Returning Theological Education Back to the Local Church

I retired from local church ministry after almost forty years to serve the mission of B. H. Carroll Theological Institute because I saw both the value of formal, accredited theological education for my own ministry and how sharing the same training at the local church level benefited members, staff, and other church leaders in the area.

By bringing formal theological education to the local church, every member had access to quality training. Anyone called to serve Christ in the diverse and global ministries of His church could complete a degree program where he or she lived and served. I became sold on Carroll Institute’s desire to return theological education back to the local church, and I wanted others to experience what I had known firsthand.Since joining Carroll Institute just over three years ago I have found implementing such a strategy to be more challenging than I had anticipated. Here are three reasons I see why I believe this is so:

  1. Only about a third of those entering ministry today engage formal seminary training. Sixty per cent of my generation went to seminary. Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals, lists nine trends for why fewer are going to seminary these days. There are more reasons for this, but he has captured most of what I have learned too. The newest generation of church leaders do not value degree-centered ministry training as did their predecessors.
  2. Local churches have moved away from programed training to make disciples and develop leaders. I have no statics on this, but my own experience and wider interaction with other churches gives evidence that need-based, topic-driven, short-term studies are the OS for equipping members and staff for ministry. We are a self-helped generation of disciples fed on bite-sized morsels of personality-driven information. A friend recently recommended Keith Johnson’s new book, Theology as Discipleship. Johnson reminds us we all live with a “functional theology,” yet we “never engage in disciplined theological thinking about core Christian doctrines or the history of the church’s debates about them.”[1] Longer courses of study on topics seemingly unrelated to “real life” do not match the palette of many disciples today.
  3. Seminary is seen as “over there somewhere where the professionals get degrees.” Many think theological training is for the career ministry leader, and the only access to formal, theological training is to attend a residential campus for three or four years, earn a graduate degree and then find a job. While online access has exploded on the scene of theological education, which has made theological content accessible anywhere at any time, “going to seminary” is still the predominate perception of those who want to be trained for ministry.

While these challenges exist, I am still convinced that returning theological education to the local church is the best way to equip men and women called to serve Christ and his church wherever they live and serve. The church is still God’s Plan A in the Mission of God, and spiritually gifted and trained servant leaders are still God’s strategy to equip disciples for mission where they live, learn, work and play.

In this series of blogs, I want to unpack why I believe a disciplined program of training is valuable for those called to ministry, the importance of reviving the value of Pastor as Scholar, and what a strategy of returning theological education back to the local church could look like in your church.

So, to start the conversation, let’s answer some of these questions.

  • What is your perception of seminary training?
  • Do you believe such a goal is possible for a local church?
  • Why do you think/feel fewer and fewer called church leaders are engaging in seminary training?

[1] Johnson, Keith L. (2015-12-09). Theology as Discipleship (p. 12). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

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