Building Better Preachers Pt 3: Combining Online Education with Actual Ministry Experience

imagesIn this third installment of my series on Building Better Preachers, I would like to talk about the benefit of brining the classroom and the local church together in preparing future ministers.  There was a time when ministers who desired seminary or Bible college training were required to relocated if they did live within driving distance of the seminary.  But now we can literally take the seminary to anyone with access to a computer and the internet.  This provides enormous opportunities and benefits for those preparing to go into the ministry because they can stay in a local church setting and still pursue their education.  This combination of higher education and real world experience is a key element in building better preachers.

The Danger of Disconnection

We have all seen it happen.  A young man who is on fire for the Lord surrenders the ministry and then heads off to seminary.  Three years later they leave the seminary but have lost all touch with the real world of ministry.  The reason is often simply that while in seminary they did not receive the real world experience and mentoring necessary to help them learn to become good ministers.  Sure, they can parse verbs and discuss the nuances of systematic theology but they have no real concept of how to help a family through hard times or to console someone who has just lost a loved one.  There are excellent books and material available on these topics but the truth is that reading about them and role-playing them in a seminary class is not the same as actually ministering to real live people.

This is where the need for experience under the guidance of a mentor is invaluable.  I will never forget my first experience in preaching a funeral.  I had no idea what I needed to do but thankfully, I had a mentor who walked me through each step and taught me by example how to minister to a hurting family.

Maximizing the Benefit of Online Learning While Serving in a Ministry Position

In my mind the ideal ministry training model is to have a mentor in place in a local church who will guide the prospective minister through his training.  The mentor has a several key responsibilities. First, he needs to make sure that the prospective pastor is moving forward in his academic studies.  Basically, in this role he provides the accountability that is sometimes lacking in online education.  By meeting weekly with the prospective Pastor the mentor can discuss the academic work that he is completing his academic work and also to make sure that he helps the student to connect what he is learning academically with real world experience.

Second,the mentoring Pastor can model various ministry roles and activities for the prospective Pastor.  By taking him on ministry calls, or showing him how to prepare a sermon, the mentoring Pastor demonstrates for the young man how to be an effective minister.  One of the great problems that we face is that young Pastors often don’t know what goes on behind the scenes and how an effective minister uses his time and energy.  By modeling and demonstrating various skills the mentoring Pastor helps the prospective Pastor to learn what is involved in the ministry.

Third, the mentoring Pastor helps to develop the real-life ministry skills of the prospective Pastor by guiding him through an increasingly more complex set of ministry assignments. (More on this tomorrow).  As the student Pastor conducts actual ministry activities he gains valuable experience that he will later be able to use in his own ministry.  At first the mentor may need to actually go with the prospective Pastor on hospital calls etc… but eventually he should be able to handle these matters on his own. Tomorrow we will talk about some of the skills that need to be developed in this kind of training program.

Finally, the mentoring Pastor provides valuable feedback on the prospective Pastors.  A weekly meeting between the Pastor and the prospective Pastor where they discuss the past week’s ministry opportunities and check what was done well and what needs to be improved is vital.  Nearly every Pastor that I know would agree that early in their ministry they needed more feedback.  An experienced Pastor can give great advice and guidance in these areas.

What I am describing sounds a great deal like many ministry internships that are offered by seminaries and Bible colleges for a semester.  The fundamental difference, however, is that I am suggesting that this relationship last for the entire period of a minister’s seminary training.  Most of the skills that are required in Pastoral ministry must be developed over a period longer than a mere semester.  They take several years to learn and a life-time to master.  We need to greatly expand this focus if we are going to build better preachers.

Join me tomorrow as we discuss the specific areas where a mentoring program can help a new Pastor develop his skills.




Building Better Preachers Part 2: The Local Church is the Best Training Ground

Joe BuchananThis is the second post in my series about “How to Build Better Preachers.”  Today, I want to talk about how we can get the local church involved in the training of new Pastors.  It is my conviction that the local church is the single most important entity in reaching the world with the gospel and it is also the best place to build and train new preachers.  Over the past twenty years of ministry I have seen many young men who felt called to the ministry and who were on fire for God be ruined by going off to seminary.  

Please don’t get me wrong, I am not against seminaries nor education.  An important part of my ministry has been in teaching at the Bible college.  However, I have observed a problem in the approach that we often take in the Bible college and seminary — we don’t connect enough to the local church.  What ends up happening is that we have young men who go off and spend four to seven years in the monastic environment of the university where they never get a true understanding of what it means to serve in the local church.  What happens when they come out is often disastrous. 

Idealistic Preachers Blow Up Churches

Too many young ministers come out of the seminary with an idealized and unrealistic vision of what the ministry is going to be like.  They quickly learn that the ministry is not about parsing verbs and arguing the nuances of systematic theology but working with real people who have real-life problems.  The ministry can be messy and it requires a certain set of skills to succeed and be effective in preaching the gospel.  These skills are learned more through experience than case studies in the seminary.  When young preachers meet these real-life issues they often approach them in ways that only makes matters worse.  What ends up happening is they often blow up the church by trying to deal with problems in a textbook, legalistic, boneheaded way.  The key is not adding another class into the curriculum but getting the seminary and the local church to move closer together in the training of new Pastors.

Move the Seminary to the Local Church

What I would like to suggest is that we move the seminary to the local church.  We live in a day and age where world-class education is literally a mouse click away for anyone in the world.  Through digital courses offered on the internet or strategically placed extension centers across the countries, seminaries can now offer educational opportunities to Pastors while they stay in their ministry context.  But I would like to suggest we go even one step further.  

If we really want the local church to become a training ground for new Pastors we need to involved the leaders and members of the church in the process.  In my mind I see the training of a new Pastor as a combination of three elements.  First, there is the academic aspect which is provided by the seminary.  Second, there is the experiential part of training where the young Pastor is given the opportunity to use and hone his skills.  Finally, there is the mentoring relationship with a more experienced Pastor.  

When I look back at my ministry all three of these elements were present but  rarely at the same time.  What I would like to suggest is that we intentionally bring these three elements together to build better preachers. Come back tomorrow and we will explore how to effectively combine these three elements.