I love the academic world. I enjoy studying and intellectually pursuing new information. I am still in a season of formal education, and I am grateful for it. I found this passion at Oklahoma Baptist University where I was exposed to thoughts and ideas that I had never heard of before. Needless to say I was hooked. I new that after graduation my education was going to continue, so I went to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary where I am half way done with my masters degree. I fully intend on pursuing a doctoral degree after I am done there. This education is extremely valuable to me, but it is not enough. The most valuable piece of my education was not found at OBU or Southeastern Seminary, it was in the office of First Baptist Church Okmulgee, in the car with my Pawpaw, and in the pastorate at Immanuel Baptist church Henryetta. Formal education is most certainly necessary, but it only works if it is accompanied by hands on training. Here are some simple ways that churches can provide ministry training to complement theological education.
My first ministry training occurred while I was still in high school by way of an intentional intern program at FBC Okmulgee. My home church made training up young minsters a priority. It was quite common for the church to have one or two young men serving as an intern on the staff. The main responsibilities were focused on the youth group, but they were not limited to that. The internal experience gave insight to the way the church really functions after everyone else goes home on Sunday. I was exposed to real life ministry, to times of joy and times of pain, all of which prepared me for future tasks.
I love the new emphasis on interns and how even small churches are hire interns. It is an opportunity for churches of all varieties to have an active role in preparing the next generation of minsters. All pastors should go through an internship before entering the ministry on their own, and every church should find some way to invest in an internship program.
A new development in the ministry world is really gaining steam and the church is the better for it. Ministry residency programs are gaining in popularity. Churches can now partner with seminaries to provide hands on training while working toward a seminary degree. These programs fill the holes in seminary training. The residents can learn about church budgeting by actually working with church budgets. The class room is limited, but when it is combined with the real experience given in a residency the lid is lifted.
I am currently participating in one of these programs with the Cross Church School of Ministry in Northwest Arkansas. I am still working on my Mdiv, but I am working toward that while serving in the local church. I have the opportunity to experience things I would never get to do if I was doing classroom only training.
Lastly, just serving on staff while in school is a great option for practical theological training. Serving on a church staff or even as the pastor of a church while in school used to be a normal thing, but it is now in decline. I find this to be a major problem. Many churches around colleges and seminaries had a long legacy of hiring students as their pastors. They could invest in the life of a young man and he could really do some great things for their church. I believe that there are many struggling churches who could be revived, but the man who could do it is stuck in a class room.
I was blessed and very humbled by the opportunity to serve as a pastor all the way through college and I would not trade that experience for anything. It was genuinely one of the best times of my life. I could take what I learned in the class room that morning and put it to use later in the afternoon when I got back to the church. I want to see more students looking for churches to work in and more churches take a chance on a young pastor. The future of that pastor and that church could be changed forever.
I think every pastor should have some formal theological training, but I think it should be done in conjunction with practical on the job training. In my ministry I fully intend on investing in the lives of young pastors to give them a good start in ministry, just like people have done for me. I am very thankful, for the men and ministries that are helping me prepare for ministry.