A Pastor Must be Educated and Capable

bible

Read the series so far.

When most Christians consider “qualification” for a Pastor, they usually turn to 1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1. These are good places to go, to be sure. But, there’s more. This little series looks at what core competencies a congregation ought to expect of its Pastor, from the Apostle Paul’s second letter to his protege, Timothy. In that letter, the Apostle wrote this:

guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us (2 Tim 1:14).

There is a “rule of faith,” a core content to the Christian message.[1] There always has been. Even here, sometime in the early to mid 60s A.D., Paul warned Timothy to guard and protect that faith, which has content. He wanted Timothy to guard against false teaching and false teachers who sought to corrupt that faith for their own ends.

The Bible letters is full of warnings about false teaching. Moses warned against it repeatedly. The prophets warned against it over and over. John the Baptist fought against it. Jesus taught against it. Paul wrote against it (e.g. Galatians). Peter wrote against it (see 2 Peter). Jude wrote against it. Just read the letter of 1 John!

There have always been people, from within and without, who have sought to pervert, “transform” and reinterpret the Christian faith into “another Gospel:”

  • In the Old Testament, the prophets continually rebuked Israel and Judah (and their leaders) for going through the outward show of devotion to Yahweh, while hurrying away to sacrifice to pagan gods on mountaintops (see, for example, Amos 4-6). They wanted to have a foot in both camps, and were often angry when the prophets confronted them.
  • In the time period between the Old and New Covenants (that is, between Malachi and Matthew!), legalism and works righteousness were a terrible problem. This is what John the Baptist and Jesus railed against the apostate Jewish leaders about (see, for example, Mark 7).
  • In the early apostolic era, in the decades after Jesus returned to heaven, they dealt with pre-gnostic influences. These were folks who denied the resurrection or Jesus’ death, and who believed what was done “in the flesh” had no moral meaning (see, for example, the entire book of 1 John).
  • In the post-apostolic era, there was a great controversy about whether Jesus was a created being, or co-eternal with God the Father. This dispute culminated in the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.), and continued to simmer for decades afterwards as Arian bishops fell in and out of favor with Roman emperors (both in the East and West).[2]
  • Some people today (and way back when, too) believe Jesus was a normal man, who was somehow “adopted” as Son by the Father.
  • In some corners of Church of Christ denominations, they believe water baptism is the agent that regenerates and saves you, along with repentance and faith. This is a works salvation.
  • Also, consider the false, Roman Catholic scheme of justification, where God brings you into a state of grace, and gives you the grace to merit and earn good works for yourself, and you have no final assurance of salvation.

The various flavors of heresy might change, but the song remain the same – people will try to pervert the pattern of sound words we find in Scripture. What does all this have to do with a Pastor? Two implications:

  1. he has to be an educated guy, and
  2. he has to be capable and competent guy

You expect your doctor to be a competent guy, and you expect him to have formal training to prepare him for his job. The same with police officers, accountants, teachers, firemen, pilots, air-traffic controllers, engineers, architects, construction men, administrators in organizations, and in local, state and federal government, etc. We expect both:

  1. competence, and
  2. an education that prepare these professionals to do their jobs

I’ve been in law enforcement and investigations for nearly 16 years, in addition to my professional training and experience in pastoral ministry. I’m the manager of a state-wide investigations unit, for a state agency. People expect me to have the education and competence to do my job. In fact, I testified in a formal judicial hearing just today. What do you suppose the subject’s attorney chose to attack first? I’ll tell you; my education, credentials, and competence. And, good for her for trying (too bad she failed, but that’s another story … !).

You should expect the same thing from a Pastor, or else he can’t “guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us,” (2 Tim 2:14). What, exactly, do I mean by “educated” and “capable,” then?

Education

The man must have some kind of formal theological training; a BA from a respectable institution should be a minimum requirement. A graduate degree would be better. This degree doesn’t have to be from an accredited institution; there are many good, unaccredited programs out there (e.g. Telos Biblical Institute, Tyndale Theological Seminary, Reformed Baptist Seminary, Whitefield Theological Seminary, etc.). But, to be sure, formal education in a professional field isn’t necessarily about teaching you everything you need to know. Education is about providing you a solid foundation to stand on, giving you the tools you need to do your business and “educating you” about the lay of the land, so you’ll be equipped to sharpen those tools and use them for the rest of your professional career.

