Ed Stetzer on Considering a Formal Education for Ministry

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Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group. The Exchange team helped with this article. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.


I write often about movements that are lay led and not requiring formal theological education. I though it might be helpful to explain that, in many circumsances, it is exactly what you might need.

You will probably not be surprised that I think thing. I’ve earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates, with much of my programs in cohorts with other students. I loved the journey to get each degree. These programs / degrees provided me with the formal knowledge and training I’ve needed to serve the Kingdom of God in all that I do.

Let me share three reasons formal ministry education matters today: specifically, I want to show you how formal education can help you grow in your ability to serve in any ministry role.

First, an intentional degree directs your learning in ways that shape you as a leader, pastor, minister, or in any other ministry role.

An intentional degree is one in which people who have gone before you have thought deeply on it and created a curriculum to give you greater direction.

The classes are almost always developed by people who have walked the path that you hope to walk before you walked it and longer than you walked it. This means the topics you study will help you in innumerable ways.

The fact remains that any of us could open our Bibles or read other books to give us a better education. If I did my own study, I would probably read about historical theology all day. But I might miss some things learned by systematic theology or biblical theology.

I might not read about pneumatology and soteriology. I might not look at leadership. I might become more enamored with history than with the biblical foundation for our faith.

A smart person knows what he or she doesn’t know, and the directed education degree provides help to fill in gaps we all have.

When we direct our own learning, we focus on what we already know to be interesting and appealing; that’s why we must step out of our comfort zones and engage in learning that stretches us.

Directed study forces us to engage with authors and professors who have thought about certain topics before we showed up. These topics are usually things we need in order to excel in the kind of ministry and mission God calls us to do. It starts with directed study.

In a broader sense, directed study is a humble submission to the wisdom and insight of generations that have gone before us that say, “This is what a good leader, a good teacher, a good Bible study communicator knows.”

The second reason that formal education matters is because it occurs in a context of encouragement.

By studying and learning together, we encourage each other. For many students progressing through their degrees quitting seems like a viable option, especially during particularly stressful seasons of life.

But when we have a mutual opportunity to learn together, we can then encourage one another in our understanding. We create a culture where we are encouraged to keep challenging ourselves to learn.

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Source: Christianity Today