Should pastors be formally educated?

It’s becoming increasingly popular in large churches for pastoral staff positions to be filled with people trained in business skills and not ministry skills. (i.e. They’ve got the title “pastor” and all the perks that go with it, without going to Bible College or Seminary.)

Let me know what you think about that trend. Vote in the poll below and leave a comment with your thoughts.

I’m just going to state my opinion up front. I think its a dangerous and scary trend. Particularly with some of these church structures where “pastors” are only accountable to an elder board… made of largely of successful business people who didn’t go to seminary! I think this trend is a reason we’re seeing so much open and proud heresy preached.





20 responses to “Should pastors be formally educated?”

  1. Chad Avatar

    As a youth director in a mainline church, I struggle with this. I have a Master’s Degree in Theology but I cannot hold the title, “Pastor.” In reality, to about 100 young students and many of their families, I “AM” their pastor. I am the one they come to when their relationships end, I’m the one they tell their joys and concerns to. I spend their 6th grade-college years working with and growing them. And then, when they want to get married or have their kids baptized, I am not allowed to function as the “pastor.” And all of this with a Seminary Degree.

    On the other side, I recognize and understand the importance of some sort of “formal” training that educates and prepares a person for a place in ministry. I believe this can be through seminary and that life experience should be taken into account.

    In any case, the problem to me is less about the actual training than the way that churches today tend to throw around the term “pastor.”

  2. ED... (who blogs at Sincere Ignorance and Conscientious Stupidity) Avatar

    This scripture (1 Timothy 2) speaks to the need to be educated to teach and exercise authority in the church: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”

    i.e. Passive Adam kept quiet, although he had first-hand knowledge of what God was like. He, therefore, was not deceived. Eve was deceived, however, who had not been instructed by Adam. Adam’s sin was indolence, Eve’s was presumption.

  3. Schnerples Avatar

    I have no problem with someone not going through Seminary or Bible College and becoming a preacher IF they have been mentored into the position. I think that going the mentoring route will be harder in the long run, but also far more effective. Seminary is great at getting information into someone’s brain, but it’s not good at teaching someone how to be a pastor. How to balance the needs of the congregation with where you feel God wants you to lead them. How to encourage, disciple, and guide people through personal conflicts. These are all large parts of being a pastor.

    Now, if you’re only talking about preaching, I can honestly say some of the people I have learned the most from have gleaned their knowledge of the scriptures from reading them, not from a class.

  4. Sam Halverson Avatar
    Sam Halverson

    This is a result of the rise of non-denominational churches. I have no complaint against non-denominalationalism (is that even a word?) but it is understood that a denomination has certain guidelines and structures that must be followed. In order for a person to be given the title of “pastor” by a denomination, that person must jump certain “hurdles” that allow the denomination to be certain that he or she has not only the education but also the calling and the doctrinal belief that goes with the denomination. Being a United Methodist clergy, I not only had to go through at least three years of seminary (after college – M.Div.) in an accredited seminary (which also is important – not just any seminary or Bible college) but had to pass through the denominational/conference board of ordination – which is more than simply a local church saying they want me as their pastor. Now, in each church where I’m appointed, the congregation knows that my “accreditation” comes not just from the church where I grew up but also from the seminary I attended as well as from a board of clergy and laity associated with the entire denomination.

    I know it’s a huge mess of red tape at times, but without it (and sometimes even with it) a person can get to a leadership position and do a lot of damage in the church – even unintentionally. It also helps congregations and individuals to have a greater trust level of those of us who have been “approved.”

    1. ferdinand Avatar

      Agree 100%

  5. adam mclane Avatar

    @sam (and others)- now that we have this rise of non-denominational churches who basically deputize who they want… what is a possible solution?

  6. Mike Avatar

    I work in a non-denominational church right now. I hold the title of Pastor of Middle School Ministries. I am currently finishing my Bachelors Degree in Theology, and looking forward to a Masters.

    But, I have served in ministry for almost 7 years, 5 of which have been full-time ministry. I can say, as someone working towards an eventual M. Div. that a large amount of the material I cover in my college courses are relatively isolated to study of Scripture (which is important) and the exercise of spiritual disciplines (which I just enjoy). Here’s the rub: as the leader of a large ministry, all of this training only covers ONE part of what I do. At no point have I been required to take a class on business budgeting, team management, or advertising/marketing. Yet, a great portion of my time is spent on these things.

    So the more important question about education, for me, is how well does this prepare me for the full scope of ministry and church leadership? I know many people went from school straight into ministry and discovered they were gifted in exegesis, but couldn’t counsel their way out of a paper bag.

  7. Chad Avatar

    Adam, I think Sam had a good thought when he wrote, “In order for a person to be given the title of “pastor” by a denomination, that person must jump certain “hurdles” that allow the denomination to be certain that he or she has not only the education but also the calling and the doctrinal belief that goes with the denomination.”

