10 Reasons Church Leaders Should Continue Their Education

I admit my bias here. I am a seminary dean and professor, and I believe in education. Students help to pay my salary. They have become my friends, my mentees, my children in the faith. Graduates make me proud.

My reason for writing this post, though, goes beyond these thoughts. If we are doing the work of God, we must give our absolute best. I desire to be part of a team that trains and sends out the strongest leaders in the world—leaders who make a difference in the kingdom of darkness. Those leaders never stop learning.

With those thoughts in mind, here are ten reasons why leaders should continue their education:

1. The Christian life is about growth. We are babies in Christ at new birth, yet called to continual growth and maturity (Heb. 5:12-14). Always, we are to be in the process of God’s conforming us to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). If we reach the point of assuming we've “arrived” and need no further training, we are instead neglecting our Christian responsibility.

2. A willingness to learn is a sign of humility. Education is seldom easy. An openness to become a student again, to be held accountable for assignments, and to be evaluated by others is a sign of the kind of humility all leaders should exhibit. We need no more arrogant leaders, and the education process can sift out our pride.

3. We always face theological issues. The authority of the Word of God, especially when evaluated against sacred documents of other world faiths, continues to be an issue. We must increasingly defend the truth that a personal relationship with Jesus is the only way to God. The doctrine of the Trinity is at times an issue when evangelizing around the world. Continued education can help us be better prepared to respond to these types of significant issues.

4. We continue to confront new ethical and moral issues. When I started in ministry over thirty years ago, I did not imagine ministering in a culture that affirms same-sex marriage. Internet pornography was not even an option. Never did I envision ministering to Sally, who actually began life as Sam. Issues like these are not, of course, separated from our theology, and further education equips us to minister in this changing culture.

5. The people we lead are frequently still learning. At least in North America, we often minister to educated parishioners. They are teachers, engineers, physicians, and accountants. Many of our congregations include professionals for whom continued education is assumed, if not required. Thus, they recognize the value that continued training offers for their spiritual leaders.

6. Distance learning options allow us to continue education without leaving our ministry. Gone are the days when education required students to move to a campus. Today, the Internet offers unprecedented opportunities for continued training without evacuating significant ministries. Southeastern Seminary (where I serve) now offers masters and doctoral degrees – including the PhD – that do not require full-time residence in North Carolina. The relocation obstacle to continued education simply doesn’t exist anymore.

7. Learning within a group of peers is important. Many opportunities for advanced training include small group, peer-to-peer learning that focuses on particular aspects of leadership. Few educational options are as valuable as these. Each student brings his/her own knowledge to the classroom, helping to build a community of scholars. Peers become not only classmates, but also prayer partners. Education thus becomes not only content-based, but also life-on-life.

8. We often learn better after leadership experience. Learning apart from practical experience is not insignificant, but it risks becoming only theory rather than life application. Frankly, it’s easy to decide how to be a leader until you actually have to be one. The best students I know are those who leadership experience gives them a grid through which to evaluate concepts and programs. These students are those who choose to continue their education throughout their ministry.

9. The discipline of learning is important. Let’s be honest: even leaders sometimes get lazy. We rely solely on yesterday’s learning to face today’s issues. We talk more about what we have read than about what we are reading. Personal preparation for daily ministry becomes more surface review than intense study. Continued education, on the other hand, challenges us to return to rigor and discipline.

10. Continued education stretches our faith. The obstacles to further training are real. Too little time. Too few dollars. Too many years out of school. Too many other responsibilities. Too much risk of failure. Here’s the bottom line, though: sometimes we just have to trust God to help us do what He expects us to do.

What are your thoughts about continued education for church leaders?


  • I’ll never forget the words my father wrote in my first preaching Bible: ‘The call to preach is the call to prepare.’ I am reminded, just like the call to preach, the call to prepare has no expiration date.

  • Scott Davis says:


    I enjoy all of your blog posts that come across my phone, but I had to respond to this one because it applies to me in a personal way. Not that I can improve upon your writing by any means, but I would like to add one more thought to yours – returning to education creates a transference of experience. At age 60 (two years ago) I decided to return to seminary to get that Masters in Theology degree that I had always wished I’d had but had put off years ago because I was settled into a profession (RN) and was busy being a bi-vocational pastor. There simply wasn’t enough time to wear both of these two hats, as well as raise a family. And of course, as you mentioned, on-line classes were not even heard of then (the internet wasn’t even invented by Al Gore yet!). But after my children left home and gone through college, and on-line classes became more readily available, I took the jump and began working on that Masters degree through Liberty University Online. What I have discovered through these classes is that 1) the scholarship and resources are more up-to-date and relevant than what I had been relying on for so many years; 2) the classes have re-invigorated my mind and preaching/teaching; 3) more importantly, the discussion boards have given me an opportunity to share pastor and life experiences with the younger pastors-to-be. It truly does give a more “mature” person a chance to share their successes as well as their failures. I have had several younger students thank me for sharing some of the experiences and problem-solving approaches that have come my way through 30 years of ministering to churches. It is rewarding to know that by sharing some of my life experiences with the younger classmates, that the next generation of church leaders may be better equipped to face the challenges that the experienced pastor has already walked through.

