lecturing is the process by which the notes of the lecturer become the notes of the student without passing through the minds of either.”  If that is all the lecturer is going to do he should save his and the students’ time by issuing printed notes.

One of the most serious shortcomings of the lecture method is that it produces lecturers.  Some ministers know only one form of communication, the monologue.  Not only do they preach two sermons on Sunday but also their mid-week Bible study is in the form of a lecture.  Many ministers and colleges completely overlook the fact that Jesus went about preaching and teaching.  This is not mere tautology.  Though there may be overlap in content, the methodology is not the same.  Preaching is declaration.  Teaching involves interaction.  Jesus asked questions of his audience, and they asked him questions.  He taught informally along the road.  But he did not only teach the multitudes, he trained a select number.  They lived in his presence and observed his character, behaviour and methods.  He got them to do what he had done and to report back.  He corrected wrong attitudes and behaviour.  It is important to distinguish preaching and teaching from training.

In Matthew chapter nine, verses thirty-five to thirty-eight, we read that Jesus went about teaching and preaching and healing.  Leaving aside healing, as it was a sign of his messiahship (Luke 7:19-22), here was the greatest preacher and teacher the world has ever seen, remarking that the people whom he was teaching and to whom he was preaching were pastorless.  Preaching to people and even teaching them is not all that is involved in pastoring.  One man, even the Son of God in the days of his flesh, cannot personally pastor and train a multitude.  To train men he selected only twelve. This is where a plurality of trained elders and the use of small groups comes in, but that is another subject.

Unfortunately many college lecturers have never actually pastored a church effectively themselves.  One college principal confided in me that most of his lecturers had not been successful in the ministry.  A lecturer from an entirely different college told me that he did not fit into the pastoral situation so he returned to academia.  Most Bible and theological Colleges in the UK to day seek to overcome these weaknesses by placing the students in churches with experienced pastors for a period of time.  This is a step in the right direction, but it is only a step.  It is not the same thing as being under a pastor for the whole period of training.  Richard Greenham, the famous Puritan pastor, realizing that university education was not an adequate preparation for the pastoral ministry, used to take graduates into his home for a period to train them.

The emphasis is upon theological degrees today, but degrees do not prepare men for the ministry.  I am not against theological degrees as such, [2] but simply asserting that they do not prepare men for pastoral work.  It is not without significance that some of the most famous and greatly used men never had Bible College or Theological College education.  Such men as Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, William Carey, Charles Spurgeon and D. Martyn Lloyd Jones spring to mind, to name but a few.

The matter of finance is relevant also.  Attendance at a college is an expensive business.  Moreover, independent  Bible Colleges depend upon students’ fees to survive.  This sometimes results in unsuitable candidates being accepted on the courses.  One college principal defended such a policy by saying, “It will do them good.”  A student at a well-known Bible college lamented that he was one of only four or five who were actually preparing for the pastoral ministry in his year.  The others were seeking degrees for other careers.

Training on the job is by far the most effective method of preparing for the ministry.  Information, such as knowledge of church history and theology, can be gained by guided reading, or even distance learning.  But experience can be gained only by doing the job under the supervision of an experienced pastor.  That is training.

[1] Donald A. Bligh, What’s the Use of Lectures? (Harmondsworth, Penguin Books Ltd, 1972), 3rd Edition, p.13.

[2] The writer has three degrees in theology.