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Selling Short The Professional Minister

If the Harold Camping rapture bust taught us anything, it is that there are a lot of “Christian leaders” out there saying some very crazy things. I actually shudder to read my own writings or listen to my old sermons from the the months before I started formal study of theology. A lot of what I said was, to be honest, just plain wrong. I had heard an idea or read a book and thought something sounded good, or made sense to my own worldview, and I just repeated it. Worse yet, I would read the Bible and then preach about some insight I thought I had, with no real knowledge or insight into what the Bible was actually trying to communicate. I don’t think I should have been allowed to preach and teach before I was educated.

In my native Southern California, there seems to be a sizable number of Christians who dismiss the need for a “professional” clergy, especially in the role of teacher. But this is odd, isn’t it? You would never go to a doctor for treatment who was “self-taught” or proclaimed that they had read a bunch of medical books on their own. Would you? Likewise, even a public high school teacher cannot teach until they have an advanced degree in their field. Lawyers must pass an exam to prove competency in the law before they can legally practice. So why do we believe that an untrained, undereducated Bible teacher can do better? Of course most Christians believe that the Holy Spirit “illuminates” the meaning of Scripture for the reader, and this is something that can never be taught, but that is not an excuse to dedicate yourself to study, as you would in any other field. God gifts some people’s hands to be talented surgeons, but medical school does not then become optional. Are not matters of eternity more vital than matters of the flesh? In many churches that are lax in their interest in the preacher’s training, they have rigorous standards for those who run the “business end” of the church. MBA’s are expected for those who handle the administration, but many of those same churches will argue that formal education is not needed for the person who teaches God’s Word every week.

I recently heard a sermon from a preacher. I do not know him personally; I do not know what his spiritual life is like. I do know that his explanation of the biblical text was flat out wrong. He did not know the historical background of the text (which in this case gave great insight to the reason for the writing). He repeated an old conjecture about the author of the text which is well-known and universally understood by scholars to be a complete fabrication. He then spent the majority of his time painting a picture of something that did not happen, embellishing details and out-rightly making things up to elicit an emotional response. I thought about all the people who would hear the message, and not only would they not hear the message of the text as Christians for 2000 years have understood it, but actually believe things that are not true. What would happen if one of them finds out it was all made up? Will they lose faith in the Bible? Will they believe that God is just as made up? It is thoughts such as these that I never take the pulpit lightly. As a preacher called by God, I am never more terrified of Him than when I am at the pulpit. I know that each word I speak will be judged, not by the crowd, but by God. Church was once a place where people came to hear the very words of God spoken into their lives, but so many jokes, personal anecdotes, and bad interpretations of the Bible have made people skeptical that there is any value in preaching. The bar has been lowered so much that if the preacher makes the crowd laugh, the crowd thinks he or she did well. They believe this because they have never experienced any better. Forgive me if I seek out my laughs from the professionals, comedians and actors. If I am in church I want to hear God!

I know there are many great teachers who cannot attend training, but for the vast majority of American preachers, they have chosen not to. Theological education does not make someone a great preacher. What it does is give a person time to think through ideas, learn from people far smarter than they, and gain from the insights that the Church has accumulated over the last 2000 years. Unless a person believes that God is speaking directly to them with words to say (then there is no need of a Bible at all), a theological education is invaluable, and I just cannot bring myself to listen to the endless controversies and vain speculation more common with the uneducated mind. John Wesley, one of the greatest Christian leaders and thinkers of the last 500 years complained that most preachers of his day were “dullards,” less knowledgeable and skillful in their trade than the local carpenter was in his. He persuaded many young people to become trained in the ministerial arts and science and created a class of professional ministers that greatly affected Christianity on both sides of the Atlantic. Hopefully the 21st century church will follow his path and not the path of complacency and ruin.

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  1. Tim
    June 14, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    “You would never go to a doctor for treatment who was “self-taught” or proclaimed that they had read a bunch of medical books on their own. Would you? ‘” You are right, I would never go to an untrained, unlicensed doctor.

