Don’t Scrimp on Your Theological Education

I know, I know, there’s plenty of different ways to get training, and some ways will naturally suit some more than others for all sorts of reasons. And everything I’m about to say should be read in the light of my commitment to the importance of practical, on-the-job, training. And of course character and gifting are more important than which mode of training you opt for. And, and, and, however many more caveats you need to read this in the spirit in which its intended . . .

. . . But here’s little thought experiment if you do happen to be thinking of investing significant time and money into full-time theological training. It is expensive. It does take you out of frontline ministry in some ways (though not totally I’d want to argue). So is it really worth it? Here’s three basic questions to answer:

  1. How long will it take you out of the game for? Depending on how you do it, then probably 2, 3, or 4 years (though a good college will give placement opportunities that will enable you to learn and serve the local church regularly and often throughout your studies)
  2. How much will it cost? If you do 3 years, by the time you factor in fees and living costs, probably not much short of £100k (though there are trust-funds out there specifically to help with some of these costs)
  3. Is that really worth it? Sounds like a lot of time and money? Think of it this way. If a church can afford to set you aside as a full-time worker, if they pay reasonably, make pension contributions, cover expenses etc it’ll probably cost the church around £35-40k per annum. If they’re able to keep doing that for the entirety of your career (let’s say you enter ministry aged 30 and stop at 67) it’ll cost them not far short of 1.5 mn (not accounting for pay increases, inflation etc). So I suppose here’s the real nub of it. If it costs roughly 8% of your career earnings to send you to college for roughly 8% of your ministry years, will the remaining 92% be 8% better? Will your preaching for the other 34 years be better? Will your skill in pastoring and leading be better? Will your ability to network and tap other resources be better. Will your peer support be better making you less likely to blow up or burn out? Will your understanding of doctrine, history, exegesis, hermeneutics, culture, mission and ethics be better? Will your ability to train and equip others be better? Just 8% better?

Think about it like that, and I’d suggest its a no-brainer!

I know there’d be some curmudgeons out there who are suspicious of theological education who’d like to argue it might actually make you worse. But c’mon. Really! I know seminarians can develop bad habits, and not every student benefits to the same degree. But for me, and pretty much all of my peers, I think we’d all say a few years full time theological education has made us all quite a lot more than 8% better in lots and lots of areas.

So as tempting as it is to scrimp on your theological training, I’d suggest that whatever short-term gains may be on offer, are significant outweighed by the long-term gains of full-time theological training.

To be clear, I’m not saying its the only way, or necessarily the best way for everybody. And I know for some finding that kind of money is pretty much impossible. But I do think its an option you should seriously consider if you’re thinking about a lifetime in ministry. Take a long view. Do the maths. And, if you can, don’t scrimp on your theological education.

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