Thursday, August 16, 2012

Continuing Education for Ministers: A Guide for Ministers and Congregations

By Ryan M. McGraw

The Church needs pastors that are godlier. However, the Church needs pastors who are more learned as well. Better still, the Church needs ministers whose education and piety grow in harmony to the end of their lives. The ministers of the past whom we often admire most are those men who were most diligent and prayerful in their studies.[1] In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the southern Presbyterian R. L. Dabney illustrated the need for a thoroughly educated ministry with a useful analogy. A woodsman who is naturally strong in body may chop twice as much wood in a day as another man, even though he has a dull axe. Yet if he desires to maximize his effectiveness, then he will take time that he otherwise would have used to chop more wood in order to sharpen his axe. At the expense of an hour of his time, he will be twice as productive and useful in his labors.[2] In a similar manner, ministers of the gospel should pursue warm-hearted personal piety through intense study. For many, continuing education will be a good means to secure this end. 

Many churches do not understand why their ministers should continue their education, and ministers can sometimes neglect their churches at the expense of further education. Both of these positions reflect a defective view of ministerial education. This article demonstrates the need for life-long ministerial education, whether formal or informal. This assertion requires us to consider what is in view, why ministers should grow in their theological education, how they should do so, and how and why congregations should support them in these endeavors.

What Is In View?

Asserting that ministers should pursue continuing education implies a preliminary question: what kind of education is here in view? Even though not every ministry must follow the same path, this article is tailored toward driving men and churches to a higher view of formal ministerial education beyond the Master of Divinity level. However, the manner in which men and their congregations view continuing education often indicates how they regard the minister’s study in general.[3] Study and learning are not the only things that must occupy a minister, but without the continual, prayerful, and devout study of Scripture and the theology of the Church, his flock will be subjected to ravenous wolves more easily, his soul will be emaciated, and his entire ministry will suffer. The greatest tragedy is that men who do not see the need for continuing education following their divinity studies rarely see that their ministries have suffered already by virtue of their attitude. A few observations are necessary in order to define the parameters of this discussion.

Three observations

First, post graduate degree programs beyond the Master of Divinity level are in view immediately (though not exclusively). Such programs could include a Masters in Theology (ThM), a doctorate of ministry (DMin), a doctorate of theology (ThD), DPhil, or PhD program. Each program differs in emphasis. It is important to understand the differences between them in order to set personal goals. A ThM is ordinarily a research degree that may or may not include course work and which may focus on a wide range of subjects. A DMin is a ministerial degree that requires several courses as well as a ministry oriented research project. ThDs, DPhil’s, and PhDs are intensive research degrees that are more scholarly in nature. The American model for these degrees includes about two years of course work, a thesis, language requirements, and comprehensive exams in the chosen subject. The European model often does not require course work, specified language requirements, or comprehensive exams. Instead, it focuses attention on a more intense research project. A ThD is usually offered at a theological seminary, whereas a PhD or DPhil can be pursued with a seminary or a university.

When I graduated from seminary, I was not aware of these distinctions. Knowing them helps determine what kind of further education you might consider. For instance, a ThM is less intense than a PhD. It is a good end in itself as well as a profitable stepping stone to the great rigors of a doctoral program. A DMin expands upon areas of practical theology that were introduced in an MDiv course. A ThD, PhD, or DPhil aims to develop expertise in a specific area with a precise question or thesis in view. Even these latter programs can vary dramatically depending upon where you pursue the degree. Some programs fulfill the popular stereotype of providing expertise in one narrow topic without gaining broader knowledge of the time period or subject in general. Others require comprehensive knowledge in a general area of study that is mediated through your particular subject. For example, a student doing research on John Owen may find one of two results depending upon where he studies. He may become an expert in what Owen has said with limited additional knowledge about Puritanism or Reformed orthodoxy. Or he may become an expert in why Owen said what he said, what its consequences are, and gain proficiency in the field of Puritanism and Reformed orthodoxy in general. In my opinion, the latter is much more difficult, yet far more useful for ministry in the long run. It is important to know your options and to become familiar with various schools and the character of the programs that they offer. In addition, find out who your supervisors would be and study under men that you believe will help you attain your ministerial goals.

