Lessons from my First Three Years of Ministry (part 2)


On Monday I began reflecting on some of the lessons that I have learned in my first three years in ministry. Over the next week or so I will post some of these reflections on the blog.

Lesson 3 – Bible Colleges: The Most Effective Way of Training?

Perhaps I went to bible college with naïve expectations…

When I signed up for Bible Collage  I thought that it would all be about Jesus, that it would be super practical, it would give me all the tools I needed to handle the bible and together, we would storm the gates of hell…

Some of it was great, particularly the stuff that was all about Jesus and was super practical. There was some really great teachers and classes which have equipped me to this day. I also have met some of my best friends (some of them contribute on the blog) at bible college and that was a really important aspect of my own growth.

However it wasn’t all like that.

A lot of my lessons consisted of ‘Ivory Tower Theology.’ High theology without the ‘so what?’ factor. Some of it was interesting, some of it boring, some of it fried my head… But it was often left without application. I often left puzzled, asking my self; ‘what does this mean for me?’ or ‘how will this apply to my future ministry?’  Sometimes there was some fantastic application, but for the most part there was none. The lack of application was one of the biggest disappointments.  Perhaps  I was supposed to apply it myself, perhaps I wasn’t bright enough…

Another expectation that I had was that I would be able to hear from seasoned pastors, passionate missionaries and ministry leaders. That was the case. However opportunity’s to hear about how they dealt with pastoral situations and complex issues was not an important aspect of most classes.  That would have been a real blessing to hear about some of these things so that I too could learn to deal with similar issues. Don’t get me wrong, some of the teachers did this, and those are the classes that I remember clearly.

Some of the lessons were way over my head and I didn’t have a clue what was going on and at times my grades reflected that. Perhaps this says more about me and my academic ability.

Perhaps my experience would have been very different if I had years of ministry experience in my belt before signing up. Perhaps my experience would have been different if i had a better attention span.

I appreciate that people may disagree with this particular lesson and that other people may have had completely different experiences.

However this has left me wondering if bible college/seminary is the best or only route into pastoral ministry.

During my first 2 years of ministry I was able to attend a course which my area ‘Gospel Partnership’ put together.

The morning’s consisted of lectures, bible overviews, expositions of various bible books.

The first session of the afternoon was a time to practice preaching. A group of guys would get together lead by a local pastor and take turns to preach sermons that they had prepared and then everyone would give feedback, advice and tell you how you can improve on your content, style and delivery. These afternoon sessions were priceless.

The second session of the afternoon would be practical it might be about counselling, sexuality, addiction, mission or evangelism.

This course was a great blessing and in many ways complemented my time at bible college. Most people who were on this course were church apprentices who were being trained for ministry while working in a church under the close guidance of a pastor. They had the opportunity to shadow a pastor, quiz him, be taught by him but were also sent on a day release for some more rigorous training

I’m left thinking that bible college is perhaps not the most effective method of training for ministry. I think church apprenticeships is a more natural and organic method of training complemented by things like the ‘Gospel Partnership’ courses and ‘Cornhill.’

Bible college does have its place, but i don’t think it is the most natural method of training. Perhaps after an apprenticeship bible college may be of much more value.

What are your thoughts? Have you had a completely different experience of bible college? Are you a church apprentice? Leave a comment below.


4 thoughts on “Lessons from my First Three Years of Ministry (part 2)

  1. Hi Kieran. Thanks again for a great post. I almost winced a bit when when I saw the title as your post comes at quite a timely point in my life.

    I’ve recently finished a year long apprenticeship at my home church which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was an apprentice in the Children’s ministry. As part of the apprenticeship we received theological training as well as getting opportunities to prepare and do talks, get feedback, lead sunday sessions, organise a sleepover, lead a ‘weekend away’ and lead the other volunteers.

    I had the opportunity to do another year but decided to go to bible college instead. I wanted some more theological grounding and had been also recommended to do it by several people at church.

    However I was presented with quite a difficult choice for the reasons you mentioned. Should I go to an bible college with strong theological training or go to college with strong practical training?

    Aside from the financial cost I am very much aware of the danger of drifting off into theological ‘ivory glass tower’ at bible college. But I pray that the my apprenticeship will stand me in good stead. I will also still be involved in the children’s ministry during my training so I should be able to put my theological training into practice.

    I’m sorry to hear about your experience with lecturers at bible college but it’s good to see that you built some strong friendships!

    At the beginning of my apprenticeship one of the seminar leaders stated that ‘all good theology leads to worship’. I pray that I’ll remember these words over the next couple of years. Some times theology does not lead to direct application, it may lead to a deeper understanding of God’s character. So how can I convey that truth to the kids in children’s church?

    I think whether you have gone to bible college or not should not matter however if you are thinking of serving in ministry in a different country some form or formal qualification goes a long way.

    I believe theology is important but if it doesn’t lead to a deeper appreciation of God’s then, yes, you may end up in a theological ‘ivory tower’. I also believe practical courses such as evangelism, mission, counselling are also important but they are all underpinned by having sound theology.

    However I think I do agree with you. I think a year or two as an apprentice before bible college is really good grounding.

  2. I loved it but I don’t know if it is the best way to train leaders, it lacked any real discipline and/or character formation and had little or no connection to the church…Personally, I think that the future would be residential, practical, missional AND theological, now that’s needed.


  4. I’m so glad for my time at Bible College it has equipped me well for ministry, i did take some very practical classes specialising in Cross Cultural Ministry and in Children’s Ministry. I also found that a lot of the theological classes, assignments and exercises really helped me and shaped me, it gave me a framework that I hope I will continue to build on as I grow, serve and learn more, as I change and develop.

    There were some classes that were in my opinion “dry” or lacking something and others that could have been much better.

    There was not much as far as Pastoral Care, Personal Development and Discipleship. Although I found staff very willing and open to sharing and ministering to students, but they had so many responsibilities already that this was difficult and not every student who benefited from that sort of relationship with staff members.

    I am glad for my time at Bible College, I do think that what you have talked about with apprenticeships would be a great way to train for ministry too, and that a blend of the two methods could be great

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