    But I would prefer to gather with saints where there is no hired expert. You are wrong that this is an accurate comparison to a man who is mature enough to teach others, whether or not he is trained in an institution of the Bible. Let me say it stronger. This is a bogus comparison. I’ve heard it before. Do you have any scripture to base this assumption on? Do you have one example of a man who never worked a marketplace job so he could prepare a weekly Bible lecture for believers every week of their lives – where they never grow up to teach others? You have given a lot of personal opinion and alleged logic, but what about inspired scripture. I know you have some, but put it out here for the test. I’ve seen it all and I know it’s twisted and yanked out of context, etc. I’m a Berean. I examine what I am told with the Scriptures to see if it’s true. Acts 17:11

    Let me give you one from my side. Heb. 10:24,25
    This is the scripture that warns believers not to forsake meeting together. On both sides of this warning it spells out very specifically what that “meeting” involves. It involves one another spurring and encouraging. This is the exact opposite of lecture and the exact opposite of dependency on professionally trained experts. This is for every single believer, even children, even those with Cerebral Palsy.

    You may have never seen this scripture in action even though you have walked inside a church door 5,000 times. Pulpits and pews are the exact opposite of what is needed for this to occur.

    You may have been in gatherings where the saints try to do this interactive, two-way communication spurring on to love and good works and encouraging and hated it, leaving with all sorts of criticisms of the occasion. Your hating it does not make it bad or unproductive in accomplishing God’s purposes. Regardless, this is what God is asking for. Saints need to be taught how to do this. It cannot be done in the flesh. It must be done in the Spirit. It takes 6 days of the week to prepare for it. It requires “abiding in Christ” and “walking in the Spirit” all week long. Once a believer, any believer does this preparation, he is fully prepared to make a Spiritual impact on the rest of the body.

    Check out the context of Heb. 10 and see the beautiful preparation God has made for His people to spur and encourage one another on to love and good works. All of the “Let us…” instructions are all part of the same dynamic. If you swap out one of them and exchange it for expert driven spurring or encouraging, you will not have the “new and living way”.

    • June 14, 2011 at 9:38 pm

      Thank you for opinion. I too would always prefer a gathering of saints who spur on one another to good works. Let me respond humbly and to the best of my ability. I would first like to refute some assertions you have made regarding my argument. First, I need not an example of a person who has never held a marketplace job (of which I am sure there are many) because I am not advocating that. I myself have been bi-vocational for the entirety of my ministry career minus about 6 months when I was entrusted to lead a ministry which required me exclusively. In fact until last year I was always tri-vocational, working 30-40 hours a week at a secular job, part and full-time ministry in various capacities, and full-time education. What has nagged me all the time was the personal question as to whether I was honoring God with part-time service, knowing that Paul advised Timothy that a “no soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits.” (2TIm 2:4) Likewise in all of his pastoral letters, Paul speaks to Timothy and Titus as lifelong emissaries of Christ, denoting that they “labor” to teach the the word of God (1Tim 5:17). The word used here is to work to the point of exhaustion the way a field hand would, a labor which I have enjoyed and suffered.
      Of course I fully expect everyone in my charge to grow up and teach others themselves, which is why I put such a premium on my own preparedness to train them for just that. From the days of the judges to the Apostle Paul, the leaders of God’s people have always dedicated their entire lives to the study of righteousness and Holy Teaching. I would have been unheard of in Jesus’ day for any man to not know the very breadth of and meaning Scripture. In John 3, Jesus admonishes a teacher of the Law for not knowing what Jesus considered essential. It is true that only through divine revelation and illumination can a person truly understand Scripture, but if he cannot understand the words of Scripture, and I do not mean mere literacy, but actual understanding of language and context, he is in deficit.
      Few would argue against the fact that Paul’s “education surpassing all others” allowed him to articulate his experience with God into a logical framework that enabled his hearers to understand. The likely author of the letter to the Hebrews, Apollos, shows in his logic and knowledge of Scripture, the importance of an education as well, and he was noted in Acts for such.
      But I argue in vain if I leave my argument during the days when Scripture was contemporary. Erasmus and Martin Luther did the Church a great service upon suggesting that Scripture should be among the people of the Church, instead of hidden away from even many of the priests who were charged with teaching the people. However, they were men of learning and never envisioned Scripture apart from earnest study, as only the learned could have read a Bible at all! It was not until the rationalists and ecstatics of the 18th and 19th century began to disregard the validity and infallibility of Scripture that the historical nature was cast aside in favor of “any man’s interpretation.” Since then deviant interpretations of Scripture have exploded and any man’s opinion has been “validated” by appealing to Scripture “verses,” a construct misunderstood and abused in itself.
      While I look forward to the day when the temple is gone and God walks among the city streets as envisioned by John, we live in a time when more often than not, when people gather to read a witness to God written down thousands of years ago, what we see is usually no more than a pooling of ignorance.
      The Bible is among the best witnesses to God extant today. However it is a book which presents an human authorship of at least 40 people, living at least 1500 years apart in a culture very unlike our own. While God’s message has not changed in that time, language has, knowledge of culture has, competing idolatries have, and religious beliefs have. Does God not wish me to eat the raisin cookies that my wife makes because Isaiah condemned it? Or did that act have a specific religious meaning in its day? Would it be a reasonable understanding that God wants me to drag my feet when I go through a doorway (Zep 1:9)? Or should I be more concerned with placing fear in other gods (in the doorway case, Dagon)? That particular verse assumes the hearer knows the superstition associated with the false deity and therefore never spells it out. Without an education how would I know? These of course are small examples but there is far more meaningful doctrine at stake. Should I take Romans 10 to mean that my salvation is dependent upon my own work of confession? Even though that seems to contradict Paul’s other writing in Ephesians 2? If there is a contradiction, then the Bible must not be perfect; it must not be of God. I know better, because I was taught.
      I cannot read Hebrews 10 in the way I am taking your interpretation to be. The context of the entire book place the meaning for me to be about the supremacy of Christ over the sacrificial system in its efficacy to remove the guilt of sin, not a prescription for a church service. I suppose a whole book could be on this matter and it would never satisfy anyone but its author. So I will end my response here.