Second, several seminaries offer certificate programs in various areas of study. This approach provides a form of external prodding that will provoke you to study more broadly than you would in your week to week pulpit ministry alone. I often describe two levels of sermon preparation.[4] The first is that which ministers do week to week in studying commentaries and related materials in order preach their sermons each Lord’s Day. The other level is to study theology and history on a larger scale in order to accumulate useful material and to shape who we are as men. The latter is just as valuable as the former, but few pursue it adequately while they are caught up in the rigorous week to week labors of the ministry. We should have long term as well as short term goals for our ministry and preaching. So, for instance, a certificate in Systematic Theology will prompt you to become more familiar with the broader system of doctrine and practice in the Bible that will inform every aspect of your ministerial life. You will read your commentaries more profitably, craft your sermons in a fuller manner, and gain much material for prayerful application of the Scriptures.

Third, every minister must engage in self-education. In many respects, this statement is the foundation of everything that I will say below. As mentioned above, most of the great theologians in the history of the church spend most of their lives in the pastorate and wrote most of their works in that context. Today we have largely lost the idea of the pastor-scholar who serves the church with his learning. Ministers should be learned men and ministers should produce most of our theological literature. Study, ministry, preaching, teaching, writing, and prayer should all build upon each other in a pastor’s life.[5] Continuing education will likely help you aim for the kind of pastoral excellence that characterized our Reformed forefathers. Pursuing higher education while serving in the pastorate is a sink or swim endeavor. It forces you to manage your time well, to learn the limits of what you can and cannot do, and to expand your gifts and graces. Ministerial education follows the rule of the parable of the talents: the more faithful you are with what you have and the more you gradually push yourself to accomplish more, the more the Lord enables you to do. For most of us, this kind of study teaches us how to be more self-disciplined and enables us to be more effective in our self-education.

