Pastors are lifelong learners. Their calling requires it, and their hearts desire it. But busy schedules and infrequent sabbaticals sometimes make continuing education feel impossible.
Churches can make this discipline easier, but when that’s not possible, motivated ministers can still find ways to continue continue their education. In addition to growing in the knowledge of God through reading Scripture, here are 10 ways a pastor may stay sharp after seminary.
1. Get another degree.
This point is obvious. First, there are degrees specifically oriented toward theology or pastoral ministry like a master of theology (ThM) or a doctor of ministry (DMin). There are also academic degrees that can be used for theological-pastoral purposes like a master of fine arts (MFA) in creative nonfiction or a PhD in history, theology, philosophy, languages, or Bible.
Degree programs are attractive since they usually provide the highest level of accountability, training, motivation, and future influence. But earning a degree is expensive and difficult. And for many ministers, the distance to a qualified school renders this option impossible. Still, the growing number of low-residency programs are making degrees viable for more people.
2. Get certified.
Like a degree program, certification provides a structured curriculum with a credential at the end. Certification in a specific area will cover less ground than a whole degree, but it often includes important learning opportunities in addition to specific mentoring, internships, and practicum hours.
Getting certified as a counselor is perhaps the most obvious choice for a minister. Various professional associations exist to help with that, including the International Association of Biblical Counselors and the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. Keep in mind that state licensing rules vary.
3. Get a certificate.
Where certification puts a stamp of approval on a person, a certificate signifies the completion of a set of classes. UCLA, for example, offers certificates in writing and teaching. Christian Counseling & Education Foundation (CCEF) offers certificates in “Foundations of Biblical Counselling,” “Topics in Biblical Counseling,” and “Counselling Skills and Practice.”
4. Learn or improve in a language.
What minister doesn’t wish he knew Greek or Hebrew better? Could you learn a modern language to be better equipped for missions? Today, language-learning options are endless. Everything from smartphone apps to immersion programs are available.
Classroom contexts include hiring a tutor; attending Hebrew classes at a local Jewish Community Center, university, or community college; or working online with a program like Bible Mesh. And don’t forget teaching. Perhaps you could offer to teach a language you want to improve in at a homeschool co-op or an after-school program—and watch how fast you’ll learn.
5. Take a single course or attend a workshop.
Things can get really fun here. Instead of enrolling in a program, build your own by taking individual classes to fit your needs and interests. First, look for local options. Most people live in a city near a university or community college. The state university in my town has an outstanding Reformation studies department, and the community college offers some top-notch creative nonfiction classes.
If you look hard enough, there are often courses, workshops, readings, and lecture series offered through local organizations like writing groups, bookstores, libraries, and parks departments. If that option doesn’t work, distance education might be a viable option. Perhaps your denomination offers continuing education classes.
Or you can simply use the internet. Many seminaries offer access to audio/video lectures. The archive at Westminster Theological Seminary will make your jaw drop. To find courses offered by secular institutions, Lifehacker provides a useful guide each semester.
6. Attend a theology conference.
Theology conferences are offered throughout the year all across the country. More and more, conferences are livestreamed online and made available afterward for free. Some conferences are theological but aimed at lay people, and may not be as helpful as a means of continuing education. You might have fun getting to hear a speaker and hanging out at the book table, but it might not be worth the time and expense if your goal is theological education.
Conferences at seminaries may be more appropriate. One lesser-known conference is the Reformed Forum Conference. And TGC’s 2017 National Conference will feature an array of academic workshops related to the Reformation (browse the list of 65 speakers and more than 50 talks).
7. Join a scholarly society.
When you join a scholarly society like the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) or the Society for Biblical Literature (SBL), you get access to ongoing scholarly discussions and other resources, including book discounts. These discussions take place in journals, and especially at the national and regional conferences. ETS recordings are available for the cost of a song.
8. Create a scholarly society.
There’s no need to form another ETS, but think about the people in your life. Is there a way you can work together toward common educational goals? Create an occasional forum—like this one called Hoagies and Stogies—to discuss a book, evaluate a sermon, or debate a doctrine. If your church already has local or regional ministerial meetings, perhaps part of these meetings could be devoted to continuing education. Look for the gifted, committed people already around you and create forums to learn from each other.
9. Do independent research.
The schoolroom setting is helpful for intense research and writing projects, but it’s not necessary, especially if your MDiv prepared you for independent research. Some ministers continue their learning simply by researching and writing on an important topic.
As you make progress, ask qualified people to review your work and offer feedback. If you’re an extrovert, see number eight. And consider applying for grants to get financial help and extra motivation.
10. Fulfill your calling.
Ministerial skills are like muscles: They get stronger as you use them, but if you neglect them, they atrophy. So the most important way for ministers to continue their education is simply to do their job and do it well.
Those who are committed to the rigors of excellent preaching, writing, and discipleship will find that lifelong learning is simply part of the job. So if your funds and time are limited, don’t worry. Just keep up the good work.
How will you continue your education?