Years ago I devoured the massive autobiography of Billy Graham, entitled, Just As I Am. Near the end of the book, Billy wrote one sentence about training for ministry I’ll never forget.
In a section of the book where he lists his regrets, he wrote:
I would do many things differently. For one thing, I would speak less and study more. —Billy Graham
When I was young in the ministry, I resisted furthering my training. After all, I already had a ministry position. So why would I pursue more education and training? I’m done, I thought. Better to get busy making a difference.
Then one verse in the Bible hit me square between the eyes.
The Wisdom of Proper Preparation
I see many young pastors, Christian leaders, and even laypeople serving God far less effectively than they could. Somehow they think their giftedness is all they need, or that the Holy Spirit will somehow give them what they lack.
Neither is true.
The two primary excuses for not getting good training for ministry?
- “It costs too much.” So do your children, your mortgage, and your hobby. But they’re worth it. Plus, your church or ministry might just give you some financial assistance. Ask them. Most institutions also have financial aid for free. Ask them.
- “I have no time.” Ironically, good training will save you time. I’ll explain how in a minute.
I swallowed these excuses for years until I read a verse that pulled the slats from my thin justifications:
If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength. Wisdom has the advantage of giving success. —Ecclesiastes 10:10
Wisdom gives us the advantage of a sharper edge in ministry. Without it, we hack at stumps with a dull axe. A dull blade requires more strength, more time, and more money.
That is not effective, efficient, or good stewardship.
Sharp tools make all the difference.
Examples of Training for Ministry
Donald Barnhouse made a statement I’ve never forgotten:
If I had only had three years to serve the Lord, I would spend two of them studying and preparing. — Donald Barnhouse
We see the wisdom of his statement modeled in the Bible:
- Think about Jesus. He prepared over the course of 3 decades for a ministry that lasted about 3 years. He grew up with a hammer in one hand and a scroll in the other.
- Consider the disciples. Jesus spent years of His ministry training 12 men, preparing them and training them for ministry He would give them in the future.
- Ponder Paul’s priorities. After Paul’s conversion, he retreated to Arabia (Galatians 1:17). Why? To study and realign his understanding of the Bible with the reality of Jesus as Messiah. Even at the end of Paul’s life, he requested Timothy bring him scrolls to read.
- Timothy took up the challenge. Paul urged his protégé to “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
When I told a fellow pastor I planned to return to seminary and further my training for ministry, he looked at me sideways and asked why. I said, “To learn to read Hebrew, for starters.”
“You don’t need Hebrew to do this job,” he said. (Of course, this pastor didn’t know Hebrew.)
Turns out, he had no clue. After I learned to read biblical Hebrew (and Greek) I found tremendous value in it. (Amazingly, I found even more value in learning the significance of Bible lands.)
5 Reasons to Get the Best Training for Ministry You Can
- It saves you time. Tons of it. Years of time. It would take you decades of self-study and struggle to learn what a few years of seminary would teach you. You become more effective for more of your life.
- It offers you lessons without having to fail to learn them. Sure, you could learn the hard way, but good training for ministry allows mentors and professors to teach you by instruction what you otherwise would only learn by experience. You don’t know what you don’t know.
- It keeps you from being alone in the trenches. I met students and professors who are still my friends and mentors. I have people to go to who can help me for the rest of my life.
- It gives you confidence where your confidence needs to be—in God’s Word, not in yourself. When you read the original languages, you are able to understand and evaluate our English translations. You have confidence to say (and believe), “Thus says the Lord.” This is huge. HUGE. Not convinced? Read this post.
- It makes your gifts more effective, like a sharpened axe. Training for ministry makes the strength of your giftedness stronger. This is an issue of stewardship. Don’t bury your talent. Invest it.
Get Started Today
Every Christian is in the ministry. The question is, how effective do you want your ministry to be?
- If you are in fulltime ministry, you really need training for ministry. More than anyone else, I’m talking to you in this post. You will never regret it.
- If you are a bi-vocational leader, I understand your limitations—but you still have options. You can get a seminary education online. Consider studying along as you watch the many videos Dallas Seminary offers on iTunes U. They are seminary classes you can watch completely free.
- If you are a layperson, you can audit classes at a local seminary or Bible college. You can enroll in lay institute courses or watch them online. You can also watch the courses on iTunes U. Ask your pastor how you can be better equipped to do the work of ministry.
I challenge you to sharpen your axe. Razor sharp.
Tell me what you think: Do you think training for ministry is important? To leave a comment, just click here.