Why Ministers Should Continue their Education

  1. An educated ministry is biblical. Most of the tasks of the ministry cannot be accomplished without sound knowledge and the ability to make clear distinctions. One friend of mine describes the definition of maturity as the ability to make finer and finer distinctions. This is particularly true with regard to identifying false doctrine. Error rarely comes into the church by false teachers coming in with neon signs on their foreheads that say, “I deny the divinity of Christ, etc.” Peter says that such men “secretly bring in destructive heresies” (2 Pet. 2:1). Heresies creep in secretly because they creep in subtly, often employing the same language as sound orthodox theology.[6] Moreover, Paul charged Timothy to make his progress in the ministry evident to all (1 Tim. 4:15). This included a charge to give attention to doctrine (v. 13, 16). Even late in his ministry Paul was careful to ask Timothy to bring scrolls and parchments to aid his studies (2 Tim. 4:13). If even the divinely inspired apostle progressed in his studies to his dying day, then we ought to imitate him by aspiring to promote and to become a learned ministry. As a friend wrote, “Christ is the Word. The mission of the church is the verbal proclamation of the gospel. The essence of our effectiveness is to communicate the deposit of faith, to interpret rightly both the smallest detail and to explain the macroscopic contours of the great work of redemption. These things deserve, and demand, intentional cultivation, bathed in earnest prayer.”[7]
  2. Ministers need practice in learning how to wed knowledge and piety. I have often heard other ministers ask why ministerial examinations focus so much upon doctrine when being “apt to teach” is merely one qualification among many for the eldership (1 Tim. 2:24). The answer in part is that it is virtually impossible to examine a man’s personal piety apart from his views of theology. The doctrine that we preach is the doctrine that is according to godliness (1 Tim. 6:13). In preaching, ministers must confess with their mouths what they believe in their hearts (Rom. 10:9). We believe and therefore we speak (2 Cor. 4:13). I have also heard church members argue that when we emphasize doctrine, then we lose the warmth of Christian living and experience. While this can occur, this ought not to be the case. This kind of thinking is foreign to the Bible. In the book of Proverbs, wisdom and understanding are connected to walking in the fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:7). The fear of the Lord is a biblical phrase. It describes reverent godly living that is produced through faith in Christ by the powerful work of the Spirit in us, and that is rooted in the truths of Scripture.[8] There is no true knowledge without piety and there is no true piety without knowledge of sound doctrine. In an ideal world, our experimental knowledge of the truth would always grow in step with our theoretical knowledge of the truth.[9] The fact that it does not always do so should not lead us to place the blame upon learning and doctrine. Instead we should place the blame upon ourselves. Ministers must cultivate the skill of learning how to wed their growth in knowledge to their growth in piety so that they can serve as examples to the flock. For this reason, both Paul and Peter connected growing in the knowledge of God’s will and of the Lord Jesus Christ with wisdom, spiritual understanding, and being fruitful in every good work (Col. 1:9-10; 2 Pet. 3:18). This is a powerful motive for ministers to increase in their learning through education.
  3. Education while in the pastorate promotes self-discipline and time management. I have often told candidates for the ministry that the pastorate can be either the laziest calling in the world or the hardest, depending upon what we do with it. Even under denominational structures that provide the highest levels of ministerial accountability, the fact remains that in the day to day work of the pastorate, we must be largely self-disciplined. Most of the time, no one is looking over our shoulders to ensure that we are good stewards with our time. The only one who takes note of our time management is the Lord. Most men do not learn to use their time well until they are forced to plan ahead and to keep track of what they are doing each day. Pursuing a higher degree in the pastorate will force you to take stock, make plans, and set priorities in your weekly schedule. Of course, this is not the only means by which to learn good time management. Yet meeting the demands of the pastorate as well as deadlines in a course of study may cause you to realize how much time you can waste with emails, the internet, and minor tasks that should not distract you from what is more important. You can fit more into your schedule than you realize. Learning to co-ordinate tasks for the sake of pursuing further studies will have the beneficial side-effect of teaching you the life-long skill of efficiency.[10]
  4. You will surprised by what you will learn. Each day in the Christian life is simultaneously a new discovery of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6) and a new discovery of our ignorance. We must attempt to diminish our ignorance by growing the knowledge of the Lord. As the church father John Chrysostom wrote, “Ignorance makes the soul timid and unmanly, just as instruction in heavenly doctrine makes it great and sublime.”[11] Two examples illustrate how education often reveals our ignorance in unexpected ways. In my own doctoral studies, John Owen’s work on Communion with God in depth has given me fresh appreciation for and devotion to the Triune God. While I have always confessed that the Trinity is an “essential” doctrine, now I cannot think of any aspect of the Christian gospel, truth, and piety without thinking about them in terms of communion with all three persons of the Godhead. The repetition of writing and revising, coupled with secondary reading, has only reinforced this profound treasury of knowledge, enabling me to incorporate it into my regular pulpit ministry. The second surprising thing that I have discovered in my studies is a vast body of Reformed authors that I never knew existed. Names such as Junius, Musculus, Polanus, Alsted, Hoornbeeck, Piscator, Hyperius, Voetius and others have been virtually forgotten in the Reformed world. Yet in these authors, I have discovered some of the best doctrinal and experimental piety that has ever been written in the history of the church. Without pursuing higher education in a formal degree program, I likely would have remained ignorant of this vast wealth of material for the rest of my life, in spite of diligence in my study. Education may help you to gather materials that will enrich your ministry and that you never knew to look for.
How Ministers Should Continue their Education

How to integrate your studies into your pastoral labors involves the questions of internal motivation and external implementation. In connection to these two questions is the practical subject of temptations and pitfalls that result higher education.

Proper Motivation
Two motives subsume all others. These are the glory of the Triune God and the good of the church. These twin motives will shape if, why, and how you will pursue education in the ministry, regardless of what form it takes.

The glory of the Triune God must be the first and primary motive for continuing education in the ministry. We must do all things in the name of Christ (Col. 3:17) and whether we eat or drink we must do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). When we do not seek to glorify the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit, then everything that we do in the ministry is in vain. The good of the church must be the second motive in all we do. This motive must flow from the first. The church must be dear to you because the church is dear to the Father who gave His Son for her, to the Son who bought her with His blood, and to the Spirit who unites her to Christ and who makes His home with her.[12] Concerning spiritual gifts, the apostle Paul wrote, “let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel” (1 Cor. 14:26 NKJV). Laboring for the good of the church and laboring for the salvation of lost souls are not mutually exclusive. Whenever you pray that God’s kingdom would come in the Lord’s Prayer, you pray that “Satan’s kingdom would be destroyed, and that the kingdom of grace would be advanced, ourselves and others brought into it and kept in” (WSC 102). Paul endured all things for the sake of the elect that they might be saved (2 Tim. 2:10). Your proficiency in the knowledge and piety of the Scriptures bears direct proportion to your usefulness to the church. The best ministers in the history of the church have varied in their educational backgrounds and theological education – but none of them was ignorant. Without true piety all knowledge would be useless (1 Cor. 13:2). Yet without knowledge of the truth, true piety lacks the necessary soil in which it thrives and grows best.

