I have been thinking about this whole issue of theological education for those working in student ministry. Is it necessary? Is it optional? For a long time (and some still do) churches would hire a young, energetic, adult to work with teenagers that was “good with kids.” The students loved this person, some of the adults in the church did not understand this person, and this person usually did not stay in their role at the church for much longer than a few years. Now, let me say this, there are some amazing student pastors out there that have never touched any formal theological education. I have personally met them. I have worked alongside them. In fact, I know of some student pastors out there, with no formal theological education, that build relationships better, communicate better, and deal with issues that come along better, than student pastors with a theological education. However, I do believe it is very important for student pastors to at least be attending or planning on attending seminary. I come to this conclusion for several reasons but first let me state this. Seminary is not the end all of the end all. It is so much more important to have a heart for Jesus and growing in your daily walk with Jesus than it is to be sitting in a seminary class. Now, seminary can greatly aid in this process but I have met too many seminary students who do not serve in the local church in any capacity. To that person I say… “really, are you kidding me?” It is also important to note here that there is no way that seminary can prepare you for everything you will encounter in real life ministry. If you are reading this article and you are feeling called to be a student pastor then my advice is simple… do both; serve in the church and attend seminary. With this brings practical application and formal theological training. Here are a few suggestions or ways that this can be accomplished… while in seminary, serve full-time or part-time in a church, be a student ministry intern at a church, or serve a small group leader in a student ministry. Currently, I’m doing this myself. I’ve been married almost five years, I work as a full-time student and college pastor, and I take seminary classes every semester. It can be hard at times to do balance all this at the same time but it is doable, trust me. The key is time management, something that I have definitely not mastered yet. With all this being said here are a few reasons why I believe theological education is important for the student pastor.
1. Teenagers need a leader that is a learner as well. It has often been said a leader is a reader. A growing leader is constantly going to want to be learning new ideas and concepts. Now, there is the train of thought that says… “do I really need seminary to do this, can’t I just read books on my own?” To this I say it is also important, for a season, for the leader to be the student as well. I have gained a lot of valuable knowledge from professors pouring knowledge into me. Professors that were former/current student pastors themselves and could absolutely relate to the question I was asking or situation I was dealing with. Why? Because they are seasoned veterans and have been there and done that. Teenagers desperately need a leader that is constantly increasing in their knowledge.
2. Teenagers ask tough questions about theological concepts. I have been asked questions before, by middle school and high school students, that had I not had some sort of formal theological education, I would not have been able to answer it. Doctrine and theology can be hard for the pastor/ministry leader to grasp but we need to know these things. To many people are under the mindset that students can’t handle deeper biblical lessons or talks. Watered-down theology will not help a student grow to be the disciple of Jesus that they can be.
3. Churches and supervising pastors do care. Let me start off by saying this is not always the case. One of the churches I previously served in I was told, “Do seminary if you want to, don’t do seminary if you don’t want to, it does not matter to us.” However, I have found more pastors, other ministry leaders, and churches do think it is important that their staff have formal theological training. I’m not saying you can’t get hired without it I’m just simply saying it’s important. After all what is seminary? It’s a training ground. Why would you not want to go get formal training in the area God has called you to. Countless pastors have told me how important it is to have my education. It will make more churches desire for you to be a part of their team, it will grow your network, and you will greatly benefit from the experience as a whole.
Let me end by saying this. It is also important for the student pastor or any ministry leader for that matter to be studying and know the current culture as well. Often seminary students can get in that “seminary bubble” and easily lose sight of this. They will know theological concepts back and forward but then have no idea how to relate them to a struggling teenager or child. To help myself with this I read movie reviews (or go see the movie if it is appropriate) of the best-selling movies, I read up on what is happening in the culture as much as possible, I stay connected to social media, and I listen to songs on the Top 40 charts, just to name some of the things I do.
All in all, I do believe formal theological education is important. It’s not the cheapest thing and it’s not the easy route to take, but at the end of the day I believe it is totally worth it.