On Formal Seminary Training

Over the years, I have been most embarrassed about the fact that I have not completed my formal ministry and theological training. I began my first pastorate during my senior year in high school. By the time I graduated, I was immersed in my pastoral work. It was not until a year or so later that I continued my studies.

I found a new Christian college in Anaheim (CA) that I attended. During my time there, I learned the principles of inductive Bible study and expository preaching. I studied biblical theology, pastoral leadership, and Christian counseling. It really did lay a good foundation for me. And my professors continued to disciple me outside of class for many years.

I had to quit school when my congregation entered a season of conflict. It lasted for more than four years! But although I did not have the opportunity to attend school during this period, I was still studying. I would even go to local seminaries and pick up the textbooks from the various classes and read them. And little did I know that the beat down I was taking in my church was actually my very own, God-designed seminary training! 

When the conflict finally ended, it was my task to lead the congregation through a period of healing and recovery. I married Crystal about the same time. A year later, our son was born. Plus, at this point I had also developed a larger speaking ministry. And my biblical convictions had begun to harden. So I could not attend any school that wavered in its commitment to the Bible.

I later attended The Master’s Seminary in Sun Valley (CA). This was a remarkably enriching time in my life. But I made the big mistake of trying to do a full load of work, along with all of my other responsibilities. At the time, I may have been one of the only men at the school who was trying to study full time and pastor a church full time at the same time. I know others have done it. But it was a struggle for me. Then Crystal became pregnant with our daughter. The work at the church began to pick up. And I fell off the wagon and starting traveling to preach again! I had to push pause on my studies again.

One of my goals for 2008 was to resume my studies. But by midyear, I was engaged in the pastoral vacancy here at Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church. And by the fall, I was moving to Jacksonville. So here I am again. One of my goals for 2009 is to resume my studies. I am enrolling in a school here that I am very excited about. I am also advising the men here at Shiloh, who are considering formal training for ministry. Moreover, it is important to Crystal and I that we both finish school to set an example for our children.

So I have been thinking a lot about seminary training and Christian ministry lately. Here are some of my thoughts about the matter. Of course, this is not expert analysis. Consider the following to be practical advice about formal training to those who in the ministry or considering the ministry. 

If you have the opportunity to go to seminary, by all means, take it. No, this is not a word from on high. And I understand that you must factor in your present family, work, and ministry responsibilities – not to mention the money. But if there seems to be green lights at these intersections, I would encourage you to prayerfully go forward and begin school.

There are some men who are very disciplined Bible students. And they are equipped for ministry through self-education. But most of us need the accountability and experience of actually being in a class, with all that requires. When you go into the pastorate, you become the resident theologian of your local church. You need to be a man of the Book to be a faithful pastor. And you need to learn how to exegete scripture accurately to be a faithful preacher. So by all means, go if you can go. And do it before life, family, and ministry catches up to you.

Remember that seminary does not make pastors and preachers. My father used to say that seminary just shines shoes. Guys who shine shoes do not make shoes. They just shine them. And if you don’t bring a pair of shoes, they don’t have anything to work with. Likewise, seminary does not make preachers. It doesn’t make pastors. School can teach a man the languages, systematic theology, church history, and even principles of Christian ministry. But if the Lord has not call you into his service, these things will not make you a pastor or a preacher.

Make sure you have a clear sense about the call of God on your life first. Get input from your pastor, congregation, family, and godly people you trust. If you not clear about your call, wait. I would not advise you to go to figure out God’s call. You may spend four years and end up even more confused! But if you have clarity about the Lord’s call, go to school and prepare yourself the best you can be for God (2 Timothy 2:15).

Do not go to a school that does not believe and teach the Bible. I know this may be hard for some of you to believe. Unfortunately, it’s true. Some so-called Christian professors and schools do not believe the Bible. They spend more time trying to undermine its authority than teaching its message. So do your homework. And do not waste your time on any school that it not totally committed to the Bible. I don’t care how famous or prestigious that school is. It is better to attend a small school where you will learn the Bible, than to have a degree from some major institution that teaches liberal theology.

On that same note, I would not recommend that a pastor go to school to major in business, economics, computers, or something like that. Of course, this is between you and the Lord. But if the Lord has called you to be a herald of the word, or to shepherd the souls that he has purchased with his own blood, you should use the opportunity you get to study to focus on “the Queen of the sciences” – theology!

Be a student – whether or not you are in school. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, did not have formal training. In fact, he was not even formally ordained. He considered ordination to be empty hands laying hands on empty heads. Yet you would be hard pressed to find anyone who could name a person who could match Spurgeon’s mind for truth, preaching prowess, and pastoral vision.

