A Weakness with Formal Ministry Preparation

Driving across rural Kansas in December I couldn’t help but be reminded of this fact:

  • In the New Testament, nearly all of the illustrations Jesus used were agrarian.
  • In modern times, nearly all modern formal education happens in the city.

It’s a conflict that most people training for vocational ministry either completely ignore or they think they can read a commentary which will explain what Jesus was referring to. (Most of these commentaries aren’t written by people who don’t know anything about that stuff either… they are written by people who live in the city but did research from other books about what to put in the commentary.)

And the implication is that most ministry models emulate a business structure and worship is built around a lecture when Jesus’ illustrations for believers were that ministry should run like a farm.

But I think most Americans are so removed from agrarian life that they miss what life in ministry could really be.

And so I’m left to wonder:

  • How can people learn to shepherd a church flock if they don’t know anything about actual sheep?
  • How can you “fish for men” if you don’t know how to fish?
  • How can you “reap a harvest” if you’ve never planted a crop?

And let’s state the obvious… I’m not aware of any ministry preparation that places wanna-be pastors on farms or commercial fishing boats or herding sheep.

Instead, we send wanna-be pastors to the city where ministry preparation looks like any other course of study.

And we wonder why our churches look like businesses, why church workers are comfortable in offices, why they are white collar workers completely missing the blue collar majority of our population?

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus *said to him, “Tend My sheep.

John 21:17

But most of us couldn’t pick a sheep out of a line-up.

Photo credit: Deputation by Peter Eskersley via Flickr (Creative Commons)







One response to “A Weakness with Formal Ministry Preparation”

  1. Jen Avatar

    Interesting thoughts. I do think we have turned ministry into a business. There are parts of this that bother me greatly, as someone who is in the ministry-business. But I also think that this IS a valid context for ministry simply because suburban and urban centers have this context. Jesus spoke into his context, which was agrarian. We can learn much more fullness of his teaching by understanding that context, and experiential learning can be helpful (it was HUGE for me to read scripture in Israel and be able to look around and SEE what he meant.) At the same time though, it would be futile to prepare as a only farmer to reach business people. I think scripture is all about bringing Jesus to the context that you find yourself in. and if that is business, you bring Jesus in to transform business.

    I do like the conversation that we have made ministry training “one thing”, and might be missing a lot of other things that can train for ministry, can prepare you for the context you’re in. And I do agree that the more you can grasp the context, the more you can understand the point. But I also have found that God is gracious to supply me with understanding even before I was able to dive into the context. And I’m not sure you have to KNOW farming (fully) to understand sowing and reaping, or a wine press or many of the other teachings. We should for sure familiarize ourselves more, but I don’t think the best solution is to ditch seminary for fishing boats necessarily.

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