As far in this series we’ve discussed the vital need to train leadership to serve within the church, acknowledging that the Church globally is not currently meeting up with demand in equipping such leaders. Bethany Baptist Church is attempting to meet this demand by training ministers within our own congregation. We’ve looked at some core principles that govern our approach to theological education. Now I want to examine the scriptural basis for why we’ve adopted these principles. I wish the examine what the New Testament has to say about this subject.
Some may be surprised to hear me say that the New Testament has a lot to say about theological education. After all, there’s no mention of colleges, degrees, professors, or diplomas. This is very true. But the New Testament does have a lot to say about the need for training qualified leaders and it gives us insight into how that goal was achieved.
I’ll be looking at many of the practices of the apostles and their churches and attempting to draw principles from those practices. I’m not arguing that we are required to do something just because it was done in the First Century. However, I do believe that these practices give us insight into a Spirit-inspired, supra-contextual philosophy of leadership development that is normative for all churches in all time. In other words, I don’t believe that everything the apostles did was simply out of convenience or necessity. I believe that there were God-honoring principles that drove their approach to Christian education. I further believe that all churches have a duty to also apply those principles to their own context.
Over the next few posts, I want to make three observations about New Testament theological education. The first is this:
New Testament education was heart-centered
In 1 Timothy 3, the apostle Paul outlines the qualifications that a man must meet in order to be a bishop/elder/pastor. It is striking to note what categories these qualifications fall under. There are two things that a potential pastor is to “do”. He’s to manage his own house well (1 Timothy 3:4) and be apt to teach (1 Timothy 3:2). Being “apt to teach” implies that the pastor must know something in order to teach it. But it’s also worth noting that, despite its obvious importance, academic knowledge is not explicitly mentioned anywhere in the text. Aside from the two tasks a pastor must complete, the rest of the qualifications center on character issues – what goes on in pastoral candidate’s heart.
We believe in the vital importance of sound doctrine and a robust understanding of academic truth. But we also want to have the same emphasis that the New Testament has when it talks about developing leaders. The New Testament puts the emphasis first on character, then on giftedness, and lastly on academics. Our goal is not to pull down sound doctrine, but to elevate the importance of godly character and ordinate affections.
There are many Bible colleges and seminaries that do an excellent job of teaching sound doctrine. But they are handicapped in how well they can shepherd hearts and provoke good character. Their emphasis is backward to the biblical pattern – academics is the primary emphasis, followed by pastoral skills, and then godly character. I do not blame colleges for this. The university was not created produce godly character (God gave other institutions for that). It was formed to facilitate academic learning. While it can do a very good job in that area, its very nature hampers its ability to foster ordinate affections.
TEAM is designed to give students the best of both worlds. We aim to provide a robust theological education in an environment that sharpens character and trains the heart. Students undergo regular character assessment done by themselves and their pastor. This is an uncomfortable but profitable exercise of applying the qualifications of God’s Word to the present situation.
Beyond the systematic discipleship that takes place, there’s the intangible element of having an education experience that is immersed, not in a peer environment, but in a ministry setting. Students fellowship with pastors, visit with experienced Christians, learn self-sacrifice, and experience the joys and struggles of service all in the context of local church ministry.
The TEAM Work program is designed to educate the heart as well as the head. We believe that the New Testament not only allows for this approach, but requires it. It’s vitally important that we train a generation of Christian leaders who not only have sound doctrine but also sound affections.