True leaders are learners. Even if school is not for you now, keep studying. We really have no excuses these days for ignorance. For my father to learn the languages, systematic theology, and the other disciplines, he had to go to school. But we live in a day where there are so many resources available through various means. One of my favorite Bible teachers and authors admits that he is not a scholar in the languages, but he does know how to use the tools. And that would be my advice to you. You master a trade my learning how to use the tools. Remember, there are no better minds, just better libraries. Study hard and take every opportunity you are given to continue learning.

Do not go to school just because you want to pastor. Many churches require at least a Master’s degree in their pastoral search process. And the priority on having a prepared man is important and commendable. But it cal also be misguided. A degree from a school does not tell you if a man has a godly character, a pastor’s heart, or a gifting to preach and teach. I know men who have finished their formal training, but have been unable to find an opportunity for pastoral ministry. And I know men who have not finished their formal training, but have given opportunities to serve in the pastoral role.

I do not have any academic degrees. But the Lord has opened many great doors of opportunity for me to serve him and minister to others. Some people assume that I have finished my studies. And I take that as a compliment. But I have not. I do not say that as something to be proud of. I do not want to be a poster boy for skipping school. However, my story is a testimony to the fact that the Lord is the sovereign “Booking Agent” for pastors and preachers. He opens doors that no one can close and closes doors that no one can open. Trust the Lord to assign you where he wants you to be at the right time (Isaiah 40:28-31).

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Spencer

    Thank you, Pastor Charles.

  • Pastor O.

    wOw!!! Thanks for being open!!! I’m a pastor and have struggled with this as well… However I’m bi-vocational and I believe in formal education… However when i attended i was unable to devote the necessary complete focus that it takes… Also schools are so expensive now… This should be something that you do a video blog on, something that needs to be discussed in our churches… Thanks

  • caintellect@yahoo.com

    Pastor Charles, Thank you for this post. I was making plans to go back to school to finish my BS degree in business this fall. I have a call on my life to preach the word of God and I want to get deeper in Gods word by my personal study time and seminary. Just not sure if I should finish my degree first and then goto to seminary or just go straight to seminary school.
    what do you think of Biola Univesity? I know it will allow me to finish my business degree and I can major in biblical studies at the same time. I’m from Los Angeles and man I remeber you way back when you preach a few times for my late pastor Donald Gardner of Independent Baptist church….

  • Anonymous

    I appreciate your transparency in discussing “on formal seminary training”. However, I find it interesting that you have been unable to complete a seminary degree in the 18 years after graduating high school. I did not complete my undergraduate and graduate work in the tradition way. So, I understand the challenges of working full-time, raising a family and taking 2 or 3 courses a semester. It’s tough!
    One of the reasons one makes the commitment to higher education is the ability to speak with some degree of authenticity concerning your disciple. Getting a post-secondary degree requires one to increase their ability to critically think, problem solve and “to be critiqued”. Thus, it aids us in developing own unique voice. Can we trust that you are preaching your own sermons? Am I hearing Rev. Charles or Dr. Joel Gregory and Dr. John McArthur on Sunday morning?
    I commend you for reading Dr. McArthur, Dr. Mark Devers and others. These men made the commitment to add to their gift of preaching and we are the better for it. Nevertheless, reading thier material and attending a 3 day workshop does not replace MDiv.
    Is it important to model to our youth that post-secondary education is important in a global economy that demands a high school plus education to make a living wage? Is your philosophy, do what I say, not as I do? What about the example you are giving your family?
    I hope you are serious in earning a seminary degree; it will only add to the gifts God has given you.

    Peace,

  • Anonymous

    Pastor, it will be hard but you can do it.

    I will be praying for you.

    Carla

  • Rev P No

    Pastor Charles I don’t formally know you but I heard you preach once at Hamilton Park FB in Dallas. My heart was hurting that week as I was in a transition stage and was visiting the church. I left changed that day. Please be encouraged that God has given you lots of “in-House” training. Continue to let him use you.

  • Rev. Barney

    Great post my brother! Actually the best one I have read on this blog. Very passionate (I know you were not going for that though).

    I want to say to you that I have been to the halls of higher learner and yes I did recieve great teaching. I also have to say when you go, take a strainer.

    I filtered everything that was taught with a very fine strainer. After I finished my BA degree in ministry, I felt the call of God to leave school (that does not mean I will not go back).

    However God showed me that there are some things He wanted teach me that I couldn’t get in a class room. He showed me that there were to many hurting people for me to spend one more day in school.

    Like you, I love learning, studying and just bathing myself in education, but God showed me that it was time to put into practice all the things I had both seen and heard.

