Monday, March 12, 2012

The Importance of Informal Theological Training

Yesterday I wrote an article about the importance of the church being the primary place for ministry training. I wanted to expand on that idea a bit more today. 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.

I have invested quite a bit of effort in training lay people to help their pastors accomplish effective ministry in their churches. Over the course of the last two years I have taught over seventy laypeople from 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, which is being used by over 4,000 churches across North America.


  1. I agree with you Brother! Several years ago my wife and I were preparing to sell our home and move to North Carolina to spend 3 years at Southeastern. I had been accepted into the M.Div program and felt the Lord was calling me into a time of formal training. But then the door slammed closed due to several unforeseen circumstances, as well as, council from Godly men I respect. Let me explain. Before making the decision to move to North Carolina I first came before the body of Christ one Sunday morning, I told them my plans and how I felt the Lord was directing me. I asked the body for feedback so I would be better able to confirm God's call on my life. Many gave words of encouragement and well wishing. But, there were a few, men who I hold in very high esteem, who caused me to rethink my decision. They asked me to consider how God was using me right were I am, here in Vermont, filling pulpits around the State on a regular basis, helping churches in need. Would God be please with me abandoning them? Did I really need to move to North Carolina, the "Bible Belt," to continue my theological training? Where would I be most useful for the sake of God's Kingdom?
    These questions and many more were posed by men I love dearly and respect. So here I am, several years later, still serving as God opens the doors. No, I don't have my M.Div, however I have been steadily completing course through the Southern Seminary's Extension Service, while at the same time gaining real life experience serving God's people right here in Vermont. The Lord has provided me with the best learning and growing environment and I could ever have hoped for. I am so grateful for His abundant Grace in my life.

    By His Grace,


  2. Guy,
    You made the right decision and the Lord is using you as a great example of what this post represents.


  3. Mick ShortsleevesMarch 12, 2012 at 2:03 PM

    Well written Terry. Thanks again for your encouragement and desire for the advancement of His Kingdom...............Mick

  4. Thank you for this perception. I use CEF material instead of SS quarterlies and every child reads from NewCentury Bible. May the goal of SS be to bring about "active learning", exposing young learners to the myriad opportunities of service to Jesus that requires an active prayer life NOW. Altruism is a goal. Dream on, kids. SEE yourselves in full-time service for Jesus....wholly surrendered.

  5. Are our Christian children and youth on at least 1 missionary's mailing list? They need to personally connect with missions in these formative years.

  6. Hey Terry, I have 'informal theological training' ... by virtue of having forgotten most of the formal stuff!

  7. I like this.

  8. Mick, Roy and Mom,
    Glad you liked the article.

  9. Joan,
    Thanks for investing in the lives of children and helping them see how they can serve the Lord.

  10. This is an excellent article and one that I agree with entirely. John Wesley used the method you are describing and look what the Methodist movement that he started accomplished in the US and UK. I am bothered by so many churches, even small churches, wanting only those with seminary degrees pastoring them. What about the men that God has called that are not able to get seminary training? Thanks for your article.

  11. Thanks Bob. We need to recapture these ideas or the church will continue to decline.