Should pastors or Bible teachers go to seminary?
As Pastor Armstrong frequently says, "God chooses to work through people who are unqualified…but He never leaves them untrained."
The first question for anyone seeking to serve God is whether the Lord called that person to serve? Has the Lord called a person to teach or to pastor? If not, then any pursuit of service in this role will be folly and a work of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. Even if such a person graduates seminary and enters pastoral ministry, he would lack the Lord’s anointing for pastoral ministry, and, therefore, his “ministry” would be self-serving and potentially harmful.
While seminary education can be an important and helpful starting point for a man entering pastoral ministry, no earthly institution is a replacement for the Spirit’s teaching and a student’s personal diligence and dedication to the task. Unfortunately, many ministers approach service to the Lord as a career rather than a calling, and so in these cases, their seminary degrees are little more than man-made accolades substituting for a genuine call and anointing from God.
More importantly, the Bible never prescribes a seminary education as a pre-requisite for ministry. Instead, the Bible requires that elders affirm men with a calling and anointing to serve, and then publicly commission the man through a laying on of hands. Following the laying on of hands, the individual undertakes a lifetime of personal study and discipleship to be prepared to meet demands of their call.
In all cases, a pastor's ministerial training must be according to the Spirit’s supply, whether through a seminar experience or by personally-directed study or under discipleship of a Sunday school teacher or an internet ministry (like VBVMI), or else it will be of little value. In other words, the form of training matters little; the content and source of that training is the key.
Secondly, every man desiring to pastor and teach the word of God must be prepared to undertake a lifetime of diligent study. Over that time, the person’s opportunity to minister may be increased according to the Lord’s providence as the person matures in his understanding of God’s word and his personal character.
For example, consider Paul’s advice to a young pastor, Timothy:
1Tim. 4:14 Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery.
1Tim. 4:15 Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all.
1Tim. 4:16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.
Paul remarks that Timothy’s authority to ministry was conveyed through a laying on of hands by the elders (presbytery). Timothy didn’t become a pastor because an institution granted Timothy a diploma. He was elevated into service by other leaders as a result of a self-evident call and an anointing. God called and approved this man for ministry, and then the church leadership acted to recognize, acknowledge and confirm that calling in a public way.
At the point, he entered into formal ministry, Timothy probably possessed little pastoral training, therefore his role in ministry was necessarily limited. He labored under Paul’s direction and under the watchful eye of elders, who guided him. In fact, Timothy was so young that Paul once told Timothy:
1Tim. 4:12 Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.
Therefore, we should expect that every man answering a call to enter pastoral ministry will begin ministering even before they complete training. In fact, the training and preparation for ministry must continue on without ceasing for as long as the man serves. This expectation contradicts the modern notion that a few years in seminary is sufficient preparation for a pastor. Seminary training can be helpful, of course, but it is merely the starting point in a man's preparation for serving God's people in ministry, and if a man can gain his start in seminary, then he could also begin his training by other means (like Timothy). There is simply no such thing as “one-stop shopping” for pastor preparation.
Notice, Paul tells Timothy to take pains (i.e., take care) with these things. Paul is saying that what was entrusted to Timothy spiritually was now his to care for and grow within himself through the power of the Spirit. Though Timothy was called and anointed, he was still called to nurture what he has received.
Paul goes even further telling Timothy to be absorbed in his mission of preparation so that his progress in knowledge and godliness would be evident to others. Paul encourages Timothy to make his life’s mission growing as a pastor and teacher and to be so dedicated to this task that his progress is obvious. Once again, Paull's instructions challenge anyone who would think that a seminary education alone qualifies a man for ministry.
Finally, Paul places an emphasis on Timothy's personal character and the content of his teaching. A pastor and teacher must persevere in protecting his testimony is both areas, which is itself a part of the preparation for ministry. Notice how Paul ends v.16. He tells Timothy that his effectiveness in ministering the Gospel will depend on his willingness to guard and mature what he has been given by God.
So whatever means the Lord may use to prepare a man into ministry, ultimately that man must be called, anointed and taught of the Spirit. He must be confirmed and discipled by elders, and he must take on a lifetime of diligent learning and preparation to meet the challenges that the ministry will bring.