    Let me say this….Schooling is necessary, but I am so glad that God taught you something that most school teachers dare not expose you to.

  • Anonymous

    Dear H.B.:

    After reading your comments, I felt the need to add my two cents to the matter. First, God has uniquely gifted you to be a preacher!

    I haven't heard many ministers with degrees preach to the level that you do from week to week. You truly have a gift.

    When the Bible gives the pastoral qualifications in 1 Timothy 3, you will notice that God gives "Character" qualifications, not academic qualifications.

    A preacher's power and effectiveness comes from the condition of his heart, not his degrees on the wall!

    Dwight Moody had a questionable 5th grade education and well all know how God used him in ministry as well as in the founding of the famed Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois.

    Your calendar of preaching is full because not only are you a tremedous preacher, but you have enough character and humility that attracts people to you.

    Finally, I write all of this as one who has both a Bachelor degree in Bible & Pastoral Ministries as well as a Masters of Arts degree in the very challenging area of Christian Apologetics!

    Both of these degrees have come from well known schools in America. I have even done one full year of the D.Min degree.

    That being said, any "success" that I have enjoyed in my ministry, did not come because of my academic background; it came from having an "authentic" relationship with the risen Lord!

    Therefore, while we all appreciate your honesty and integrity, please know you are well respected even in the academic arena. Keep preaching man! May God continue to bless your rich ministry for His glory!

    Your Friend & Brother,

    Wayne

    Ps. I'm very happy you're in my wonderful home state of Florida!

  • Ms. Whitfield

    Thank you for your honesty. Of course with the beginning of a new year, we all need self-examination. I, too, am pressed to complete ‘industry studies’. Knowing that you are undertaking such an endeavor and dealing with us – “your people”, and your familial responsibilities, I am encouraged.
    Let’s do this. Happy studying!

  • Anonymous

    Pastor Charles,
    Please never be embarrassed. Jesus has His hands on you and that is something to be very , very proud of. He has brought you to a place, many only can dream of being.
    There are men and women of God with all types of degrees, but they can not deliver the word with the annoiting and authority of the Pastor of SMBC. The Holy Spirit sent you to Shiloh to give you a glimpse into the promised land. There are areas in all of our lives that needs some critique. Seminary teaching is biblical. If a person is not annoited and call by God, there is always one major problem after another in the ministry. My father used to say PHD stood for “post hole digger”. The fact that thousands of people at Shiloh love and are attempting to follow your teachings and instructions to make a difference in the community, makes me very very proud of our Pastor, H.B. Charles Jr. This is a proud time to be a Shilite. Hold your head high and keep smiling. God, Himself, got you. Praying for your continued strength and protection for you and the family. Prayerfully a Proud Shilite.

  • Anonymous

    Pastor: It is no wonder people think you have completed school. We all know you can preach the paint off the walls! I truly admire the fact that you are continuing your education. I went back to get my Bachelors at the age of 55 and I know how hard it can be. Good luck to you. I’ll continue to keep you and the family in my prayers.

  • Anonymous

    Doc you have no idea what you are doing. I say that with all respect and honor. I’m 31 years old I’ve been preaching for 5 years now. I’m graduating with my Bachelor degree this coming fall. I had come to a crossroads in my life. I knew I wanted to go to grad school, I had to chose between and MBA or a M.Div.I found a school in that offers a dual degree in both. The only question I was forced to answer for myself why I’m I going futher in my training and if my motivates are pure. I believe every young preacher (thinks) they want to pastor. I didn’t want to be guilty of going to school just so I could get a church. But I wanted to go to learn more about God, the church and the bible. If pastoring should come of it to God be the glory. This blog has help me look at myself and to once again balance my motives on how I move forward. Thanks

  • Pastor D. A. Jarrett

    Pastor HB,
    Let me first thank you for transparency. I have been wrestling with this issue for so long. So many points you touched about commitments that have drawn you away from school connected with me. I definitely take this post as a word of conformation. Thanks again man and I look forward to hearing you when you come to Little Rock in a few weeks. Be Blessed my brother.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for your insight. I have been struggling to complete school as well. I will admit that the first go around was my fault for not finishing. I have a family wife and three kids, job that requires sometimes 50+ hours weekly, and assume the role of Children and Youth minister of my church. But the Lord has showed me something that I could not have learned in the class. That is it is a process. When I first heard you preach I did not know you did not attend seminary. But I am reminded of the movie Shawshank Redemption. He was freed by taking a little out of the wall a day. My desire is to complete school the better trained I am the more of a blessing I will be to those who hear me. But anything worth having is worth working for. But I am learning to appreciate the process.

    qjstratford3245@sbcglobal.net