I’ve been watching the trend escalate for the past decade. For centuries, it has been the practice of non-mainline groups. But for the last couple of decades its has been a rising factor in thriving churches.

I’m talking about the rise and effectiveness of non-seminary trained pastors.  It used to be that pastors like enormously successful American megachurch pastors like Bill Hybels, T.D. Jakes and Brian McLaren appeared to be the exceptions. But no more.  All one has to do is enquire into the fastest growing trend in the U.S. Church, church planting, and you’ll find that the majority of church planters today are non-seminary trained pastors, partly because it is cheaper but mostly because it is more effective by allowing churches to multiply faster.  Couple this trend with the fact that mainline denominations are declining and conservative groups are growing and the reality is magnified because most non-seminary trained pastors are in conservative camps.

In the interest of winning the U.S. back, we all of us need to do away with the requirement of seminary for ordination.

Why? Let me count the ways.

  • Because the cost of seminary training requires that young pastors give up some of the most productive and passionate years of their life. It takes as long to get a seminary degree as it does a degree in medicine.
  • Many of these pastors have some business experience which could equip them with some understand of economics, strategize, work with people, and understand a black bottom line.
  • They aren’t steeped in the kind of theological hair splitting that is found in many seminaries.
  • These pastors tend to be more in touch with the rank and file of their congregation and can speak the language of the unchurched person.
  • There a many second career pastors coming on the scene who don’t have the time to go to seminary but bring with them tons of experience that aid in pastoring a growing church.

A good example that is breaking the mold in the mainline camp and highlights the above reasons for non-seminary trained pastors is pastor Arlene Jackson.  She began pastoring one of Grace UMC’s multiple sites with about 30 in worship. Over five years, her flock has grown to more than 400.  She’s a full-time licensed local pastor who answered her call to ministry in middle age. Her training has included a two-week licensing school and the part-time Course of Study required of such pastors after they enter. Local pastors like Jackson are on the rise numerically in The United Methodist Church in the United States. [1]

Several times I’ve been asked what I would do if I were starting over. My response as always been the same. If I were a young man today, I would avoid seminary training.  Instead, I would do like most of these young pastors are doing.  I would hitch a ride on a thriving congregation with a vibrant pastor (even if I didn’t get paid and had to take a second job) and learn as much as I could. If they offered theological training, I would take it. If not, I would dissect every sermon; attend an effective small group; spend as much time as I could soaking up the culture and DNA of the staff. And hopefully, be selected to plant a church or be the campus pastor of one of their multiple sites.

Is it time to drop the requirement?

P.S.  Almost the same time my denomination (UMC) began requiring seminary training the denomination began to decline.  Coincidence?

[1] For an interesting article of the rise of the local pastor see http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/6589/are-local-pastors-the-future-of-the-united-methodist-church