As a boy preacher, my father let me preach one Youth Sunday at our church. After the service, a brother commended my sermon, concluding, “Junior, in a minute you are going to out-preach your old man.” When I later told my dad about the statement, I was shocked by his response. He completely affirmed it, even though the man did not have good intentions for saying it. He warned me that with the opportunities to learn and grow that I would have, I had better be a better preacher than him.
My father was right. When my father was a young preacher, to use the biblical languages he had to learn the biblical languages. There was no Bible software to help him easily get to the meaning of Greek and Hebrew words. If my dad wanted to go to school, he had to go to school. Correspondence and online options for ministerial training were not available to him.
Resources my father could never have imagined are now available all around us. But we must take advantage of them. There is absolutely no excuse for any preacher to not be prepared to faithfully carry out the call to preach. Here are several helpful hints to consider as you prayerfully determine what training options and opportunities are best for you.
If You Can Go to Seminary, Do It
Not every preacher will have the opportunity to go off to seminary to prepare for ministry. But if you have the opportunity to go to seminary, by all means, do it. And I understand that you must factor in your present family, work, and ministry responsibilities—not to mention the money. But if there seem to be green lights at these intersections, I would encourage you to prayerfully go forward and begin school.
There are some men who are very disciplined Bible students. And they are equipped for ministry through self-education. But most of us need the accountability and experience of actually being in a class, with all that requires. When you go into the pastorate, you become the resident theologian of your local church. You need to be a man of the Book to be a faithful pastor. And you need to learn how to exegete Scripture accurately to be a faithful preacher. So by all means, go if you can go. And do it before life, family, and ministry catches up to you.
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Seminary Does not Make Pastors and Preachers
My father used to say that seminary just shines shoes. Guys who shine shoes do not make the shoes. They just shine them. If you don’t bring a pair of shoes, they don’t have anything to work with. Likewise, seminary does not make preachers. It doesn’t make pastors. School can teach a man the biblical languages, systematic theology, church history, and even principles of Christian ministry. But if the Lord has not called you into His service, these things will not make you a pastor or preacher.
Make sure you have a clear sense about the call of God on your life first. Get input from your pastor, congregation, family, and godly people you trust. If you are not clear about your call, wait. I would not advise you to go in order to figure out God’s call. You may spend four years and end up more confused! But if you have clarity about the Lord’s call, go to school and prepare yourself the best you can for God (2 Timothy 2:15).
Go to a Bible-Believing School
I know this may be hard for some of you to believe. Unfortunately, it’s true. Some so-called Christian professors and schools do not believe the Bible. They spend more time trying to undermine its authority than teaching its message. So do your homework. And do not waste your time on any school that is not totally committed to the Bible. I don’t care how famous or prestigious that school is. It is better to attend a small school where you will learn the Bible than to have a degree from some major institution that teaches liberal theology.
On that same note, I would not recommend that a pastor go to school to major in business, economics, computers, or other disciplines. Of course, this is between you and the Lord. But if the Lord has called you to be a herald of the Word or to shepherd the souls that He has purchased with His own blood, you should use the opportunity to focus on “the queen of the sciences”—theology!
Be a Student—Whether or Not You Are in School
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the “Prince of Preachers,” did not have formal training. In fact, he was not even formally ordained. He considered ordination to be the laying of empty hands on empty heads. Yet you would be hard pressed to find anyone who could not match Spurgeon’s mind for truth, preaching prowess, and pastoral vision.
True leaders are learners. Even if school is not for you now, keep studying. We really have no excuses these days for ignorance. As I mentioned earlier, for my father to learn the languages, systematic theology, and the other disciplines, he had to go to school. But we live in a day where there are so many resources available through various means. One of my favorite Bible teachers and authors admits that he is not a scholar in the languages, but he does know how to use the tools. And that would be my advice to you. You master a trade by learning how to use the tools. Remember, there are no better minds, just better libraries. Study hard and take every opportunity you are given to continue learning.
Do Not Go to School Just Because You Want to Pastor
Many churches require at least a master’s degree in their pastoral search process. This priority of having a prepared man is important and commendable. But it can also be misguided. A degree from a school does not tell you if a man has a godly character, a pastor’s heart, or a gift to preach and teach. I know men who have finished their formal training, but have been unable to find an opportunity for pastoral ministry. And I know men who have not finished their formal training, but have been given opportunities to serve in the pastoral role. Ultimately, the Lord is the sovereign “Booking Agent” for pastors and preachers. He opens doors that no one can close and closes doors that no one can open. Trust the Lord to assign you where He wants you to be at the right time (Isaiah 40:28–31).
Editor's Note: Considering the call to ministry? See our free resource: To Those Who Aspire.
Taken from On Preaching: Personal and Pastoral Insights for the Preparation and Practice of Preaching by H. B. Charles, Jr. (©2014). Published by Moody Publishers. www.MoodyPublishers.com. Used by permission.