One last point is worthy of notice with respect to motivation. Far too many seminary students today desire to teach seminary before they have even completed their Master of Divinity course. This is a noble goal that potentially provides a necessary service to the church, but I am alarmed at how many men graduate seminary desiring to bypass the pastorate in the local church in order to teach at a “professional” level. This is not what it means to be a pastor-scholar. Carl Trueman noted that when seminary students inevitably ask him whether or not they should pursue doctoral studies he tells them, “Do not do it if you think you are going to find a job at the end of it; do it for the sake of doing it. There are almost no jobs going in academia these days, and humanly speaking, time and chance are what make the difference between the one who gets the big break and the one who never even makes a shortlist. For every student who finds an academic job, there are countless others who do not. I studied with people much more talented than I am who ended up selling insurance or working in a bank.”[13] If we begin as ministerial students and then desire higher education instead of desiring to preach the gospel and to pastor the church, then something perverse has happened in our hearts during the course of our studies. The purpose of theological seminaries should not be to produce first rate scholars, but first rate pastor-scholars. People can serve the Lord through teaching and academia if that is their calling from the Lord in life. Yet seminaries exist in order to plant the necessary seeds in men that will enable them to serve the Church.[14] If the Lord granted the desires of men who do not desire to be shepherds of His sheep to serve in our seminaries, then the result will be a paradigm shift in our seminaries themselves. In the old Scottish Second Book of Discipline, the “doctors” of the church had two primary responsibilities: to provide ministerial education in the schools and to catechize the church, including the children.[15] It is a good test of motivation to ask yourself whether you see a great discrepancy between these tasks. You may or may not teach in a theological seminary. Most of you will not. The best rule is to pray, “Lord, place me where I may be most useful to Your church.” We must always make the glory of our God and the care of His flock our chief concerns.

The Practical Details

It is important to consider briefly how to implement practically your studies alongside of your regular ministerial duties. Two points are worthy of special note.

First, pray that every part of your studies would be useful to your own soul and to the souls of God’s people. In any worthy endeavor, prayer always comes first. Pray over every book that you open to read, and over every page that you sit down to write. This will constantly realign your motives as well. Prayer for fruitfulness in ministry and for personal piety will never return void. Prayer will yield surprising results, aid your memory, and teach you to take the Triune God with you in all of your studies. This will train you to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) in your sermon preparation as well. 

Second, learn to combine your tasks. I can illustrate this is through personal example. The first way to combine your tasks is in the choice of your topic. My doctoral studies relate to John Owen’s views on communion with the all three persons in the Trinity in public worship. This topic inherently helps me lead the people of God into worship every Lord’s day. In general, it has led me to teach self-consciously the congregation how to have communion with all three persons in the Godhead both jointly and distinctly. People have commented since I began my studies, they now see all three persons of the Godhead everywhere in the Bible and that they notice how I intentionally weave all three persons into my sermon application. Another way in which I have combined my studies with my pulpit labors comes in the form of what I read and when. For instance, reading Owen’s work on the Holy Spirit has helped me preach John 14-17 more effectively. In this case, I have combined my PhD reading with my sermon preparation in a careful and fruitful manner. This allows me to incorporate other works such as Manton on John 17 into both tasks as well. This has the added benefit of preventing hundreds of pages of potentially valuable literature from collecting dust on my bookshelves with the unrealistic intention to get to it someday. As a byproduct, I have learned to combine tasks elsewhere as well. When I preached an eight part sermon series on the Glory of Christ, I drew upon Owen’s Trinitarianism from my PhD work, I turned the series into a small book, a few articles developed as a byproduct, and I strengthened my ability to integrate systematic and practical theology into my preaching permanently.

