An exchange between a seminary president and a youth pastor included the following remark from the youth pastor: “I pastor high school students. They need me to love them and teach them about life, so a seminary education isn’t necessary.” The president challenged that youth pastor to consider that Scripture is the single best source for understanding life. While agreeing (in theory), the pastor wrote off seminary because of the personal nature of his Bible study—and that was all his students needed.
There is no small controversy over the value of seminary in ministry. Arguments are passionate on both sides—and both sides point to the Scriptures for their support. While not the ‘end-all’ of persuasion, here are 10 ways seminary training will lead to better pastors:
1. Clarity of focus
In Job 38:2 the Lord rebukes the one “who darkens counsel by words without knowledge.” Passion is one thing, but without training, passion is misguided. Seminary can offer the guidance through the Scriptures to allow the trained pastor to shine the light of God’s Word into the lives of his flock (even HS students!). This is not a minor issue; it covers the entire call of God on a pastor’s life. Without the training that yields proper focus, a ministry can be derailed or discredited.
2. Scripture is sufficient for all elements of life
A deeper knowledge of the Scriptures gained through dedicated study will allow for wider scope of interpretation. The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture will demonstrate that Scripture contains principles and mandates for all areas of life. Unless well-educated and trained in the Bible, a pastor could be unable to apply Scriptural principles for certain situations. Understanding the sufficiency of Scripture will permit a trained pastor to rightly apply Scripture to all circumstances.
3. Good interpretation of Scripture
This is invaluable—historical, contextual as current applications of passages allow for a richer understanding of the value of God’s Word. Training in hermeneutics as well as the historical context of Scripture will result in a better, clearer understanding of God’s mandates and precepts. Scripture was relevant to the original readers/hearers in specific ways; it is also relevant to us today. Knowing the historical context as well as the Spiritual principles in a passage will produce a deeper understanding of God’s Word.
4. Orthodoxy in doctrine and practice
A proper understanding of Scripture and its application in the pastor’s own life will go farther in teaching a flock than three years’ worth of sermons. When one of the strongest criticisms against the church is hypocrisy, a well-trained pastor will understand the value of living in a manner consistent with Scripture’s teachings—especially the teaching he presents from the pulpit.
5. Protection against heresy
Without proper formal training, there is a great risk of theological imbalance or doctrinal error leading to heretical views. It is a slippery slope when a pastor doesn’t have the seminary training can be vulnerable to “new thinking” (usually psychological in nature), and allow him to lead his flock down a dangerous path toward heresy. A strong biblical foundation from seminary study can minimize this vulnerability.
6. Guard against false gospels or wrong-based appeal
This differs from protection against heresy in that sound theological training will keep the main thing the main thing. A good, well-prepared pastor will not base the church on shallow teachings (prosperity doctrine, dynamic speaking, fun programs, worship “shows”) that do not reflect the true Gospel of reconciliation to a Holy God. The church’s goal is not to fill the seats with paying customers!
7. Insulation from negative cultural effects
The church is under attack from nearly all angles (external and internal) by a culture that espouses self-exaltation, comfort/convenience and immorality. Pastors who are trained in the Word of God will have a ready defense for these attacks no matter their source. The well-trained pastor will also be able to help strengthen the flock to withstand these attacks themselves. The church is supposed to look different from the culture because it holds the Truth of God’s Word in high esteem. A seminary-trained pastor will equip the flock to withstand the cultural forces pushing toward compromise (and, ultimately, impotence).
8. Sound leadership using scriptural models
Without leadership training afforded by seminary (as part of a well-balanced program), a pastor can fall victim to following the strongest personality in the congregation or current cultural ideas instead of the Bible and the principles therein. Good seminaries will include leadership courses using biblical models and principles to equip the pastor to lead the flock.
9. Preparation for accountability
Hebrews 13:17 advises members to respect and obey those who rule over them because “they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account.” There will be a time when all pastors will stand before the throne of Christ and give an account for those He put into their trust.
10. Counsel from those who have served
How valuable is the exhortation of one who has been where you are going? When we receive driving directions, we trust those who have made the trip before us. Seminary provides that ‘expert testimony’ for new pastors in order to prevent certain pitfalls and troubles along the journey. Such insight won’t prevent troubles, but as the saying goes, “forewarned is for-armed.”
These are just 10 of the many reasons a seminary-trained pastor is more effective as a result of their degree. The debate will continue and there will be counter-examples from each side, but the value of seminary training cannot be discounted. The benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.