  2. Tim
    June 16, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    I am glad you are not advocating never working a job. 99% of clergy do. When you refer to a job as a “secular job” you are voicing influence from tradition not from scripture on this. The traditions of the sacredness of clergy work and the secularity of other work makes use of several scriptures and completely twists them for their own purposes.
    2 Tim. 2:4 No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits..
    In order to interpret this to mean civilian pursuits are marketplace jobs, then you must say Paul was involved heavily in civilian pursuits. Acts 20 tells us that when Paul was in Ephesus he was doing civilian pursuits since he “met his own needs and the needs of his companions…” and when Paul was in Thessalonica he worked a job.. (2 Thes. 3) “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 8nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. 9It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate… and when he was in Corinth he said he would rather die than give up the boast that he refused his rights to be paid and ministered free of charge. (1 Cor. 9)

    Based on this highly passionate testimony from Paul, working to meet your own needs and not taking them from those you minister to are not “civilian pursuits”. Civilian pursuits refers to something else “not pleasing” to the Lord such as working so that your first concern is making money for yourself rather than as a steward of God. There are many ways for worldliness to slip in. As I observe the hired clergy driven form of church, worldliness is everywhere, even when done in the most externally pious ways.

    1 Tim. 5:17 must be interpreted in light of everything Paul said about being paid in ministry. I taught the right to be paid here and a couple other places, and he also taught refusing the right to be paid. The scriptures I gave above show that refusing this right was Paul’s preference because of the strategic benefits for ministry – helping the week, example to work hard, freedom to minister, eternal rewards. We have no accounts ever of Paul receiving money from the people he ministered to. We do have specific accounts of him in business to meet his own needs while he built up the household of faith. Was Paul a muzzled ox? Was Paul cheating himself and God of not doing church stuff 40 hrs a week? The only conclusion is not at all. If you are interested, at a later point, I can elaborate on why serving “free of charge” is by far the more fruitful way to lead God’s people into maturity. If you are not interested, I’ll keep it to myself.

    Today’s clergy system as taught completely rejects what Paul said about refusing the right to be paid. Their hermeneutic is horrendous. In the current clergy system, one hired clergy forces God’s people to devote 75 – 86% of their “giving” to buy services for themselves. This is pooling not giving. When this system is applied in poorer countries, the system consumes 99% of the giving, which means poorer countries cannot send anyone beyond their local building. I have charts and graphics on this.

    This financial reality of the clergy system shows to me how corrupt and self-centered American church life is. I have discovered, like Paul, that there is a great way to be the church where 100% of the giving is giving – it all goes beyond the giver.