    Non-denominational churches do not all have these guidelines or red tape that people must go through in order to be ordained as pastors. I also think the key phrase here is, “education AND calling.” If someone is called to ministry, it would seem that person would naturally seek out training and education. Aside from a Seminary or Pastoral education being passed into law in order to start, serve in or lead a church (which probably will never happen), churches (both denominational and non) will continue to set their own standards for what constitutes a pastor. With such a pluralistic picture of the church in America, I don’t know that there is an actual solution.

    People are going to follow leaders whether or not they are educated and trained. The ideal solution would be for church websites and pastors to disclose their background, training and education for ministry to help people make educated and informed decisions, along with their emotional and spiritual decision, of where to worship.

  8. BenAboutLondon Avatar

    I think we have to be carful about making absolutes where the Bible doesn’t make ’em. Yes an education at Bible college can be good but it doesn’t mean you’ll make a good pastor.

    When I first got into ministry I was dead against them. Mainly becasue of the way people (in the churches I was in anyway) put preachers on pedistals based on their degree. “They must be right, they’ve got a degree from…” is a rediculous notion.

    However, I was wrong to destain education as a result. I don’t have a degree but was mentored and trained as a missionary for 10 years. In those years a preaching gift was encouraged and a heart to be a Pastor was awoken. I am now a Pasor in east London. Over the past few years I have studied at Bible College specifically in teaching and preaching. But I don’t have a degree.

    Paul puts it this way:

    1Ti 3:2-7 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

    It’s not about a degree or no degree. It’s about maturity in the word, and being a sound Godly example. We shouldn’t add to this job description. At the same time though that doesn’t mean having a Bible degree is bad either. We should just get the balance right.

  9. Tim Avatar

    I voted “Yes, in all cases.” I have no problem with one going into pastoral ministry without an education, as long as an education is sought immediately following the start of the ministry. Education is essential, as the old cliche “Knowledge is power” so clearly tells us. I find it interesting that pastoral ministry is one of a very small number of professions for which people don’t see education as necessary.

  10. adam mclane Avatar

    “It’s not about a degree or no degree. It’s about maturity in the word, and being a sound Godly example. We shouldn’t add to this job description. At the same time though that doesn’t mean having a Bible degree is bad either. We should just get the balance right.”

    The thing that is missing from those who feel like formal education isn’t needed are really two-fold.

    1. In general, they are not mentored in preparation. There is a difference between preparing a message for impact and a message that is actually true. When I listen to a lot of uneducated big church pastors preach… they’d get high marks from their local Toastmasters but low marks from a theologian.

    2. When you are exposed to preparing messages for academic purposes, you get used to being reviewed HARSHLY. I’m tired of sloppy preaching being blamed on “the Holy Spirit.” As someone who has prepared his fair share of messages, it’s pretty tough to discern whether you think something is good or if it is from the Holy Spirit. Truth be told, academic preparation helps you distinguish between a “fresh look” at a passage and a well-known heresy under a new name.

    I’m sticking with the phrase you hear all the time in college sports… “education is never going to hurt you in life.”

    1. ferdinand Avatar

      Agree 100%

  11. BenAboutLondon Avatar

    I do agree with you Adam, there are planty of bad examples of people being pushed to lead big churches becasue the have the right ego… er i mean charisma. And I hear these guys preaching heresy all the time. But a Bible degree doesn’t automatically solve the problem. I’ve heard people with Doctorates preach and teach heresy too. I’ve also heard plenty of educated young aand old pastors preaching doctrine soundly but missing relevence and authenticity completly.

    I agree with the what you said about covering up bad preaching with Spirit language. You can get away with anything with that type of rubish comment.

    We should always be seeking to study and learn as bible teachers. As soon as we say we’ve right, we are most certainly wrong! But it’s never just about the Bible College we go to, it’s ultimatly about being humbly dependant on Jesus.

    Keep up the great work.


  12. Brit Windel Avatar

    ok so i’m taking a break from my masters paper to respond to this…

    ‘yet to take a class on business budgeting, team management, or advertising/marketing. Yet, a great portion of my time is spent on these things’
    My question is why would you need to take a class in this. I personally believe one of the most dangerous slopes the church has entered into is the ‘We are a Non-for-Profit’. we have allowed culture to dictate our structure of worship and education and leadership. Did jesus ever balance a check book. nope he had a disciple whose job was that and loving others (didn’t do a super good job at that but hey what do you do) I can agree in part that having some team building education is important and helpful in ministry, but If you can’t biblically lead that team with the vision of Christ our King I don’t care if you can quote all of Andy Stanley’s top ten or have Dave Ramsey’s live like no one else so you can live like no one else. Great men, great ideas, but not in and of them selves and ends to a means.
    It is a tight balance but to keep from hericy as Adam is talking about you need that mentoring, that refining, that challenge that comes from what is our current academic theological training structure. Paul, one of the most educated Jews of his day, still took three years before touching the ministry God called him to so that he could prepare himself and be prepared for the journey ahead.
    I too am tired of the poor theology that floats around our christian culture that makes excuses for sloppy theology and a lack of love for a deeper knowing of God. I’m not quite sure God will is saying, well at least they came and prayed that prayer… I mean yeah you totally didn’t understand my calling on your life and didn’t help them see it either, but they came and were baptized and donated to the toys for tots drive… i mean i the God of all creation will settle with that….

