Not long ago, a group of youth pastors attended a meeting held at Denver Seminary. During a question-and-answer period, Denver Seminary President Craig Williford asked those in attendance how many planned to pursue graduate-level theological education. According to Williford, one brash youth pastor responded, "I do not need seminary. I pastor high school students. They need me to love them and teach them about life, so a seminary education is not necessary."
Williford challenged the young man to consider the fact that Scripture is the best source for understanding life. The youth pastor agreed, but said that since the Bible moved him personally, he had no need of formal theological training.
That anecdote would make virtually anyone who teaches at a seminary cringe in light of the admonition in Proverbs 19:12 against "zeal without knowledge." Assuming this young man holds to his way of thinking, he will never know how much a seminary education might have done for him and his ministry efforts.
Seminary education and fitness for ministry
Just how to portray the relationship between seminary education and fitness for ministry puts seminary administrators in a bit of a quandary. On the one hand, they have personally experienced and witnessed many times the powerful contributions theological education makes to effective ministry. Yet few, if any, would state without qualification that a seminary degree is prerequisite to ministry. After all, Jesus' disciples were, on the whole, a fairly uneducated lot.
As for the corollary, no right-minded seminary professor or administrator would ever contend that an M.Div. degree in and of itself qualifies a man or woman for Christian ministry, including pastoral ministry. As R. Fowler White, dean of faculty and professor of New Testament at Knox Theological Seminary, puts it, "Theological education is necessary, but it is not sufficient for effectiveness in ministry."
To claim that God cannot call and use someone who has not earned a seminary degree not only smacks of elitism, but it is also in conflict with the way God has worked through history and continues to work today. On the other hand, no one can deny that the preparation for ministry offered at theological seminaries has supported in immeasurable ways the mission and ministry of local churches and of the church in general.
Kenton C. Anderson, dean at Northwest Baptist Seminary, says, "I am aware that [the seminaries that are a part of the Associated Canadian Theological Schools (acts)] grew out of the Bible college movement, which was originally a grassroots movement against the perceived elitism of the institutionalized training centers of the past." Nevertheless, says Anderson, "I'm concerned that if we don't give adequate attention to theological training, the church will lack discernment in evaluating the various fads that come to our attention."
Those searching for biblical support for theological education do not have far to look. To name just a few, Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Scott Rodin cites Romans 12:2, which states that believers are called to "be transformed by the renewing of your mind"; 2 Timothy 2:15, which refers to a workman who "correctly handles the word of truth"; and 1 Peter 1:13, which admonishes readers to "prepare your minds for action."
But again, must this exercise for the mind take place in the context of formal seminary education? Tarris D. Rosell, assistant professor of pastoral care and practice of ministry at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, observes that those who demonstrate competency in ministry first had to have received an education from somewhere. Perhaps, says Rosell, it was the proverbial "school of hard knocks." Or maybe ministry competency emerged from on-the-job training or was the result of good mentoring or self-motivated study and reading. The salient question, according to Rosell, is not education or the lack of it, for no pastor can be effective without education. The true question is, "Does training for ministry have to be a formal seminary education?"