Pitfalls and Remedies

Having proper motives and an organized approach to your studies does not mean that all will go well automatically. Our adversary the devil roams about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet. 5:8). He prepares peculiar snares for ministers who pursue higher education. Let us not be ignorant of his devices (2 Cor, 2:11). Three educational pitfalls have stood out in my own experience. 

The first pitfall is pride. Knowledge puffs up but love edifies (1 Cor. 8:1-2). Paul did not encourage naiveté among pastors or lay people. Ignorance is not bliss. Instead, he knew that perverse human nature tends to increase learning at the expense of love for God and for His people.[16] The primary danger is that in your preaching, teaching, and conversation with others, you begin to trust subtly in your learning rather than in the Holy Spirit. There are several remedies to this pitfall. If you are astute in your progress in learning, then you will notice two things immediately: how little you knew before and how little you actually know now. A wise man observed that of increase in learning and of many books there is no end (Eccl. 12:12). Have not your studies given you a new window into how true this is? If you had a millennium to do nothing but research, then you would gain a glimpse of how small a portion of the sum of human learning you have obtained, let alone divine knowledge, to which you cannot attain to (Job 11:7). Does this not make your pride ironic? Education increases our learning while revealing our ignorance. Let this humble you as you put on the meekness and gentleness of Christ towards others (2 Cor. 10:1). In addition, the true remedy to your pride is constant meditation upon Scripture and fervent prayer.[17] This will foster your sense of desperation for the operation of the Holy Spirit in all of your work.

The second pitfall involves the inherent dangers of academia. Many dangers in this regard could be mentioned, but one that comes to the forefront is the tendency to divorce personal piety from academic endeavors. Citing the autobiography of Bible commentator, F. F. Bruce, John Piper notes that Bruce intentionally said very little about his religious experiences even in his autobiography. Piper responded, “My first reaction when I read this was to say, ‘No wonder I have found his commentaries so dry’ – helpful in significant ways, but personally and theologically anemic.”[18] John Owen addressed students at Oxford in the seventeenth century with the following admonition that we would do well to take to heart:

“What am I the better if I can dispute that Christ is God, but have no sense or sweetness in my heart from hence that he is a God in covenant with my soul? What will it avail me to evince . . . that he hath made satisfaction for sin, if, through my unbelief the wrath of God abideth on me, and I have no experience of my own being made the righteousness of God in him?  . . . Will it be any advantage to me, in the issue, to profess and dispute that God works the conversion of a sinner by the irresistible grace of his Spirit, if I was never acquainted experimentally with the deadness and utter impotency to good, that opposition to the law of God, that is in my own soul by nature, with the efficacy of the exceeding greatness of the power of God in quickening, enlightening, and bringing forth the fruits of obedience in me. . . . Let us, then, not think that we are any thing the better for our conviction of the truths of the great doctrines of the gospel, for which we contend with these men, unless we found the power of the truths abiding in our own hearts, and have a continual experience of their necessity and excellency in our Standing before God and our communion with him.”[19]
We must learn from academia, but we must avoid becoming detached academics instead of warm-hearted pastors.

The third and most dangerous pitfall is to neglect your pastoral responsibilities for your educational pursuits. The primary remedy is to plan ahead carefully and to integrate as much of your work as possible. If you find that you cannot integrate your work very well, then you either need to cut back and work at a much slower pace, or you need to reconsider the choice of your subject. One way to integrate your studies into your ministerial work is to give preference to historical theology. If you do a ThD or a PhD, then I recommend that you consider giving preference to seventeenth and early eighteenth century Reformed orthodoxy.[20] This field will prove to be formative for all that you do, teach, and say. As Richard Muller has observed, this time period is the necessary starting point even for discussions of contemporary Reformed theology and practice.[21] This recommendation is a concrete example of what is in view rather than an invariable rule for all. 
How and Why Congregations Should Support Ministerial Education

Due largely to the perverse mentality that churches and students have developed with respect to ministerial education, congregations tend to become suspicious of ministers who pursue an advanced degree. Particularly in small congregations, when a pastor pursues doctoral work, people begin to make comments such as, “You won’t stay here for long.” Others may think that the minister wants a salary increase. This problem is not limited to men who pursue formal education. If many ministers do not see the need to be diligent in their studies, then those who have not trained for the ministry and who have little knowledge of the day to day work of the ministry will likely see even less need. Yet as we have seen, a learned and pious ministry is precisely what a congregation needs. For these reasons, this section addresses elders and congregations.

