Perhaps you’ve heard objections that further theological training can benefit someone already laboring in full-time Christian ministry. There can be the presumption that once someone has already “made it” into ministry work, there’s no need to pursue further training. Having “done the time” to get the diploma, theological training may be considered a thing of the past, a hobby at best, and no longer a present need, or so the thinking goes.
On the other hand, there can also be the preclusion to further study out of the burden of feeling too busy serving in your local church or missional context. I used to relate most to this objection. My viewpoint was that I was so busy fulfilling immediate ministry tasks, that I simply could not afford to give time to further theological training. How could I hope to be productive at school while at the same time planting a church? Today, however, I have come to discover just the opposite. Because I can be so busy serving in ministry, I can no longer afford not to pursue further study for ministry. Rather than expendable, I have found further theological training to be invaluable.
How can that be? Before I share three reasons why I have found this to be so, let me remind you of a scripture passage you probably already know. In 2 Timothy 2:15 ESV, Paul wrote to Timothy:
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”
We can make two brief observations from this verse. First, when Paul wrote this letter to Timothy, it addressedTimothy in his current role of leading the church at Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3 ESV). Although Timothy had already been laboring for the gospel in the church, Paul continues to instruct him to do his best, literally “be zealous,” to present himself as a worker approved before God.1 Second, the areas that Timothy is to find approval in are regarding his doctrinal and devotional life; a “worker who has no need to be ashamed” and is “rightly handling the Word of truth.”
As Paul neared the end of his life,these things were on his mind regarding Timothy’s future. I think we can see from Paul’s writing to Timothy that there is a clear and persistent doctrinal and devotional need that exists for every Christian minister. So then, the Word of God commends further theological training to those in full-time ministry.
From my experience in regular courses at Emmaus Theological Seminary over the past few years, I would share three ways further training has benefited me. In three words, it has brought refreshment, refining, and readiness to me in Christian ministry.
Value 1: Further theological training brings refreshment in ministry
No one serves well on an empty stomach (see Elijah in 2 Kings 19). And the old military maxim, “an army marches on its stomach” has stood the test of time. So too, it holds true for those engaged in regular Christian ministry; one cannot keep pouring out without pouring something back in. Rest and refilling are not optional in Christian ministry; they are pivotal.
In my case, six years into church planting work, enrolling in courses at Emmaus was what I needed and yet didn’t know. I had been committed to regular ministry of the Word without a formal commitment to the further study of the Word beyond the practice of personal and corporate spiritual disciplines. More than the occasional conference, these weekly courses strengthened me for greater service. I was amazed to find personal refreshment in deeper study of doctrines like the person and work of Christ and guides in reading books from B.B. Warfield, among others. Further training is bringing me not simply the rest of recreation but the effective refilling of the Word of God. And of course it will, for it is finding refreshment in “… the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” (1 Thess. 2:13 ESV) In saying yes to finding refreshment in further theological study, we are saying yes to being able to remain in the ministry to which God has called us.
Value 2: Further theological training brings refining in ministry
It’s hard to do good work with tools that are dull. You have to work twice as hard (and end up twice as tired) to get the same result. That’s why it makes good sense to keep your tools sharpened. In church planting work, further training in courses at Emmaus has served to refine me for ministry effectiveness. I have grown to understand more deeply the Christ I preach every Sunday from my further studies in the Word of God, where Christ is revealed. Through several courses on Christian ethics, I now understand more fully the fruitful obediences that should follow saving faith in Jesus Christ. I have had the joy of being able to help members in my congregation through difficult ethical decisions based on discussions in class. In courses on Christianity and culture, I have been better equipped to know how to contextualize the gospel in my culture and when to confront it with the gospel.
Learning with fellow students has also refined me in countless ways. Through discussion with them, I have gained greater clarity and confidence in biblical convictions, and in some cases I have received correction when the Word of God challenges my personal feelings. In 1 Timothy 4:15,Paul instructed Timothy to serve in such a way that “… all may see your progress.” A growing minister is a building block, under God, for a growing congregation.
Value 3: Further theological training brings readiness for ministry
It is not the case that merely holding a position makes us ready for the tasks that may arise; it only reveals what level of preparedness we bring or do not bring to the role. Whether it be learning how to preach the Word, officiate a funeral, help new believers grow, or lead people on mission with the gospel, putting in the effort of study today will pay the dividend of readiness for the work of tomorrow.
In 2 Timothy 2:21 ESV, Paul writes of being vessels for ministry which are, “… set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” Ministry is less about quick wits and getting by on our natural talents and more about faithful preparation for the works God has prepared. We need to learn the Word with which we minister and the work of discipling persons to follow Jesus. It is readiness for ministry to which God calls us, and this is yet one final way that further theological training will bring value to those in full-time ministry.
I am grateful to God for the gift of being able to receive further training at Emmaus, and I’m already looking forward to classes this Fall semester.
- Ray Van Neste, ESV Study Bible: 2 Timothy (Wheaton Illinois: Crossway Bibles, 2008) 2340
Tony Loseto serves as Pastor of Gateway Church Old Brooklyn in Cleveland Ohio. He has completed a B.S. in Christian Missions from Boyce Bible College. He has served in church planting ministry for the past 7 years in the city. He is married to Beth Loseto, a wonderful partner in ministry field, and they are privileged to foster children in their home.