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Issues Facing Missions Today: 37. The Need for Good Ministerial Training

Issues Facing Missions Today: 37. The Need for Good Ministerial Training


One part of the story of contemporary Christian history is immigration, globalism, and export.  One can no longer simply identify regions of the world with certain ethnic groups, religions, and cultures.  One question that increasingly arises in this context of rapid change and diversity is, 'How do we evaluate the new brands of this or that on offer?'  In our day, we could ask this question of cereals and coffee just as much as religion: everything is changing, emphases are shifting, and alternatives are growing.  Many lack the skills or ability to discern quality and truth.  On the one hand, it is painful to watch the daily occurrence of a politician or reporter trying to redefine Christianity or Islam in order to push his or her own agenda without any ability to think clearly about religions.  On the other, it is even more painful to watch many faithful, hopeful believers uncritically following some unorthodox teaching by an undereducated minister or an unscrupulous leader.

Theological Education 

One simple antidote to confusion, incompetence, error, and heresy is sound, theological education.  This is not the only thing needed, to be sure.  We also need whole churches deeply formed in Christian orthodoxy--at a time when those denominations that were so formed have, by and large, abandoned the faith in the West and are trying to confuse and drag down their counterparts in the majority world.  Still, congregations, missions, and movements that are robustly orthodox and tirelessly active in ministry are needed, not just individual ministers, teachers, and theologians.  People are shaped not just by someone's message but also, if not moreso, by the community of which they are a part.

Yet a healthy, sound Church often begins with a healthy, sound theological education for ministers of the Word of God, and this is where much emphasis is needed--desperately needed--in our day.  In Africa, for example, there are estimates that over 80% of persons in ministry have no theological education.  Some groups eschew theological training, as though it is the source of all heresy.  That, sadly, can be true.  The theological college or seminary is as capable of deforming the Church as it is of forming the Church--we have many such examples to list.  However, this is no argument against putting an effort into any theological education: it is rather an argument for providing the right theological education.  In the West, this might lead to a discussion of reforming the theological seminary.  In parts of Africa, it might lead to a discussion of establishing theological education in the first place.

Ministerial Training 

Ministerial training is about more than theological education.  It involves not only the head but also the heart and the hands.  We need theological education at every level, from non-formal to highly academic, to answer the challenges of the age as well as to clarify the faith and shape the Church for meaningful and effective missionary work and ministry that is faithful to Scripture.  We also need ministerial training of the heart--spiritual formation.  The history of Western theological training, by and large, is a history of an increasing focus on academic education with little regard for the historic faith and a decreasing focus on spiritual formation.  (No wonder the old, mainline churches in the West have ended up in the state that they are.)  We also need a focus on practical ministry, not just or even primarily in the classroom, but also in the field.  We need mentors engaged in ministry taking on apprentices and showing them how to minister well.

Life-Long Learning 

And we need life-long learning.  If doctors and lawyers will lose their licenses to practice if they do not keep current through courses, why not Christian ministers?  Complaints from denominations to seminaries often begin with a line about what was not taught in seminary in order to prepare a person for ministry.  The answer is not to stick more into a seminary curriculum but rather to continue training after the degree--and alongside the degree.  In fact, seminary education could be reduced by 1/3 if it were to focus on theological subjects alone and if a separate program of mentoring in and practice of ministry were to run alongside the seminary's contribution to a larger vision of ministerial training.  In other words, denominations and ministries need to 'step it up'--get more serious about the training that they offer apart from or beyond the seminary (and, to some degree, in conjunction with the seminary or theological college).  In addition, ongoing academic studies will also keep ministers sharp in their understanding of Scripture, the Church, and Christian theology.


One important response to the problem of those undereducated, unscrupulous leaders (and I never use the word 'leader' for ministers in the Church--it sends us off in entirely the wrong direction for ministry) who are misguiding faithful, hopeful believers is a focus on theological education.  Not just any theological education will do, as I have explained.  Yet in many areas, no theological training is available.  Also, ministerial formation needs to be planned beyond what we understand as theological education.  The latter is only a part of what ministerial formation entails.  Spiritual formation and mentoring in ministry are needed.  Ongoing, life-long ministerial training is also needed.  The challenge is only growing, and if one wishes one example for why this is so, have a look at the following article and brief video:

The problem is much larger than this online example about newer 'brands' of Christianity.  The need for orthodox, theological education to counter the false teaching of many formerly sound denominations that have 'shipwrecked the faith' (1 Tim. 1.19) must also be addressed.  What is so very sad about all of this is the damage that is caused to both churches and to faithful believers who lack critical skills to discriminate between truth and error.