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Training For The Ministry

The first job I ever had was delivering the Markham Economist & Sun, a small newspaper headquartered in a suburb of Toronto. I received no training, nor did I need any. On the day I began the job I was given a canvas bag, a large stack of newspapers and a list of houses that subscribed to the paper. I put the papers in the sack, consulted the list and left one newspaper in the mailbox of each house. It was that easy. As I got older and experienced greater financial needs, I sought a job that would earn me more money and found myself working at a gas station. I received only minimal training. I arrived on the first day clothed in my still-clean uniform and was told the following by the manager: “Go and serve that car. When you’re done I’ll tell you everything you did wrong.” So I went to the car, asked how much gas the person wanted to buy, turned on the pump, added the correct amount of fuel, took his money and bid him a good day. That was the end of my training.

As my life went on I had other jobs. I worked at Starbucks, a job which required three days of training. After graduating from college I entered the computer field which required a year of intensive training. And the learning and training continues to this day.

What I see as I look back on my two or three decades of work experience is that different vocations require different levels of expertise and thus different levels of training. Surely we would hope and expect that a man who intends to be a brain surgeon receive longer and more intensive training than one who wishes to be a cabinetmaker. Is one job inately superior to another? Not necessarily. But as the degree of difficulty and specialization varies, so too does the training required. And more accurately, the greater the collection of skills required for a particular job, the longer and more intense the training must be. A brain surgeon requires a vast collection of skills, ranging from the knowledge of human anatomy down to the ability to operate machinery and the ability to respond quickly, decisively and correctly in situations of extreme stress and delicacy. The skillset required is far more varied and exhaustive than that required to be a paperboy, a gas station attendant, a barista or a web designer.

There is no job that requires a greater collection of skills than the ministry. The Bible does not list the skills and qualifications necessary for many vocations. Yet the Scriptures dedicate a great deal of attention to providing God’s requirements for those who will labor in the gospel ministry.

The ministry is a special vocation. It involves a particular combination of talents, gifts and abilities. It is available only to men of upstanding character and ability. We affirm the importance and uniqueness of this vocation when we speak of the call to ministry. The church teaches and believes that those who are set apart by God for the ministry of the gospel are given a special calling by God so that they know and believe that they must answer this call and minister the Word. Those who labor in this ministry do so under direct orders from God. It has often been said that preachers are born, not made. That is to say that desire and training alone cannot produce a preacher, for the office is dependent upon particular gifts that are given by God only to some. Charles Spurgeon insisted that his college for pastors “receives no man in order to make him a preacher.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones was as emphatic, stating that “no college, or any other institution, can ever product a preacher.” God makes preachers; men train them.

Despite the difficulty of the vocation of pastoral ministry, we live in a time when pastoral training is regarded by many as being optional. There are some who eschew all manner of formal training, proclaiming that seminary training is a waste of time and effort—time and effort that could be dedicated to preaching the gospel. Not too long ago I wrote a brief article I entitled The Benefits of Ignorance in which I provided a silly parable about this type of person. I wrote about only one example, but I can think of many, and I am sure that each of my readers can as well. I don’t think we could successfully find a time in the history of the church when adequate preparation for gospel ministry has been valued less.

Even since I wrote that article, just a couple of months ago, I have come to a better understanding of why people minimize adequate training for the ministry. Before this time I think I have put the cart before the horse, so to speak, believing that the multitudes of pastors who have not been adequately trained for ministry have blinded the church to the distinct quality of the vocation. But I have since come to understand that minimizing the necessity of training for the ministry—thorough, deep, lengthy, intensive training—is a symptom of minimizing or overlooking the set-apartness of the calling of pastor. When we believe in and affirm the distinctive calling to the ministry of the gospel we will also believe in and affirm the importance of thorough preparation. And in our day, far too many evangelicals have lost sight of the set-apartness of this vocation.

A man who wishes to be a pastor and who understands the distinctiveness of this vocation will understand the necessity of adequate preparation. A man who wishes to spend a lifetime laboring within the local church and providing leadership within the body of Christ will understand that to do this most effectively he must be prepared.

There are, of course, many exceptions to this rule. It is not difficult to find examples of those who have had long and fruitful ministries without first attending seminary. Yet many of those men, men such as Charles Spurgeon, realized that they were the exception rather than the rule. Many of these men devoted themselves to preparing other men for the ministry through training programs and seminaries. I do not know of any notable Christian leaders who were both untrained and who advocated lack of serious preparation in others. Rather, they uniformly acknowledged and affirmed the importance of preparation. When we examine the history of such men we find that the exception proves the rule.

The logic is inescapable. If we believe in the special and distinct ministry of the Word, we must also be willing to deal with the fact that such a high calling requires a period of training and preparation. It is only when we lose sight of the distinctiveness of the calling that we will allow ourselves to minimize the importance of adequate preparation.