The Pastor and Education

I want to be a pastor, so typically I read a lot of posts and articles about things to consider before you become a pastor.  One general point that pastors always list has to do with being well-read or getting a seminary education.  This always rubs me the wrong way.  Now, I love education and think it is invaluable.  I love to read.  I’m a guy who has a BA from a university and plans to attend seminary to get an M.Div.

Yet this issue never ceases to make me shake my head a bit.

Does every pastor in every context needs to be well-read and seminary educated?  Consider a pastor in an inner-city setting where the people in the neighborhood didn’t even finish high school.  Will they care if he did his thesis in Pauline theology?

Does this mean we don’t read the Puritans or Edwards or Spurgeon or Calvin?  Does this mean we never seek formal training?  Of course not.  But when reading every book out there and getting a master’s degree become requirements, we become legalistic.

These thoughts come to mind because Peter was a uneducated man in the formal sense, and he ministered to blue-collar Jews around the Roman Empire (and Pharisees at times too, of course).  Paul, on the other hand, was the Pharisee of the year from fourth to ninth grade, and he ministered to Greeks who loved logic, debate, and formal education.  Different contexts.  Different ministers. Different backgrounds.  Same gospel.  Same fruit.  This led to a world-wide revolution.

John Piper has said, “We should not say, ‘You have to have an M.Div.’  There are so many M.Divs [and PhDs] who are incompetent pastors!  And there are people without them who would make really good pastors. I think all of that is changing, in fact.”

This isn’t a knock against seminaries or reading.  Anyone who reads this blog knows that.  I think any man who wants to be a pastor should be trained and mentored by other pastors and, if possible, formally educated.  But I think we need to be careful to tell every man who wants to be a pastor to read a lot of books and go to seminary.  Instead, perhaps we should tell those who desire the noble task of overseer that they should soak up the Scriptures, especially the pastoral epistles.  They should be exemplary in what Paul lays out for a qualified elder in 1 Timothy 3:1-7.  And it’s funny, because when I look there, I don’t find anything about reading or education.

14 replies on “The Pastor and Education”

This post was interesting and I would not disagree with your perspective on pastoral education. I am commenting only because of a conversation passed on to me recently about this subject.

The conversation concerned the religious education department of a four year college in the free will baptist tradition. The head of that department made the comment that individuals called to ministry in that tradition did not consider a formal education (BA degree in religion, etc.) that important any longer but rather thought a two year bible college study was good enough, consequently this particular four year college did not have very many students studying for the ministry.

Is this a “trend” developing in some of the evangelical traditions; that is less education rather than more? I am not speaking so much to the calling, but rather to preparing to do the calling well.

The names you mentioned in your post (J. Edwards, etc.) were the most highly educated individuals in their societies; I might add that a pastor in general was one of the most educated people in the American culture for 200+ years. The “Great Awakening” that started the evangelical movement in America was driven by the most educated group of people in the society of that time. I cannot imagine that evangelical movement continuing with education being an option to a calling to the ministry.

These are some of my thoughts as I reflected on your thought provoking post.


You make some great points. I don’t think either extreme is the right way, but rather what is best for the person, the context, the people being ministered to, etc.

BTW, Spurgeon never attended seminary, but started a training school for pastors (which was not a seminary). In the same vein, C.J. Mahaney doesn’t even have a college degree! Yet he has started a similar pastoral training school within Sovereign Grace Ministries. I don’t think we should push for “formal schooling” but rather “training” and “education.” So, I would agree that education is not an option–even the “uneducated” disciples were “educated” by Jesus. Nevertheless, we can’t tell every dude who wants to be a pastor that he needs to go to Yale like Edwards.


Formal education for all people of complusary age (5-16or18 depending) in K-12 can come in the forms of public schools, private schools, and home school. No matter what this education is required, but the mode is not set. I would compare this to the education of a pastor. They are older so I would throw in self education with peer involvement. I agree that we shouldn’t be legalistic about how education happens or how much education happens, but that it does happen for the edification of the pastor and the congregation is what is important.

I’ve realized that not everyone needs the same arguments and that I need to believe something or that I even need the same depth of knowledge on a subject to feel comfortable with it as others do. But it is those people such as Augustine, Edwards, and the such that will be used to keep our faith vibrant and alive.

It would be sad on one hand to become legalistic about the education of a pastor, and just as sad if there were no intellectual accountability (which I know no one is arguing for) of pastors.

Not sure that I’ve really said anything or made an argument, just wanted to post a comment.


Jordan, you always contribute, brother. :)

I agree. If we become legalistic or apathetic (is that the right word?) toward formal education, we are treading deep water. Sooner or later, we’ll drown.


I completely agree with your points and certainly seminary shouldn’t be a requirement in every context.

I would add that the value of a seminary education is high in any context.


