Question: "Should it be required that a man have formal Bible education before he can serve as a pastor?"
Answer: 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 these gifts is to equip the members of the church for a life of service to God. This, in essence, defines the connection between the gift given, the church receiving, and the purpose of seminary training: preparation for service of 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).
The purpose of this training and preparation is so that the ministry of the Word of God is not only maintained but will flourish 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 key reasons for the existence of seminaries and Christian universities and why seeking such an education may be consistent with his call. At the same time, while formal Bible education is very important and valuable, with the power and wisdom of the indwelling Holy Spirit, God can enable a man with no formal Bible education to be an excellent pastor or elder.
The Lord’s calling for 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 which 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 keys of the kingdom of heaven. This task is one that should not be done apart from the authority of Christ. It is a vital and key 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 in the overall fund of Bible knowledge. Because the Bible has one unified, coherent network of truth, an intense study of systematic theology is clearly 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 not only knowledge, but power and wisdom.
Seminary training is valuable in the matter of maturity in several areas. 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 do wonders for one’s decision-making apparatus, the ability to discern the will of God through the Scriptures as applied to a given situation.
Another reason for solid seminary training is the complex issues facing today’s minister. He must know when to say “yes” and when to say “no” to the many calls and invitations to join hands in common causes of all sorts. Knowledgeable convictions in these areas are necessary if truth is to be maintained, and, although these convictions can arise outside of it, a good seminary education certainly helps to establish strong convictions.
Finally, regardless of which church affiliation or denomination a pastor chooses, a thorough education within that church regarding its history, polity, and distinctives is in order. The bottom line in making a decision to attend a seminary or other Christian University is simply this: don’t sell yourself and your ministry short with a truncated preparation. Study carefully the principles and implication of the wisdom found in Proverbs 24:27: “Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house” (ESV).