#4 A Practical Argument
In this installment, I argue that church-based pastoral formation offers a host of practical benefits. We’ll examine the church as an effective context for formation. Next, the issue of financial sustainability will be discussed.
Why do doctors go through a residency before they graduate? It is in the residency that theoretical knowledge is practically applied under the supervision of more experienced physicians. The weight of the responsibility of human lives is first shared and then gradually released into the hands of the new physicians.
If the care of the body requires a residency, how much more the care of the soul? Arguably the stakes are even higher. Almost every pastor could share about moments from their earliest days of ministry in which inexperience caused some level of damage to the lives of those under their spiritual care, ranging from the humorous to the devastating. Many pastors never experienced in their training the privilege of that shared responsibility for souls under the guidance of a more experienced shepherd. For those that have, the mentorship they received certainly enriched their own pastoral contributions through the accumulated experience and knowledge of the mentor, while at the same time alleviating the pressure of making importance decisions all alone. A pastoral residency dynamic such as this can only take place within the context of the local church.
Even formal theological studies become more practical when the student is actively engaged in ministry. There is an immediate perception of the relative value of information that is received. Less time is given to ivory tower debates. All knowledge is oriented around its place in the task of shepherding the flock of God. Students also enjoy increased motivation in study as they are able to discern the practical relevance of what is being taught. Thus, they absorb more and are more able to critically engage with content.
Bernard Ott, in his work “Understanding and Developing Theological Education” presents a helpful framework for reflecting holistically on the task of education. While Ott does not defend an Aristotelean view of education, he makes use of the three important categories defined by Aristotle: 1. Theoria (thinking, reflection and meditation with aim of arriving at truth), 2. Poiesis (the making and producing of things) and 3. Praxis (One’s way of life, their wisdom and virtue). It’s not difficult to see how these categories can be applied to theological education and, more specifically, to pastoral formation. Theoria applies to the learning of knowledge with regard to that which is true about God and His Word, and all those areas of relevant knowledge to the pastor in formation. Praxis has clear correlation to discipleship and growth in sanctification and wisdom. Poiesis pertains to skills related to specific ministry tasks such as preaching, exegesis, counseling, administration, etc. If we must choose one context for pastoral formation where all three of these areas can be holistically integrated, the local church is the clear choice.
A church-based model is also more replicable and sustainable, especially when considering the developing world. Theoretically, church-based formation is not restricted to any particular cultural, geographic, economic or historical context. Institutional seminaries are a relative luxury in terms of the global church. They depend on a minimum of hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. They require relatively large buildings. As institutions of higher learning, local governments must tolerate their continued operation. However, pastoral formation in the local church may go on in contexts of persecution and also where the church is just finding its feet. Good models of pastoral formation in the local church can promote excellence, even in the most difficult contexts.
On average, excellence in pastoral training will cost much less in the local church than in an institutional seminary. This is mainly due to the optimization of existing resources.
The most expensive resource for pastoral training is the human resource. However, if a church already provides the support for its pastors, part of their time can be invested in pastoral formation without further financial investments, especially when churches catch the vision that the formation of new leaders is a fundamental part of the pastoral role. Gifted theologians and professors can be hired to teach individual classes, at far below the cost of hiring full-time professors.
The second most expensive resource in pastoral training are the buildings where training will take place. Since the local church usually has some space for educational purposes, there is no need to rent or build costly buildings. The cost of maintaining the facilities is also part of the normal budget of the local church. The standard of the physical structure may vary, but in general the same space that can be effectively used to teach the church can be used to teach pastors in formation.
Of course, no local church should imagine that it can embark on a formal program of pastoral training without significant investments of time and money. However, when we consider the return on investment, it is clear that a local church is capable of doing much more for much less.
 Ott, Bernhard “Understanding and Developing Theological Education” Langham Global library, Carlisle, UK, 2013 199-268