Rev. Dr. Demetrius A. Russell, Sr.
I have often heard that ministers should trained to enhance their serving and preaching.
While training is encouraged, I have witnessed two things: 1) clergy and parishioners condemn those who seek formal education and training or 2) the minister thinks they don’t need training. Though more clergy are seeking education, many are receiving degrees outside of the ministry, religion and theological studies. Yes, that is to be celebrated but we must not neglect the need to be trained for the ministry. Curtis Thomas suggested that, “We should involve ourselves in continuing classes, seminars, retreats, and conferences that will stimulate us and keep us up-to-date on the thoughts and patterns around us.” (Practical Wisdom for Pastors: Words of Encouragement and Counsel for a Lifetime of Ministry) The world is changing rapidly, and the minister must consider strengthening their knowledge to spread the gospel.
There are three phases that I believe play a crucial role in shaping ministry today. These phase are scholastic, spiritual and practical competencies. This article will share the importance of scholastic education in ministry through seminary training, the need to live according to biblical teaching and the importance of practically applying what is learned. So… let’s dive in!
I have witnessed individuals hurl insults at clergy who are learned or Seminary trained. In many worship services, its been stated that those who travel through academia lose their ability to be led by the Holy Spirit. Others state that ministers are going to the cemetery. Many have shared that all the training needed can be learned on the job, however, these same individuals encourage others to pursue their educational goals to perform at a high level in their secular careers. Seminary must be viewed as a place that provides options that the pastor may not have considered that allows them to serve at their best.
As I have heard my late father and current pastor/mentor say numerous times “The call to preach is also a call to prepare.” Regardless of one’s age, there must be a desire to give God something to work with. Scripture encouraged the importance of the minister’s need to educate themselves with knowledge. 2 Tim. 2:15, “Study to shew thyself approved unto to God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly diving the word of truth.” Though this scripture has more to do with the workman of God than education, it suggests that the thorough minister will seek to gather the tools to correctly study and apply God’s word. One way to discover and learn these tools is by attending a bible college or seminary.
The purpose of formal education is not to produce gifts that God did not intend for the preacher to have but provide the information to strengthen their abilities. Charles Spurgeon suggested, “I can only think with my own brain, and feel with my own heart, and therefore I must educate my intellectual and emotional faculties.” The development of the brain and heart, as Spurgeon wrote, is crucial in having the ability to educate those individual sitting in the pews of local churches. Attending a seminary does not mean that a person will automatically be a stronger preacher but their time in study is meant to broaden their horizons so they can develop the gift God has given them.
The rise of technology has made it possible for all to have access to knowledge, especially information that aids in apologetics or defending the faith. In this present day, ministers cannot formulate reason to avoid formal training and education. The physical location of the pastor no longer serves as a hindrance. The advancements in modern technology has made it possible to have full access to training from the world’s finest seminaries. Whether one attends a Bible college, seminary or distance education, the resources available can assist in developing a stronger preacher and church. Avoiding this insightful information can potentially place a limit on one’s ministry that God did not intend to happen.
The importance of educational training is one aspect of ministry, however, for the minister to be successful, there is an importance concerning spiritual competency in ministry. Spurgeon shared that the minister must have a relationship with Christ before ministering to the needs of others. “True and genuine piety is necessary as the first indispensable requisite; whatever a “call” a man may pretend to have, if he has not been called to holiness, he certainly has not been called to the ministry.” Holiness, which means to be set apart also is comprised of a person’s character and conduct. This is important because my generation and younger, seeks the example of the minister and less of their words.
One effective avenue for spiritual holiness is through the minister’s prayer life. Dave Early shared that in his years of research, great spiritual leaders, from Abraham to Billy Graham had and learned the importance of a practiced and prioritized prayer life. Making prayer a part of one’s life provides the opportunity to hear from God and effectively lead His people.
