As a person who holds two advanced degrees from two different seminaries, I place a high value on theological education. But I have learned that while a formal theological education is helpful, it is not necessary for a person to accomplish effective ministry. I have met numerous pastors who were self-taught and were extremely effective in their ministries. I have also met a significant number of lay people who could discuss deep theological issues even though they had no formal theological education.
Not long ago I was involved in an effort to train lay people to help their pastors accomplish effective ministry in their churches. Over the course of two months nearly four dozen laymen from ten churches learned how to preach and make pastoral quality visits. Some church and/or denominational leaders may feel that teaching lay people to preach and giving them significant pastoral duties will weaken the church. My point of view is that if laymen are given adequate training, then there would be no reason to expect inadequate preaching and pastoral care from them.
While there may be some voices of concern regarding the quality of lay preachers, a rising chorus of voices is also calling for increased training for lay ministers so they can be as effective as possible. Steve Nerger writes in his book, Bivocational Church Planters: Uniquely Wired for Kingdom Growth, “God has a unique calling for pastors. We are not trying to diminish that. However, this calling is not just for seminary-trained men. That is a North American mistake created by the arrogance of humankind with the prestige of a human-made education.” Nerger recognizes the role of formal theological education in training ministry leaders; he just believes that people have gotten so focused on formal education that they may have missed the bigger implications of God’s calling on a person’s life to serve in ministry.
Formal education has great value. Men who want to minister should avail themselves of such education when possible. But people should not let their lack of formal theological training keep them from serving the Lord. The bottom line is that when God calls people to serve Him, God will help those people answer that calling regardless of the level of their formal theological education.
Dr. Terry Dorsett is a bivocational pastor and church planting missionary in Vermont. He is the author of Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, published by CrossBooks and available at CrossBooks, Amazon and 25,000 other online retailers.