An elder in a local church once told me that I already had all of the education that was necessary in order to qualify me to be a pastor. This reflects a faulty view of theological education. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones contended that the purpose of theological education was not to learn everything necessary to know in order to minister in the church, but to lay a foundation for a lifetime of study.[22] The reason why my denomination (The Presbyterian Church in America) recommends seminary education for candidates for the gospel ministry is not so that every minister has the proper suffixes after his name, but so that he gains a competent level of knowledge to fulfill his office. He must possess much more than knowledge and some aspects of the ministry can only be learned by experience. Moreover, without personal holiness and sufficient gifts that are attested to by the church, even the most learned men are disqualified from the office. However, the PCA recognizes that there are extraordinary cases in which men may be ready for the ministry even without seminary training. However, they must pass all of the same tests for ordination as educated men.[23] Being a pastor does not negate the need for further education any more than being educated provides the qualifications for being a pastor.

A faulty attitude towards ministerial education on the part of churches will be devastating to the quality of our ministry.  If the Lord raises up men for the ministry out of the membership of His church, then it is imperative that our churches have proper views of preparation for the ministry. Ordinarily, defective views of ministerial education reflect defective views of the ministry itself. When men go into the ministry with such views, they stop pushing themselves to make progress in their work. Following English Bible knowledge exams on the floor of Presbytery, it has become common for fellow ministers to note that they used to know their English Bibles as well as the new candidates, but that after ten or twenty years in the ministry they probably could not pass this exam any longer. Every year subsequent to their ordination, ministers should increasingly surpass the knowledge of those men who are fresh out of seminary. Many have implicitly accepted the idea that men should study diligently in the seminary in order to get their degree. Then they study even more intensely to pass their ordination exams. Yet once these tasks are over, men act as though all of their studies are irrelevant for the pastorate. If this is your attitude to theological education, then neither your ministers nor your congregations shall make much progress in holiness and in the knowledge of Christ. If men truly have no use for the knowledge that they gain in seminary once they enter the pastorate, then there are two possibilities: either their ministerial education was severely deficient, or they have adopted an improper view of the calling that their office entails.

Let these examples challenge congregations. Churches that do not expect a learned ministry will not likely obtain either learned or pious ministers. Allowing your minister to pursue higher education is not an automatic cure for laziness in the pastorate. Rejoice if your minister desires to make progress. Do not assume that he wants another degree in order to move on to “better things.” I have several close friends in the ministry who obtained their PhD’s prior to entering the pastorate and whose desire is to serve the local church their entire lives. Ask your pastor why he wants to further his education, listen to what he tells you, and lay aside your preconceived notions of higher education. Pray alongside your minister that he would be able to rightly divide the word of truth, that he would be diligent in serving the Lord, and that he would be a worker that does not need to be ashamed. A special bond of trust is created between a pastor and a congregation when they elect him to his office. He has vowed before God and to you that he would make as much progress as possible in his personal holiness and knowledge of the truth so that he can preach what he learns, from his heart to yours. Pray that the Holy Spirit would enable Him to do so, and praise the Triune God if He has given to you a learned and learning pastor.

One last point of advice to congregations is, do not allow your minister to go into debt while pursuing higher education. A minister should pursue a program that he can afford or that his congregation or Presbytery is willing to help him get through. This is a worthy endeavor that is well worth the prayers and money of the church. Make sure as well that your church leadership is willing to support him in his work and remember that it is for the edification of the church that he seeks to excel (1 Cor. 14:12, 26).


In seventeenth century England, ministers were subjected to rigorous education. Anywhere from age thirteen to sixteen,[24] Oxford and Cambridge students began a four year B.A., which shifted into an M.A. Those who pursued ministry next began a seven-year course in divinity for a BDiv. In addition, students were forbidden from speaking any language on campus other than Latin or Greek. Because John Owen cut his divinity studies short after two years, he viewed himself as inadequately prepared to teach at Oxford in the 1650’s.[25] I have currently completed a B.A., MDiv, and ThM. That being said, I often tell people – only half joking – that once I finish my PhD I will have obtained the educational equivalent of the average Puritan minister. We cannot press our modern world into any particular historical mold, but the need for an educated ministry continues today. Let us labor diligently in the ministry, but let us take the time to sharpen the tools that are necessary for our work as well.


