The apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:11–12 that, when a man fills the office of evangelist, pastor, and teacher, his calling is actually a gift from God for the work of the church. The purpose of the spiritual gifts is to equip the members of the church for a life of service to God. The purpose of seminary training is to prepare for service those who aspire to the office of leadership in the work of the Lord. Paul instructed Timothy, and likewise us today, to prepare men for such leadership roles in the church: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).
Formal Bible training helps ensure that the ministry of the Word of God is not only maintained but also flourishes in the church. The first indication that someone who aspires to the office of elder, bishop, or pastor is being called by God to the task is desire. Paul tells us, “This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work” (1 Timothy 3:1, NKJV). When someone is persuaded that he is being called to the ministry of the Word, he should seek to explore his gifts and prepare himself to answer that call. This is one of the reasons seminaries and Christian universities exist and why seeking a formal education may be consistent with a person’s call. At the same time, while formal Bible education is important and valuable, God can enable a man with no formal Bible education to also be an excellent pastor or elder.
The Lord’s calling to the work of the ministry is not only for the church; it is also through the church. Young men should be encouraged to seek such a call, as Paul tells Timothy (1 Timothy 3:1). But, ideally, the final confirmation must be from the church that both trains and tests the gifts required for the ministry. Ministers of the Word are ambassadors of Christ, the Head of the Church. To preach the gospel and call the lost to salvation is to exercise the use of the keys of the kingdom of heaven (see Matthew 16:19). This task cannot be done apart from the authority of Christ. It is a vital office of the church and the primary reason to obtain seminary training.
There are other reasons why training in a seminary is important. Without question, increasing one’s education, especially at the graduate level, will add a whole new dimension to one’s overall Bible knowledge. Because the Bible has one unified, coherent network of truth, an intense study of systematic theology is called for, whether or not it takes place in a formal seminary setting. Again, the place of study is not nearly as important as the Teacher—the Spirit of God who infuses the student with knowledge, power, and wisdom.
Seminary training can be valuable in the maturation process, as well. Three or more years of seminary will greatly improve one’s social maturity, his ability to understand and relate to people and their needs. Also, there is a mental maturation necessary for today’s preacher that simply is not present in most people at 21 or 22 years of age. This includes his attitude toward the ministry, his family, and life in general. Effective seminary training will greatly aid one’s decision-making ability and the ability to discern the will of God.
Another reason for obtaining solid seminary training is to be better equipped to face today’s complex issues. The church leader must know when to say “yes” and when to say “no” to the many calls to join hands in common causes of all sorts. Knowledgeable convictions in these areas are necessary if truth is to be maintained, and a good seminary education certainly helps to establish strong, biblical convictions.
Finally, regardless of a pastor’s church affiliation, a thorough education within that church regarding its history, polity, and distinctives is in order. Making a decision to attend a seminary or Christian university requires prayer and godly counsel. Preparation can come in many forms, but some type of preparation is always necessary. Don’t impair your ministry by looking for shortcuts. Study carefully the principle found in Proverbs 24:27: “Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house” (ESV).