This means you’re pushed hard to consider points of view you don’t like, and you’re forced to explain and defend what you believe, and why.

This means an educated and competent pastor:

  1. Won’t be shocked when he encounters someone who thinks Jesus never actually existed; he dealt with this at school.
  2. He won’t stammer when someone tells him we can’t trust the Bible, because the New Testament has been corrupted throughout the years, as copies of manuscripts were transmitted from person to person; he’s you’ve seen this before!
  3. He’ll laugh when someone tells him the Greek text in John 1:1 doesn’t teach that Jesus has eternally existed; he’s studied the original languages and knows this is ridiculous!

An educated Pastor has the foundation and tools to guard the Gospel, protect his congregation, and help Christians who might be confused or led astray by some of the heretical madness out there.

Capable

How many of you have known people with degrees who were about as sharp as butter knives, and who were completely incompetent at their jobs? It’s a fact that some people are promoted beyond their abilities. It doesn’t mean they aren’t wonderful, nice people – it just means they have no business in that position; it’s bad for everybody!

Guess what? The pastorate isn’t any different; a degree doesn’t guarantee anything. A capable pastor wants to keep learning more, because he loves God and His Word, and can actually do the job (i.e. teach, preach, counsel, lead, have spiritual discernment, use the tools he gained at university and Seminary, etc.).

A doctor who graduated from medical school in 1985, and hasn’t attended any continuing education seminars since the day he graduated, hasn’t cracked open a medical journal, and hasn’t kept up with his field is a worthless and unprepared doctor! I actually had a Pastor on my ordination council who boasted that he hadn’t read any theological works since he graduated from Bible College in 1975!

“Capability” means a commitment to continuous learning, and the ability to actually use the tools he received at school to become a better Christians and a better Pastor. Paul told Timothy he had to “guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us,” (2 Tim 1:14)

How can an overweight, out of shape guy guard anything if he doesn’t know how to do his job, and isn’t capable of doing his job? That’s a simple metaphor, but the plain fact is that Timothy can’t guard the faith unless he’s been formally trained and equipped to know what that faith is, and he’s competent and capable enough to actually use those tools to help he and his congregation to grow in the faith, and fulfill their mission to reach its community with the Gospel.

Notes

[1] For a short survey of the earliest creeds and confessions, as well as the concept of a “rule of faith” in the early patristic era, see David Beale, Historical Theology In-Depth: Themes and Contexts of Doctrinal Development Since the First Century, 2 vols. (Greenville, SC: BJU Press, 2013), 1:207-222.

[2] For an outstanding discussion of the Council of Nicea and its context, see Beale (Historical Theology, 1:231 – 260).

A Word from the Secretary

Picture4Robert Gates is a former Secretary of Defense. He served under both President George W. Bush and President Obama. I served when Gates was Secretary. I always admired the man. He struck me as competent; a leader, not merely a political appointee.

Recently, Gates wrote a wonderful book on leadership. He is uniquely qualified to write it. He served as head of the CIA, President of Texas A&M University, and as Secretary of Defense. He was in government service for fifty years. He knows what he’s talking about.

I served on active-duty for 10 years, as a government contractor, in various church leadership roles (including as a pastor), and now I’m a supervisor in state government. I’ve been intimately involved in large bureaucracies all my adult life, as a technician and as a middle manager. I’ve seen lots of people come and go, and seen plenty of mistakes. Gates’ book is the best thing I’ve ever read on leadership.

Here’s one example why:

[T]he most critical thing a new leader at any level should do is listen.

Too many new bosses arrive confident they have all the answers—the solutions to an organization’s problems—and on day one begin firing off e-mails and giving orders to “light a fire” under people, to demonstrate a new sheriff is in town ready to kick ass and take names, and to show dynamism (and control). Too many openly disdain their predecessors and all that was done before: “Things are going to be different around here now that I’m in charge!”

We all have worked for such “conquering heroes,” who see themselves as riding in on a white horse to save the day. What they do, mainly, is scare the hell out of people, who then focus on keeping out of the way—lying low—and keeping their jobs. Employees quickly come to resent the arrogant know-it-all who has just condemned the work they had been doing and either resolve to do all they can to thwart the new leader’s agenda or passively stand to one side waiting for him to fail. The conquering hero (or hostile-takeover approach) is, in my view, all wrong.