I am concerned that the American Evangelical Church has become lax in their standard for selecting pastors to lead the local church.
Whether it be formal training, leadership ability, or personal character, many churches have compromised standards and placed unqualified leaders in key positions in the church.
The focus of this blog will be on my concern that many pastors have been placed in key areas of leadership within the church without formal training. This started with a movement to open the pathway for individuals to enter into ministry outside the walls of Bible schools, but it has led to a situation where, today, many individuals who lead churches all across the nation have little to no formal training in Biblical exposition. This is leading to a wide absence of understanding of theology, doctrine, and Christian practice.
There was a time when to be a pastor a candidate would have to go through schooling, intern under an experienced minister, and then be tested to ensure that ministry was truly the right calling/direction.
There was a time when pastors were well-read on the history of the Christian faith, understood the framework for doctrine and theology, could defend the faith through intellectual argument, understood apologetical arguments, and were versed in Greek and Hebrew so that they could understand the original texts of Scripture and come to solid conclusions on the meaning of the texts.
Today, the American Evangelical Church has largely moved away from these criteria for pastoral leadership in the local church. Pastoral leaders are more often selected based on their charisma or their good nature rather than their ability to argue for the Gospel.
But there was a time when qualification mattered.
Prior to the 1960's educational credentials were critical for those who aspired to vocational ministry. But in the 1960's and 1970's there was a movement that emphasized "calling" over formal training. This movement created a pathway to pastoral ministry for those who aspired to the role but did not (or could not) get training in established institutions.
The good news in all of this is that the role of a pastor was opened up to individuals beyond the walls of the university. However, this also created a situation where many people were placed into pastoral roles without having any Biblical training.
The movement continued, even to the point where formal ministry training at the higher level was in some ways looked down on as "too formal," "stuffy," or "not Spirit-led."
While on the surface it may seem like a good thing that the doors were opened to more people getting into vocational ministry during this period in Evangelical history, in the end it has led to many pastoral leaders in positions of pastoral authority who do not have the understanding to clearly articulate the theology of the Christian faith.
This has led to what I call "subjective Scriptural interpretation." Scripture is often taught based on what a pastor "thinks" or "feels" about a particular verse. In other words, intellectual biblical teaching backed with understanding of history and context has been replaced with emotion and feelings. The art of Biblical exposition has been largely lost in the Evangelical Church.
This has led to false and error-ridden teachings - many of which the Evangelical church still deals with today.
Many of the messages that are taught from the Evangelical pulpits in America are taught based on the speakers feelings and experiences and are not birthed out of contextual understanding of the Scripture. This leads to a lack of depth, substance, and understanding.
The American Evangelical Church is being fed watered-down milk on a weekly basis and the faith of the people is not getting stronger. Too often the messages presented contain basic principles packaged as though they are revelatory.
Messages are less an exposition on the Scripture and more a motivational, self-help pep talk with a few verses sprinkled in for "Christian seasoning."
Even more concerning is the trend of "message sharing." The American Evangelical Church has become notorious for simply copying and preaching the messages of influential teachers in the movement. Much of the time this is done without consideration as to the origin of the teaching or the underlying philosophy behind it.
The result of all of this has led to:
Theological weakness in the church
Lack of intellectual consistency in doctrine
Wide-spread acceptance of false teachings and philosophies
There are many in the Evangelical Church who feel a "hunger for more" and a desire for "depth" but have a hard time understanding why.
The reason they feel this is because they are being taught what to believe but not why.
Teaching the why takes much more effort because the subject must be understood at a greater depth. Teaching the "why" will always lead to the foundation of theological and doctrinal truths.
People are craving an understanding of the foundation for the Christian faith - but they are simply not getting it like they need to in many Evangelical churches today. And one of the reasons for this is that many pastoral leaders in the church are ill-equipped to take their people there.
I'm burdened by this issue! It impacts all of us who are followers of Christ.
I believe that the Evangelical Church must develop a value for higher education for those who lead and preach in the church. I am not suggesting that all pastors must get doctoral degrees before they lead in the church. I do not think that this is realistic. I am open-minded enough to realize that the path to ministry can sometimes be unique for every person. However, I think that no formal training before entering into vocational ministry should be the exception and not the rule. And once in vocational ministry, the pathway should certainly include ongoing training and education.
Vocational ministry is one of the few organizational entities where continuing education is not required.
As a real estate agent, I am required to take at least 24 credit hours of continuing education every two years or my license will expire. Yet, in all of my years working in vocational ministry, there was never a requirement for continuing education. Not only was it not required, it was never even talked about.
This should not be!
Imagine any professional - doctor, lawyer, accountant, engineer, etc. - not having a requirement for continuing education? It is silly to even consider, and yet, in many cases pastors in the Evangelical Church could enter into and go their entire career without so much as taking one course on basic Christian theology.
The Church deserves better than this.
Formal training and ongoing education should take a higher place of prominence and value if the church is going to be able to articulate the truth of Scripture and the Gospel to the up and coming generation.
With the boom of technology, as time goes on each generation gets "smarter" by having unlimited and instant access to information. Yet, information does not equal understanding.
Pastors who lead in the local church must go beyond giving information - they must be able to help people understand Biblical truths.
Depth of understanding does not simply come through prayer alone. Understanding the deep truths of Scripture does not come through mystical revelation. It comes through diligent study, meditation, and interaction with others who are doing the same.
Christians in the American Evangelical Church are craving a deeper understanding of the Christian faith.
They are tired of opinion.
They are done with hype.
They are looking for something solid that can hold up under scrutiny.
They are wanting to understand so that they can defend with intellectual honesty.
They are looking for authenticity.
They are looking to wrestle with deep truths.
They are looking to understand the heritage and tradition of their faith.
A time is coming when people will move away from churches where these things are not being taught.
It is time to take this seriously and for the Evangelical Church to rise up and be the pillar and foundation of truth that they are called to be. This starts with a new commitment to raising up and developing qualified leaders who will be able to proclaim truth clearly, answer difficult questions gracefully, and feed the church with a depth of understanding that will build and strengthen their faith.