Scripture suggests the importance and the power of prayer. 1 Thess. 5:17 offered instructs believers to “Pray without ceasing.” Constant prayer acknowledges a dependency on God and a desire to maintain fellowship with Him. Daniel’s prayer life serves as the example for twenty-first century ministers to follow. Dan. 6 provides the provisions and the protection one has through God based on their prayer life. When we maintain constant communion with God, like Daniel, we will have a spirit of excellence and a residue that confirms our relationship with the Almighty.
In order to use what has been acquired through the classroom and spiritual maturation, there must be a desire to engage in practical application. Jay E. Adams shared in his book, “The directions that one’s practical activities take, the norms by which he operates and the motivation behind what he does must emerge from a biblical theological study of the Scriptures.” (Shepherding God’s Flock) H.B. London and Neil Wiseman further explored this thought stating, “God created you as unique person so He could use you in a special way… He does, however, want you to yield to His will and purpose so He can accomplish something important for the Kingdom of God.” (The Heart of a Great Pastor…) Applying God’s word to one’s life assists in providing the blueprint for application.
In practical application, the minister, concerning delegation of tasks, must be able to develop a healthy balance. The possibility of a pastor’s growth is diminished when he only supervises and assigns ministry tasks to others. This is crucial because the pastor is required by God to shepherd His flock. Scripture provides information that solidifies this call in 1 Peter 5:1-4.
Practical application in ministry requires faith. Curtis Thomas suggested that, “Our faith has to be demonstrated by our works.” (Practical Wisdom for Pastors) Faith is necessary in leading God’s people from various walks of life. The works, in this case is to be good stewards of God’s people through pastoral care. Two ways to accomplish this task is through pastoral counseling and visitation.
Pastoral counseling requires pastors to provide guidance that assists in becoming whole. While offering advice and answers to problems may be desired, the pastor must use caution, understanding their limits and when it is necessary, refer the parishioner to a professional biblical counselor. While parishioners want their pastor to specialize in more than biblical matters, he must be stalwart in his position. If nothing else, the pastor should be a good listener which will provide details for referrals if necessary and a safe space for sharing and spiritual guidance.
The term visitation in both the Old and New Testaments deals with having concern for and does not solely focus on making house calls. A clearer view of visitation in the twenty-first century is important due the different approach developed from each generation. Most pastors are not able to go from house to house on Saturday and Sunday’s to visit members. Honestly, some parishioners would prefer that not to be the case. With technology, human interaction is somewhat different, and it should cause pastors to develop a plan that honors God and ensures that ministry is carried out. The pastor must consider incorporating the traditional visitation within group meeting times, such as midweek activities and fellowship hour at church. Though this may be difficult for many to comprehend, one must remember that visitation means complete care of the flock.
Lastly, there is a need for the minister to spend time focusing on their preaching and teaching ministry. Preaching and teaching are a must for clergy, especially those serving in pastoral roles. Regardless of style and presentation, the preacher must be clear and have the ability to be mindful of the pews spiritual cognitive level but also make room for mental and spiritual growth. Thom Rainer found that many unchurched individuals were more apt to return to church and become members because of the pastor’s diligence in his preparation and presentation. After interviewing 353 unchurched persons, over ninety-seven percent stated that the pastor and his preaching played a part in coming to church and when given the chance to choose, many stated that preaching led them to select their current church. (Surprising Insights from the Unchurch and Proven ways to Reach Them) The pastor must preach in ways that teach the bible and provides life application. Individuals today want to know how can I use what the bible states to live for God? The pastor must consult God’s word and stay alert of their surroundings to reach and meet the needs of people.
As it has been mentioned, success in today’s ministry requires scholastic training, spiritual maturity and practical application. When the preacher devotes time to these three facets of ministry, God can use them to bless the lives of the people they serve. I encourage ministers to research schools (distance learning as well) and different conferences that promotes preacher/pastor development. But… we can always start at home and support GABKY’s own, Simmons College of Kentucky (Louisville, KY) and Hopkinsville College of the Bible (where I teach, lol… Hopkinsville, KY