Few men have shaped the 21st-century church more than John Piper, and few of his books have proven more helpful than his Brothers, We are not Professionals. Piper was right. Ministers are not to be professionals, and his call for radical, sacrificial, selfless ministry is spot on. Yet, when it comes to ministerial service, we are not called to be amateurs either.
A ministerial amateur is not one who lacks formal training or advanced degrees from reputable institutions. An amateur is one who lacks the knowledge base, skill set, and experience for a particular task, in this case, Christian ministry. This is to say, one can still be an amateur though holding an earned degree, and one can be a faithful minister though lacking one.
In fact, Christians—and especially ministers—are called to be 1 Corinthians 1 people, confidently preaching the foolishness of the cross. Moreover, the list of those who lacked formal theological training while impacting the world for Christ is long, including luminaries such as John Bunyan, Charles Spurgeon, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I have learned much from men in times past and present who lacked formal education.
Yet, never before in the history of the church has theological education been so accessible, and never before has it been so needed. Advanced technology, innovative delivery systems, and proliferating resources all make being a ministerial amateur—as a permanent state—inexcusable. Why pursue ministry preparation?
The Complexity of our Times
Our cultural moment necessitates rigorous ministry preparation. Every generation presents the church with particular challenges, but our generation comes with unique baggage and angularity. It is not that the 21st century is more fallen or more secular than previous ones, but it may well be more complex.
Befuddling ethical questions, the often tortuously complex ramifications of sin, and a cultural intelligentsia devoting its best energies to undermining the Christian belief system all present the church with serious challenges.
The lost need more than shallow answers from ill-equipped ministers. They need ministers prepared to bring the full complement of Christian truth to bear in a winsome, thoughtful, and compelling way.
The Centrality of Teaching the Scriptures
The preaching and teaching of Holy Scripture is the principal responsibility of the Christian minister, and it is the central need of the church. In fact, in order to be biblically qualified to be a Christian minister, one must be “able to teach.”
Paul repeatedly charged Timothy to a faithful ministry of the Word with exhortations like, “retain the standard of sound words,” “guard the truth which has been entrusted to you,” “rightly divide the word of truth,” and “preach the Word.” These exhortations, and many others, require a renewed mind—and an informed one. There simply is no place in ministry for sloppy exegesis, shoddy interpretation, or shallow sermons.
One can be a faithful minister without a seminary degree, but one cannot be a faithful minister without knowing the Scripture.
The Consequences of Ministry
There is an alarming inverse correlation between the seriousness of the ministerial task and the casualness with which it is often approached. We would neither let an untrained mechanic rebuild our transmission nor would we permit an unlearned pediatrician to diagnose our children. Yet, churches often place individuals with the lowest levels of preparation in the highest office—the pastorate.
Why would one knowingly receive soul care and biblical instruction from an amateur, and why would a minister be content as one? Souls hang in the balance. There is a heaven to gain and hell to shun. There is fixed truth to defend and proclaim. Satan is serious about his calling; ministers must be serious about theirs. The ministry is too consequential not to be.
The Priority of the Great Commission
The end to which the minister labors is the proclamation of the gospel and the furtherance of the Great Commission. Fulfilling the Great Commission necessitates a burden for the lost, a passion for the glory of God in the salvation of sinners, and an equipped mind to reason, teach, and persuasively present the gospel.
Furthermore, the Great Commission is a call to make disciples, not just converts. Though often conceptualized as primarily an act of zeal, the Great Commission also requires knowledge. It requires a readiness to “give an answer for the hope within you,” an ability to “contend earnestly for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints,” and the skill to “teach these things to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
Once I heard a professor rebuke a student who argued it was appropriate to read his sermon manuscripts because Jonathan Edwards read his. The professor shot back, “You fool, you’re no Jonathan Edwards.” Similarly, don’t look to models like Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones as justification for not pursuing formal theological education. They were self-taught geniuses. Likely, you are not.
God may well use you in spite of a lack of formal training, but if you have accessibility—and virtually every person on the planet now does—to theological education, why find out?
Ministers will be judged for their faithfulness, not their academic accomplishments, but it is impossible to be faithful without being rightly equipped. Brother, you are not to be an amateur minister.
 I Timothy 3:2.
 II Timothy 1:13–14; II Timothy 2:15; II Timothy 4:2.
 I Peter 3:15; Jude 1:3; II Timothy 2:2.
*This article was originally published 0n 1/20/14*