Why train for gospel ministry?
By Tom Day, 10 Dec 2020
At the end of August 2020, I packed my bags to leave north London where I had been studying for 3 years at Oak Hill Theological College. I previously had only lived at home (a small town on the south coast) before college, and moving just over 240 miles north felt like a daunting change. My role is officially titled ‘Minister-in-Training’, and has been designed to be in some ways similar to a Ministry Trainee to give me lots of hands on experience of practical ministry (serving), whilst also recognising the formal theological study I have already received.
So, here I am with three years of quality theological education continuing that training. With the help of the Pastor, Gerry, and under the authority and care of the elders and local church, I am applying that learning and study into the day to day of gospel ministry.
Some have asked me, why not step into a full-time position in a large church where I could directly oversee a ministry? The short answer is that training is incredibly important. And vital for training for ministry, is not just theological education, but ministry experience under the authority and care of the local church.
But why is training so important?
If ministry means serving, and if all Christians are to serve, why train in the first place? What is the point to it, and can’t you just do ministry (serving the local church) without training? Here are three reasons that help us understand the importance of training for gospel ministry.
1. Training is the pattern of the Christian life
In 2 Timothy Paul explains to Timothy that Scripture is ‘God-breathed’ and that it is useful for believers in ‘teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness’ (2 Timothy 3:16). Paul urges Timothy to continue in the things he has learned and that have been passed down to him (2 Timothy 3:14) including his knowledge of Scripture. And one of the things Scripture does for him, and for all believers, is to train us in righteousness so that we are equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). Training is part of the Christian life.
And that is because the Christian life is about growing. In Peter’s second letter he writes; ‘But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 3:18). The Christian life is one of growing. As the Holy Spirit convicts’ believers more and more of their sin, he also grows their vision of the grace given to them in the Lord Jesus. And so they grow in their understanding of what his grace has done in their lives. Paul writes in Colossians ‘So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.’ (Colossians 2:6-7) We are to continue to live in Christ, being ‘built up in him’. This is an ongoing process as we are ‘strengthened in the faith’. The Christian life is marked by growth.
All this growth has a purpose and direction, to make us more like our Saviour, the Lord Jesus. Romans 8:29 says ‘those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son’. True believers, people God has chosen from before the beginning of creation, are being shaped into the likeness of their Saviour. Jesus who is the image of the invisible God, shapes us, by his Spirit, to be made more like images of him to reflect the glory of the Lord. Paul puts it like this is his second letter to the Corinthians, ‘And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.’ (2 Corinthians 3:18).
So, the pattern of the Christian life is training so that we all grow into better likenesses of the Lord Jesus, as we all grow in grace and knowledge of him. Training is for every Christian!
2. Important tasks require important training
The importance of training for gospel ministry can be summed up in one very powerful illustration. Imagine you had a particular medical problem with your heart, and it was decided you needed an emergency operation. You do not want the surgeon just to be someone who is excited to help and has an interest in surgery, but who has never trained. No! You want the best surgeon you can find, someone who has spent years studying the human body and how all the organs and tissue go together to allow your body to function as it does. We want them to be well trained because we know the consequences are serious.
Now if this is the case for our physical condition, how much more so should it be for those responsible for helping us in our spiritual and eternal condition? If we understand the importance of our spiritual position before God - that it is of eternal significance - how much more would we want those caring for us to be as well trained, if not more so?
In Pauls’ second letter to Timothy he tells him; ‘Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth’ (2 Timothy 2:15). Paul is concerned that Timothy works hard and can correctly handle the word of truth. It is not enough for him to be keen to serve and help out. He needs to be trained to do so correctly. And this is because the consequences for mishandling the word are more serious than a surgeon mishandling his knife.
It’s not just Paul who says how important handling the Word of God is. Peter writes this; ‘His [Paul’s] letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.’ (2 Peter 3:15-18). Here Peter describes what Paul writes as Scripture. He also explains how some of what he writes is hard to understand - which you might find encouraging as I did! – and that there are some who distort his words and this leads to destruction! Ignorance and mishandling of the Word are serious and dangerous. We really do want those teaching us from the Scripture to be those that do not lead us into this danger.
3. Good for growth
A third reason for being trained, and for training people for gospel ministry is that it is good for growth of both the individual and the church.
The benefit for growth on the individual is seen in 1 Timothy 4:15 where Paul writes; ‘Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.’ What are those matters? Well, he has been told to continue to give himself to the ‘public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching’ (1 Timothy 4:13). And the purpose, at least in part, is that people might see his growth. As Timothy puts these gifts into practice, in the context of the local church, he grows in such a way that people can see it happening. I would love people to see my growth as I continue to serve at Church by the Bay!
The good growth of the church is shown in Ephesians 4. The purpose of pastors and teachers is to equip the church for works of service ‘so that, the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ.’ (Ephesians 4:12-13). Pastors and teachers teach the Church so that the church grows together.
Remember, growth is the pattern of the Christian life, and one way this is encouraged is through the work of pastors and teachers given as gifts to the church. Because of this, training more pastors and teachers benefits the growth of the church. As more workers are trained and sent out by churches all around the country and the world, other churches get to benefit, from that training. One church trains a minister, another church gets to receive the benefit, as they are equipped to grow by that minister. In the same way, we as a church receive from those sent out by other churches who have trained them.
So, training benefits the growth of the individual training for gospel ministry, as well as the church.
Training is so important! I hope that these truths give you an understanding of the reason for my decision to be training at Church by the Bay, but also that they might encourage you to commit to being trained and to train others in the Christian life. I also pray that these truths may serve to encourage you in your role, if you are part of the church family, in helping train me in my time here: please know that this work helps serve the church both now and in the future.
But why train now? During the ongoing Covid crisis? Look out for my second article where I explore the reasons for training during such a tumultuous time.