Well, as I said above, it’s a yes for me–at least that’s what Carly and I sense right now. Hopefully after paying off some student debt and working for about 18 months after I’ll get to seminary in August 2011. Probably SBTS or possibly RTS or Trinity, as the Lord leads.


Good choices.

They rave about Gordon Conwell up in Boston.

Personally I’m looking towards TBI.


I agree that some people are naturally talented at being ministers, and that formal education probably doesn’t improve their ministering much. I also agree that some people are just not good at it and that no amount of formal education will make them as good as someone with that natural talent, even without a comparable education. The thing that concerns me is, a minister is looked to as a leader on important matters. We wouldn’t want teachers, psychologists, or doctors, no matter how naturally talented at those things, working without some kind of accreditation. The potential damage a person who is bad at these things could do, is too high. Similarly, I would not be comfortable at all with the idea of having people working as pastors without having gone through at least some form of screening process. Formal education happens to be the best process we’ve come up with, up to now. As you say, though, there is always the complementary risk of that screening process becoming an end in itself rather than a means for providing people with good pastoral care. I think everything (that matters) is such a delicate balancing act – as in our previous discussions on grace and truth. No screening process will ever be perfect, and every screening process will require constant evaluation on how well it is managing that balance, but I do think a screening process is necessary.


Rereading your post I see I haven’t really made any new points with my previous comment. But the reread did spark some thoughts on the following questions:

“Does every pastor in every context needs to be well-read and seminary educated? Consider a pastor in an inner-city setting where the people in the neighborhood didn’t even finish high school. Will they care if he did his thesis in Pauline theology?”

I think these are separate issues. Although my answer to the second question is a resounding “no”, my answer to your first question is a resounding “yes, but”. ;) Yes, someone who is going to be a pastor in an inner-city setting needs just as much to be well-read and seminary educated as any other pastor, but the specific books that person reads and the specific education they receive should be very different from the books and education of a person who plans on being a pastor in a highly educated environment. To be a pastor in the inner city, for example, a thorough knowledge of the civil rights movement would be a potentially more valuable part of their education (although it’s of course of value to anyone). Alos, unless someone has grown up in an inner city environment, I can’t imagine that person being taken seriously as a minister without having learned everything they can about the social norms and customs there.


Cheryl, I agree. I love education. I love books. I think training is a necessity. School, however, isn’t. The issue of telling every pastor-to-be that they seminary is a must is the issue for me. As I said above, Charles H. Spurgeon (who some say is the greatest preacher whoever lived) never went to seminary. C.J. Mahaney doesn’t even have a bachelors (he is the president of Sovereign Grace Ministries now). Furthermore, Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill Church) and Matt Chandler (The Village Church) both lead churches of thousands of people, but have no seminary education (though Driscoll has just completed a masters in theology, but he finished that nearly 12 years after he started his church). Chandler actually tried seminary twice, hated it, and decided to apply for an open pastor position of a church with less than 500 people. Now that church is the same church he’s at and it has over 3,000.

So, I used a lot of words to say that I agree with what Tyler said above: though seminary isn’t always necessary, it is always valuable.


I can give one example. Acts29, a non-denominational Reformed church planting network, provides extensive training. Many (not most…I don’t know the stats) of the pastors in their network have not been seminary trained.

There are other pastoral/mentoring training colleges (as you could call them). Such a one is the one that Sovereign Grace Ministries provides. They aren’t accredited (and so not technically a college or a seminary) but if you are a member in the Sovereign Grace network and want to train to be a pastor, that would be a place to be educated.


Hello James,
I totally agree with you that a pastor does not necessarily need to have formal education. Who was the first pastor that Jesus called? It was Peter. A pastor is someone who’s responsibility it is to “feed” the sheep (see Jer 3:15). Hence Jesus called Peter and said to him, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:16). We note from scripture that Peter was not a learned man so how was he to fulfill this responsibility? Through the power of the Holy Spirit.

If we look at Eph 4:11-15 we note here that the Lord, “gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.” So it is the Lord who in essence appoints pastors to the church. But the interesting thing is that although the pastor is partly responsible for helping in the edification of the body there is also a need for the apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers who together with the pastors work to ensure that the body is unified in the knowledge of Christ. The problem with seminary though is that the pastor has his seminary but there is no seminary per se for the other workmen mentioned. The result is that these other offices are either relegated or the pastor fulfills all these roles but this is not what Christ intended.

Paul was indeed a learned man but he understood nothing concerning the Christian faith until he met Christ on the Damascus road. His education counted for nothing then because he was persecuting the church of God in his ignorance of the things of Christ. What he then learnt about Christ was taught him by the Holy Spirit.

Seminary education should not be the determining factor to decide if a man is qualified for pastoring or not. Please take a look at my article on the qualifications of a pastor:


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