Does Preparation for Ministry Matter?

I’ve been doing some thinking and talking with fellow ministers lately about whether or not they need to go back to school. In a couple of cases, they want to know if they need to go to seminary at all. Having spent a loooong time in college to prepare myself (and I would do it again), my impulse is to say, “Well, of course!” I love the classroom and know the benefit my education has been. In times past I’ve gone as far as to think a person shouldn’t go into ministry without formal study.

I’m not sure I feel that way any more.

Don’t get me wrong. I still believe educational preparation is a preferred way to cultivate leaders for the church. It’s hard for me to believe education would actually hurt someone’s ministry potential. However, I now know a number of effective church leaders who have intrinsic gifts of ministry and the ability to interpret and preach the Word effectively. I also know some extremely “prepared” ministers who still struggle in ministry.

How do we explain this? I’m not sure, but I’ll take a stab at it.

Albert Einstein, in this lesser known quote, says: “Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.” I know some of my colleagues just tore their clothes when they read that, but Einstein’s point is worth thinking about.

I’ve always been a proponent of the “leaders are readers” concept–and I still am. However, I do know some preachers who are more-or-less professional readers. I do think there comes a time when education and preparation can reach a point of diminishing returns.

Here are a couple of other questions I’ve had:

  • Does our seminary education process effectively equip ministers? If not, what can we do to improve it? I think it could benefit more from an uptick in focus on ministerial practice and spiritual preparation–while maintaining scholarly rigor.
  • I also wonder if a focus on education reduces our belief in God’s role in the preparation and empowerment of the minister. I don’t think it has to, but I’ve witnessed the criticism some academic elites aim at highly capable ministers simply because they don’t have MDiv. or higher degrees. It’s absurd to me, though I certainly value education.
  • It seems to me we view someone as “qualified” based mostly on education and experience, rather than calling or effectiveness. I wonder if we couldn’t view qualification more holistically.

We all have finite lifespans. It seems then there are wiser things to do that spend it preparing for what we feel called to do without actually doing what we feel called to do. Continuing to learn and grow while in ministry is vital and is not at all what I’m questioning here. I’m addressing the belief that unless one goes to college for 7-10 years, they cannot be an effective minister of the Gospel–and the assumption that those 7-10 years actually prepare them well for ministry.

Does preparation for ministry matter? Yes. As much as we’ve always assumed? I’m sure on that one.

What do you think? How important is educational preparation for ministry? When is a person properly equipped to enter ministry?

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Share Your Thoughts

9 thoughts on “Does Preparation for Ministry Matter?

  1. Tim, i would advise education with field experience. Meaning while pursuing your education, find smaller churches or other ministry settings where you can practice what you are learning.
    Yes, i too know people who are educated with masters and doctorate degrees who are very successful in ministry. And i know others who don’t have masters or doctorate degrees who are likewise successful. So i would say, never stop learning. That’s the key. Don’t lose the learner’s mentality.

    • Zach,

      I think field education is vital to a well-rounded education. I had the blessing of working full-time in ministry while going to college throughout…it was huge.

  2. Tim — I think these are great questions. I went to school to be a math professor and today I am called to be a youth minister. I truly believe that I would be better off if I had had a few more religion classes (well not so much religion but mission/ministry minded even youth and family kind of classes. However, I have supplemented my lack of course work with trips to NCYM (the national conference on youth ministry) as well as close colleages and ministry partners who have challenged and advised me. I have made many mistakes along the path, and I often consider returning to school for my MDiv, but I also believe that the work I am doing now is still beneficial to the kingdom and my love of learning and willingness to find education outside of the formal college setting has allowed me to grow as I work out this calling.

  3. Are there courses — preferably required ones — which teach interning preachers to love deeply and sacrificially from the heart? To me, that might be the single most necessary element of a successful ministry. I’ll struggle with a minister who is struggling with big issues or tough passages of scripture or public speaking skills or even familiarity with scripture if I know that minister livers with heart, soul, mind and strength both the Shepherd and the shhep.

    • Keith…there are a few spiritual formation classes out there. Not many. As I said in the post, if I could tweak our educational process, I would add more in the areas of ministry skill and spiritual formation. Our heads are huge and we seem to simply hope the best for the heart.