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 Pastor Needs to be Competent, Not Brilliant

performanceEvery Pastor grows depressed when he reads books about “how to be a better Pastor.” I believe that, if you took five popular “how to be a Pastor” books by conservative authors, and compiled a list of everything these books said, you’d be one depressed guy. Of course, not all of these lists are credible.

For example, one well-known Christian leader posted, just today, that one “warning sign” of a bad pastor is that has a “poor social media witness.” No, I’m not joking. Somehow, I must have missed that requirement in the Bible. Yes, now that I think on it … I’m almost certain the Apostle Paul mentioned a weekly quota for FaceBook, Twitter and Instgram posts.

Competence, not brilliance

But, that madness aside, these lists can be depressing. No doubt about it. But, I want to offer a small ray of sunshine. When it comes to pastoral requirements, I don’t believe God requires a guy to be perfect at everything. He asks for competence, not brilliance; along with a willingness to get better and learn over time.

Let me use a sports analogy. In baseball, the “ideal” athlete is known as a “five-tool player.” This means a guy who can (1) hit for power, (2) hit for a good average, (3) has good base-running skills and speed, (4) can throw, and (5) can field. Most guys aren’t “five-tool players.” Most baseball players can do one or more of these things very well, and are competent at the rest. A superstar is generally someone who can do all five (e.g. Ken Griffey, Jr.).

Some Pastors are “five-tool” guys. They can do everything very, very well. Most guys can’t do that. And, I don’t think God asks for brilliance. But, I think He does expect competence.

Unfortunately, many congregations don’t even ask for that much. Christians are generally very, very good at spiritualizing incompetence, because we want to be “loving” and “nice.” A man might not be able to teach his way out of a wet paper bag, might not know Augustine from Anselm, might have a spine as stiff as a soggy spaghetti noodle, but if he’s a nice guy who loves the Lord, some congregations are willing to make him their Pastor. That is a terrible mistake.

The list …

I believe the Bible teaches a Pastor must meet certain qualifications. I also believe that God gives every believer certain talents, gifts and abilities, and molds and shapes all His children into the people He wants them to be. We can look at the Bible to find these Pastoral qualifications. Most Christians instinctively turn to 1 Timothy 3, or Titus 1, to find these. But, those largely moral requirements. What about performance requirements? What about the skill sets, the competences that allow a Pastor to actually do his job?

I think the book of 2 Timothy has something for us, on that score. At my church, as we prepare the congregation to consider a new Pastoral candidate, I’m walking through 2 Timothy 1-2 and picking out some “marks of a good Pastor.” Here is the list I’m working from:

  1. He must be a leader, not a coward
  2. He must be committed to the Bible
  3. He must be educated, competent and capable – so he can guard the faith
  4. He must train new leaders
  5. He must be totally committed to the Gospel ministry
  6. He must not preach a cheap Gospel, and encourage self-examination
  7. He must be theologically balanced and mature
  8. He must be spiritually and emotionally mature
  9. He must be able to teach

I could have found more, but this is enough. Remember, God asks for competence, not brilliance. We can’t all be superstars. But, we can all be competent. If a guy can’t meet these core competencies, then he isn’t qualified to lead a congregation.

End of story.

In the rest of this series, I’ll briefly elaborate on each of these “marks of a good Pastor.”