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Wednesday, 23 March 2011

How shall we train the next generation of Gospel workers?

My text is:
"When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and took note..." (Acts 4:13) 

The common answer: just like the world trains its 'professionals'
Just like we train mathematicians, physicists and economists: stick them in a class room and pack their heads with knowledge. We call it a Bible College or Seminary. End of blog.

Every student's experience: the mind is a sieve
No-one who has subjected themselves to such training will forget the experience. You cram for an exam up to the day / hour / minute and hope for the best. You know full well that if you were to take the exam one week later your result would drop by some significant percentage as the knowledge drains away from the mind. Three weeks later you'd fail the exam. That's one problem with the class room approach - knowledge learnt in an academic environment simply don't stick.

So if you go to 'Bible College' and cram church history and exegesis, by the time an opportunity comes to use the stuff, it has long taken wings. OK, you have a piece of paper - and everyone will be so impressed with the scrawl after your name. And you are more likely to get a job if you can say "I've got a certificate".

The much bigger problem
But retaining knowledge is a much smaller problem than the really big problem: training for Gospel ministry has more to do with non-knowledge-based attributes such as character, love, humility, wisdom, faith, grace and courage. After three years of Bible College a man may be no more qualified to serve than the day he entered the place - that is unless God has done a marvelous work of humbling grace in his soul at college. Guess it could happen. He may have degrees, knowledge and what nots, but these are unimportant and frankly almost irrelevant in the work of the Gospel.

And here's the proof. First, from experience. It is common to hear of a young man with his  BA, MA - or these days, so that they can be proper respected, Dmin - cause trouble in his first church. These guys think they know, and they think that knowledge is what counts, but they ain't got an ounce of wisdom, tact, humility, expereince, even common sense.... (you sometimes watch them and think, "Just how many mistakes can someone make all in a row?")

Second, from experience. Contra wise, men who have life experience but no formal training come into the ministry and do well (the only problem here is that the foolish churches then encourage them to 'get proper qualifications' [it's a triffle embarrassing for some church members to inform their friends in another church that their pastor is not 'qualified'] and so these men feel under pressure to spend tons of time in books as well as in homes. For what? Falsely deserved respect).

Third, from experience again. The most used men of God are often men who never darkened the door of a seminary, and so were not formed into any particular mould. They were their own men. By which I mean they were in God's mould. Spurgeon, Tozer, Lloyd-Jones. You see, if you've half a brain (which you do need in Gospel work), you can go to a library and when a knowledge problem arises read up: you don't need to be an expert beforehand. Or you can go to a friend who knows.

I have yet to find any correlation between a man's formal theological education and his kingdom usefulness. (Don't push me, please don't push me, because if you do......)

Fourth, from Scripture. Not one Gospel worker in the Bible went to Bible College. The disciples were unschooled, but experts in the kingdom. They had been with Jesus, which is what matters most. If you are looking for a method of training, apprenticeship is the only Biblical way. Where one experienced man trains a novice over years. Moses trains Joshua on the job, likewise Elijah and Elisha, like Paul and Timothy - and pre-eminently, like Jesus and the Twelve.

The apprenticeship model recognises the fact that truth is burnt into the mind and heart and soul through experience, not exam pressure. Teach people all you like about forgiveness, they'll learn it proper when someone has offended them. Teach them all about servanthood, but they'll only learn it proper when no-one else will wash feet. Teach a man exegesis, but he will only learn it when he has to prepare a talk. Ad totalium.

The "demonisation" of Gospel ministry
Some time ago a man - a very brave man - said that encouraging Gospel workers to get higher degrees was nothing short of the D-Min-ization of Gospel ministry. You see Satan fell through pride. And knowledge puffeth up. So anything that encourages pride in Gospel workers was doing the Devil's work. He was right, wasnt' he?

The need of the hour
The need of the hour is not formal academic training, but men and women and churches who putting aside the foolish ways of the world (addiction to academia) will train the next generation Christ's way.

My text has been:  
"When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and took note..." (Acts 4:13)

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