    As a business man, I often have dirty, smelly work on my hands, but from God’s Word I know it is all worship. Not one second is secular. Col. 3:23; 1 Cor. 15:58. If you read these verses and don’t get how they teach that whatever you do is to be done as worship of Christ, then let me know. I’m figuring that you will get it.

    The above only responds to your first paragraph. I’ll get to the rest of it later. There are things here you can respond to.

    • June 16, 2011 at 2:41 pm

      I do not want to stray from the original point of the post, which is that church leaders (paid or not) should be educated.

  3. Tim
    June 18, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    Give me an example of someone you perceive to be a great teacher and why you consider them a great teacher.

    As I look around the institutionalized form of church I see 95% or more of the churches with a seminary trained “pastor”. I don’t get where you think there is a large scale rejection of seminary training and full fledged Bible degrees of some sort. Most churches won’t hire someone unless they have an M Div.

    1. A large percentage of seminary trained preachers have a warped liberal faith. At least 50% of these churches with their seminary trained preachers do not believe the book of Genesis is inspired and that God spoke the universe and everything in it into existence, that Christ performed miracles and rose bodily from the grave – in other words they are primarily allegorical in their interpretation. They preach a warped Bible. What good was their seminary?

    2. The rest of the seminary trained preachers will give a good to great Bible lecture every week, and never accomplish the goal of teaching Jesus has set for them. They will accomplish perpetual dependency not reproduction. They will preach for twenty years in a church and when they leave for one reason or another, NO one there will have been “fully trained to be like them.” Luke 6:40 They will have taught NO ONE to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus”, fully entrust to faithful men who will teach others also…” 2Tim 2:2 There will be NO reproduction of truth to others who will pass it on. When that preacher leaves, another one will have to be hired to do everything he did because NO ONE has any interest of doing anything he did. The saints are ALL perpetually dependent and they think it’s normal and godly.

    I’m going to stop with two major break downs in the current seminary trained clergy system of teaching / pastoring / preaching. These are not my ideas. They are straight out of the NT and are easily understood in simple English. Only a mind blinded by the traditions of me will excuse them away in one way or another so they can cling to the old bogus system.

    Oh, one more I can’t resist. When I was in Boston we walked by Harvard which used to train men for “the ministry” and train preachers to lecture the Bible to all the allegedly illiterate lay folk. There was a plaque on the brick wall at the entrance that give the purpose of Harvard. I quote:
    “After God had carried us safe to New England and we had builded our houses, provided necessaries for our livelihood, reared convenient places for God’s worship and settled the civil government, one of the next things we longed for and looked after was to advance learning and perpetuate it to posterity dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches when our present ministers shall lie in the dust.”

    What happened to this seminary and most every other one started for “advanced learning” and protect against “illiterate ministry to the churches”?

    Both hundreds of years of history and God’s Word both present a very different picture of what God has designed for building up His church.

    • June 19, 2011 at 9:14 am

      There are many great teachers out there, too many to name, but I am sure someone would disagree with my selections so I will save them from such criticism. As to the first thing you said, I believe there is a large scale rejection of seminary training in my base area of Southern California, as stated in my original post. There are whole “denominations” (although they reject the label) who pride themselves on this rejection, such as Calvary Chapel, not to mention the many non-denominational churches and other independent churches that follow suit. As to your two points. I come from an evangelical background, and everything on my blog comes from that worldview, when I think of seminary, I think of my own and others like it. Yes there are liberal seminaries out there, but they are almost all in decline, the Ivy league schools produce fewer pastors each year and other liberal seminaries are trying to stay afloat. My seminary context is that of Beeson Divinity School, an interdenominational seminary in the vein of other schools like Trinity and Gordan-Conwell. My appreciation of Holy Scripture grew immensely in that time. I do not know what churches you are referencing, but I do not see a correlation between belief in literal teachings in Scripture and seminary attendance. I am quite certain that many of my secular friends believe me to be a conservative Bible-believing wacko and some of my church friends believe me to be too liberal. It is often a case of “no one is as right as me.” But as for me, the more I learn about Holy Scripture the more I realize I do not know, which is often the best indicator that I do have firm appreciation of the subject. You cannot generalize and claim that we preach a warped Bible, that statement would be equally true of groups in and out of the seminary. Your second statement is too arrogant to even approach. To say that NO ONE has done well is a statement which you are not qualified to make unless you indeed are the risen Lord. I do not feel this conversation is fruitful in building up the church or offering a constructive critique, so I will end it here. I would ask that you examine your own tradition, without the eyes of arrogance that believe you are the sole light in the sea of darkness.

