By Dr. Dennis Williams
Once I heard a person say that “He didn’t need formal, seminary training to preach. He said that he just let the Holy Spirit lead him.” Not to be sacrilegious, but I’ve heard some of these people preach and if I were the Holy Spirit, I would be ashamed!
Can people minister effectively without seminary training? Absolutely! God uses people willing to serve Him, even when they have little or no formal biblical training. One must ask, however, how much more effective can a person be who has benefited from effective specialized training in ministry. This is what a good seminary education can do.
The significance of education and training could be asked about any vocational field. Training can be experienced by someone telling and showing a person how to perform a certain, simple task or it can amount to years of study and application that will result in an academic degree. The amount of training is dependent upon the task to be completed. Teaching a person how to turn on an electronic device such as a tablet or smart phone is relatively simple, while knowing all that can be accomplished on one of these devices takes a great deal more time.
It is important to consider what type of work or ministry one will do in the years ahead and then one can design a program of study or training in order to prepare for this vocation. This does not mean that once you have been granted a degree your learning experiences are over. To minister effectively today once must adopt the model of lifelong learning. Often in my classes I would remind the students that they would be facing challenges and situations different from my church ministry experiences fifty years ago. Good training should allow people to adjust to the challenges of the day with new ministries and methods while at the same time holding unto the biblical foundations of the past.
What is seminary training? It is a program of study that includes Bible, theology, church history, philosophy, biblical languages, preaching, leadership, administration and other subjects that lead to a graduate degree. The degree is usually an MA or a M.Div. Historically these programs were resident with duration of two to three years. In the last 25 years more schools realized that many people in ministry who desired and needed seminary training could not leave their work and travel to a resident campus to secure their education. Schools developed extension centers away from the main campus, but this also required at least one year of residence on the main campus. Ten years ago Rockbridge Seminary began offering completely online seminary degree programs. Using this model, students did not have to quit their ministries to travel to a main campus to complete their degrees.
What makes seminary training unique? Usually a person has completed a college degree before entering seminary. Therefore students in seminary possess a degree of maturity and experience that contributes to the integration of learning on the graduate level. Students already serving in ministry, while taking seminary courses, are able to integrate their ministry experiences with what they are learning in the classes. Students also are able to interact with their professors and other students as they deal with issues in their ministries.
Seminary should not just be the learning of facts and information that can be duplicated through exams. Yes, facts and information are very important as we present the truths of the Gospel to people in need. It is important to be able to apply the facts and information to the hearts and lives of the people God has called us to serve.
Seminary education leads a person to develop a biblical philosophy of ministry. With the leadership of the Holy Spirit this will provide direction and motivation for a lifetime of fruitful service.
As the years go by God may lead His servants to different kinds of ministry. One may begin as a staff person in a church and later become a senior pastor. Others move into mission work or become administrators or teachers in Christian organizations or schools. There are many opportunities for service in God’s Kingdom. Whatever calling God may give, seminary education can provide the basic training.
Most denominations and mission agencies today require a seminary degree for appointment. They want their people to be well grounded in the Word of God and know how to proclaim it effectively.
Many people in our churches have advanced degrees and certainly those who minister to these people should be prepared on that level too.
The seminary experience provides opportunities for spiritual development.
Ministry training is the focus of seminary education and the classes taken focus on the application of the truths learned as they apply to the needs of people in the congregations.
God calls us into His ministry and He is the One who will empower us to accomplish His will. We in turn should get the best possible preparation to fulfill His purpose for our lives and seminary training is designed to make this possible.
About the Writer:
Dr. Dennis Williams has served as Dean, School of Leadership and Church Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Professor of Educational Ministries and Administration at Denver Seminary, and Executive Administrator for the North American Professors of Christian Education. Dr. Williams is a member of the Board of Trustees at Rockbridge Seminary.