NOTE: This article was first published in the January 2012 issue of the Puritan Reformed Journal. The author further notes that his friends, Pastors Bill Schweitzer and Ryan Speck, deserve thanks for their useful feedback on this article.

[1] For instance, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and Thomas Boston, among others, produced most of their works in the context of the pastorate.
[2] R. L. Dabney, “A Thoroughly Educated Ministry,” in Discussions (Harrisburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1982), II, 659-660. I slightly modified Dabney’s original illustration.
[3] See sources below.
[4] For instance, see the brief treatment in my article, “A Pastor’s Analysis of Emphases in Preaching: Two False Dichotomies and Three Conclusions,” in Puritan Reformed Journal, 2:1, Jan. 2010, 275-276.
[5] See my articles, “On Theological Writing,” and, “William Plumer on Pastoral Writing,” both in Puritan Reformed Journal, 2:2, Jul. 2010, 303-315 and 316-320, respectively. This current article is partly an outworking of my earlier article on preaching mentioned above and the two articles on pastoral writing mentioned here.
[6] The best illustration that I have found of this is J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1946). Ironically, if you fall into the rut of treading water in order to prepare your weekly sermons, then you will never find time to read a valuable book like this one.
[7] From an e-mail communication from William M. Schweitzer.
[8] John Murray, Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Christian Ethics (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 229-242.
[9] John Owen noted that this was precisely what characterized the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. See Owen, Pneumatologia, in, The Works of John Owen, ed. William Goold (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1851), III, 170.
[10] For more on guarding our time in the ministry, see William S. Plumer, Hints and Helps in Pastoral Theology (Harrisburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 2002), 69-79 under the heading, “A Minister’s Studies.”
[11] John Chrysostom, Homilies on St. John, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. C. Marriott, in Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers: First Series (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2004), XIV, 278.
[12] See J. Van Genderen and W. H. Velema, Concise Reformed Dogmatics (Philipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008), 695-705. Francis Turretin once wrote, “The church is the primary work of the holy Trinity, the object of Christ’s mediation and the subject of the application of his benefits.” Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr. (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1992), III, 1.
[13] Carl R. Trueman, “Minority Report: A Question of Accountability,” Themelios, vol. 34, issue 2, July 2009, 158.
[14] See Joseph A. Pipa, “Seminary Education,” in The Confessional Presbyterian Journal, vol. 3, 2007, 223-231.
[15] Second Book of Discipline, cited in Stuart Robinson, The Church of God as an Essential Element of the Gospel, and the Idea, Structure, and Functions Thereof: A Discourse in Four Parts (Philadelphia: Joseph M. Wilson, 1858), Appendix, xxviii, cxxxi. Note that the page numbers in the appendix begin with roman numerals. In 2010, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church prepared a new edition of this work with an introduction by Craig Troxell as well as a biographical sketch by Thomas Peck.
[16] See above.
[17] See John Owen, Vinidiciae Evangelicae, in Works, XII, 51. I have written more about the connection between meditation on Scripture and prayer in, “Retaining Scripture in our Minds and Hearts,” in Puritan Reformed Journal, 3:2, Jul. 2011, 351-360.
[18] John Piper and D. A. Carson, The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry (Wheaton, Il: Crossway, 2011), 22.
[19] Vindiciae Evangelicae, Works, XII, 52.
[20] If you are interested in looking into this field, then the best place to start is Willem J. van Asselt, Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011).
[21] Richard Muller, Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725 (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), I, 85ff.
[22] D. M. Lloyd-Jones, “A Protestant Evangelical College,” in Knowing the Times: Addresses Delivered on Various Occasions 1942-1977 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1989), 359.
[23] Book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in America, 21-4.
[24] Thomas Goodwin started earlier than most at the age of thirteen. See Mark Jones, Why Heaven Kissed Earth: The Christology of the Reformed Orthodox and Puritan Theologian, Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680) (Gottingen: Vanderhoeck & Ruprecht, 2010), chapter two.
[25] Peter Toon, God’s Statesman: The Life and Work of John Owen (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971), 4-9.