  4. Tim
    June 20, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    1. Calvary Chapel has training for their hired clergy men. It may not be exactly like Beeson, but I’m not sure you are accurate.
    2. “To say that no one has done well is a statement which you are not qualified to make.” You did not even come close to quote what I said. Please get it right. I was very specific – not general- about my rebuke – completely driven by scripture – Luke 6:40, 2 Tim 2:2. If you know many great teachers, “too many to name” do you know anyone, who has “fully trained” one man “to be like him”? Do you know one who has “entrusted” what he does to others? Do all of them maintain perpetual dependency routines in their church where everyone looks to this “one man” for 20+ years as “their teacher”. This dynamic completely disregards what the Bible teaches on pastoring and teaching.
    3. The Bible teaches a dynamic of church life where men can be raised up as teachers and overseers in a local a fellowship of believers. This is what happened in the NT. Paul’s challenge to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 is one such part of this. A separate institution in some far city at $500 per unit is not required. These ministries are not designed by God to be complex and complicated, and certainly not requiring a pedestalizing degree that contradicts the nature of servant leadership which is to humble oneself and lift others up above one’s self.

    You asses me as claiming to be the “sole light in the sea of darkness” and you think that is humble on your part? There are many men like me who see how the institutionalized system of faith contradicts scripture. Compared to those who stand behind pulpits, we are few. I am not afraid to offer scripture driven rebuke to a majority system. I’m just a messenger. Label me arrogant if you wish. I’m thankful that is all it amounts to. Many men who confronted bogus traditions of men in the past paid for it with burning at the stake. Look at the scripture I have shared and compare it to what is happening in the best pulpit / pew routine you have experienced.

    You feel it’s “fruitful” to challenge parts of the church on some issues you think essential, and that without one verse of scripture. How can you asses me as being unfruitful? Because you are the ruler of your blog? Where is the Biblical authority in that. If you have been trained with the Word – then use it. Let us test it to see if it’s consistent with scripture.

    I have spoke boldly here because you are not a new believer. Must you label rebuke and correction as arrogant and unfruitful?

    • June 21, 2011 at 7:16 am

      After reviewing my earlier response, I can say that I am in good conscious over it. If I do not understand your nuance because of the nature of these communications, I apologize and seek forgiveness. Nevertheless, I do take offense at the notion that I make arguments void of Scripture. I do not “quote” addresses in order to avoid proof-texting, but my reference and basis to Scripture should be plain to see (the Bible was not written in verses, so I will never quote one, that would be an appeal to “tradition”). If you as a guest choose to accuse me personally, I would not stand for it. Can I ban or delete such comments, yes. I suppose the only reason I responded to this was that you drew a comparison with men who have burned at the stake. Your diction and IP local indicates you live in the United States where you are under no threat of burning, nor should the possibility enter your mind. I have brothers who face that very real threat and have experienced its reality in the near past. Do not count yourself among those who have died for Christ.

  5. Jon B
    June 21, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    I suppose the one counter-example I can think of is Chris Brown, who as far as I know never had any formal seminary training, post BA. But I don’t think the original point of your post was to state that all non-seminary trained pastors are wackos, not spiritually insightful, or necessarily inferior.

    I think you make some interesting and salient points, which I definitely think are worthwhile in light of people like Camping. I suppose any pastor, whether or not they have an MDiv (or BA) should continually study scripture, probably in a more academic way than a layperson would; I’m sure you agree that a degree / completion of training is no stopping point or source of ultimate authority.

    And to back up your analogy, I’d point out that if I wanted to make a career as a carpenter, even though I might be naturally talented, I’d still practice, observe master woodworkers, and if I wanted to be taken seriously, go to school to perfect my craft. The certification I’d receive would reassure my future clients that I’d reached at least a minimum benchmark of skill.
    I agree that in terms of pastor selection, there seems to be a bit of a disconnect in the above model, and I think it’s odd that people who have the resources and want to go into ministry would spurn the opportunity.

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