    We are called to more….

    That said…i absolutely hate that I have pay all this freaking money for a degree that in a fincail setting is absurd. to finish my BA (three degrees) Masters & PhD i will have incurred an education well over $220,000! and a debt of $60,000 with an annual average income of $32-40k oh the joys of debt… I think God actually speaks against that too…learned it in my bible class 😀 any ways… back to working on this paper, sorry for the rambling

  13. Vonnie Elisha Lucas James Avatar

    I think Biblical school are extremely important and one should be require to attend same,before someone becomes a pastor.
    I listen to so much heresies being preached, by pastors, and for the most part it is because they don’t know.
    I believe a pastor should at least write two degrees before he/she gets into the pastorate.The first one should be a liberal arts type degree where he/she is wide in focus and foundation,the second one should be a B.A.Divinity or Master of Divinity where one is able to apply and defend the scripture in a practical settings. The second degree,being a Master or Bachelor,should at least be three years.

    When business men become pastors, often faith is thrown out the door, while dollars and sense determine the vision of the church.By the way I been to numerous meetings with pastors who are business men and business men who become pastors, and ninety percent of the time, they are waiting to run out to another meeting.

  14. Benaboutlondon Avatar

    Does having a degree protect you from heresy? No.

    Are the lots if bible schools out there that teach heresy? Yes.

    We’re the first disciples considered educated? No.

    Had they studied? Yes (with Jesus).

    Don’t judge a preacher by his education but by his love and care over God’s Word and his reliever on Jesus.

  15. sean Avatar

    The Apostle Paul describes in 1 Tim 3 on the qualifications of a Pastor. In 2 Tim 15, he emphasise the importance of study. Most importantly God had mandated the heart of shepherd in Ezekiel 34. God had prepared the message. We have to make sense of the message (those of us who are called) and share it with those who are lost. The message is the Holy Bible. It has been translated to English. It will help to learn Hebrew and Greek, and it can be learned in school or seminary. So what I am saying. As the previous blogger typed, education is always a good thing. Let the Holy Spirit guide you now with that education. Amen?

  16. Alfredrussell87 Avatar

    yes, pastors should defiantly hold a theological degree. Pastors shouldn’t just go into minstry or two year seminaries alone, but should persue PhD’s because these men of God in a sense are like Doctors. Going into ministry is like going into the medical industry in a way. You are going to be working on people maybe not in the medical sense but as a man of God you’ll come across a lot of broken and hurt people. Knowing the word and ingrossing oneself in the word will really help us as ministers of the gospel. i think most preachers settle for less than excellence in ministry and in their teaching of the gospel, you know we can learn a thing or two from the world? You will not see a medical doctor in an operating room with out going through some rigious form of training. so why should we allow a man of GOd  to teach, train, instruct the people of god with out any knowlege or any deep rooted knowledge within the greek and hebrew language which will inhance comprihension of the word. Paul the apostle was a doctor of philosophy in theology he knew, study ,and mediatated upon the word that was why he was able to communicate so precisly what the word of God told us about the messiah. No man of God should be allow to preach with out at least a PhD in theology because in some respects we are like doctors. further more  knowing the word of GOd studying it everyday ,and having the wisdom and knowledge of God humbles you. Beacuse you’re not preaching your own theology like most well known preachers do today or most small church pastors. you die to self you see the word of God as it really was ment to be seen, you’ll  teach the uncompromise truths of God saving souls will be your mission not getting as much money as you can from those poor souls.
    a lot of pastors also think you have to be a theology professor or some great person to study the word to a PhD level but i think it’s mostly lazyness we want revelation with out knowing the word. i beleive this is the reason why God doesn’t use a lot of people as greatly as we should be use because we’re not willing to put in time ,and to discipline our self. i understand family obligation and some time be a endurance what about personal study? online classes with the technology and resources thats in our reach there is absolutly no excuse. well i hope that answered your question thanks and God bless. 

  17. ferdinand Avatar


  18. Robert Avatar

    I was discipled in a fellowship for 15 years that discouraged formal education and replaced it with evangelistic zeal, thinking this was the end-all-be-all of church planting. The result was ignorant men trained by ignorant men. I went out my first time as a pastor not even having finished reading my Bible just because I was a good soul-winner, street preacher, laborer, and had good delivery over the pulpit. The results were a lot of discouragement and tripping over myself. I am 45 years old now and am in Bible college. I have found myself on my knees weeping at the wealth of knowledge of God’s word that I did not understand and am just now discovering. So… my response that a formal education (degree or certification program) PLUS mentoring (discipleship) is essential!

    Remember, though Peter and John are spoken of in Acts as being untrained, we must take into consideration that they got their formal education from Jesus for over three years (day and night).

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