    Thanks for letting me share my thoughts.
    Scott Davis, RN

  • Scott Davis says:

    My apologies Dr. Lawless. It was Thom’s blog that showed on my phone but it was only after I posted I realized the article was written by you. Thank you for this article and your continued service in training the church’s future leaders.

    Scott Davis

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      No problem, Scott. Thanks for your great testimony. I’ve been teaching for 18 years now, and some of the best students I’ve ever worked with are those who return to school after some ministry experience.

  • I think it was John Maxwell who first said “Leaders are readers”
    To be faithful Church / Ministry Leaders we should never stop learning.

  • Good words here, Dr. Lawless. It is not about getting a piece of paper. It’s about sharpening the tools. I have been pursuing my MDiv at a slow pace taking what I’m learning and putting it to work/testing in the ministry I’m called to.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Anthony, I took eight years to do my MDiv. I was leading a church at the time, and I felt no release from that ministry. Taking a few classes a year took awhile, but I’d do it exactly the same way today. Press on.

  • Philip Bohlken says:

    I had a boss many years ago who tried to get everyone he met to read 20 minutes a day. I have tried to follow that in some form or another. I was never too interested in fitting in the commitment and expense of regular classes at an institution. But, I have always been curious and have read many books over the years, including all nine text volumes of Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. There was often a push from our higher ups to do continuing education, but it quickly became apparent they thought that meant church growth classes and not much else. About that time I read an article on continuing education by a college president who said pastors in parishes know where they need growth and they usually take steps to find helpful growth experiences on their own. The tension I noticed during my active years of service was between growth as my attempts to satisfy my curiosity according to what I thought I needed, and some bureaucrat’s cookie cutter idea of what he thought pastors in his jurisdiction ought to pursue.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks, Philip. My guess is we all need balance here: learning what we know we need to learn, AND having others help us see what we may not see.

  • Waylen Bray says:

    I will be 75 on 1 November. I study more now than I ever did.

  • Pete Keough says:

    Dr. Lawless,

    Great article and even greater reminder for all of us to continue to learn, grow, and develop ourselves through education. One of the problems of the modern day church is that we fail to articulate the Gospel to a world around us that is itself educated (at least in an academic sense). We must convey the Gospel rightly, clearly, and effectively to the world in which we live. As I was told many years ago from a wonderful professor, “A sharp ax cuts better than a dull ax. Let God sharpen your ax through His school of preparation.”

  • Steve McCart says:

    Although I agree with almost all points listed, the case for a seminary education was not made. Learning can be from personal reading, meeting with fellow pastors and directors of missions, online courses of study, as well as seminary, This is not an inclusive list, but it shows that seminary is not the only way to achieve the elements of you list. I am not opposed to a seminary education, I just think it is over rated as to how it will prepare you for ministry.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks, Steve. I obviously believe in seminary education, but I also agree it can be overrated — and underrated, for that matter. Any theological education must, in my opinion, be connected to the local church.

  • Scott Egbert says:

    My favorite comment is: The more I know the less I know I know. Think about it.
    I believe Luke 2:52 is the best verse on the matter.
    “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”
    I learned this from a very wise man, the four lengths of a square must remain balanced.
    One side is wisdom, one side is stature, one side if favor with God and one side is favor with man. When the square gets out of balance you lose your stability.

  • Ronnie Brewer says:

    Great Article, Dr. Lawless. I am a former student of yours at Southern Seminary and I am grateful for the education and ministry preparation I received at Southern. I now get the privilege of teaching for Union University through the R.G. Lee Christian Studies Program and it is a tremendous blessing. Even though I am the “teacher” of the classes, I feel like I learn more and more with every class as I prepare for the class and as I learn from my students. God Bless! II Tim 2:15

  • With such a devastatingly impressive list of 10 reasons in favour of continuing education, are there actual studies that show that pastors who are consistently updating or who are better educated actually lead better and/or longer in local churches?

    I have lots of education and believe in education. But I guess i am pretty suspicious of Dr. Lawless’ posting given his self-consciously stated vocational predisposition when it doesn’t name among its ten reasons the most obvious from most local church’s point of view… will investing in all this continuing education for my pastor and their staff make them and our church better, larger, more vibrant, effective etc,etc?

    I don’t blame Dr. Lawless for not having that information, I don’t have it either nor claim to have insight to what the answer might be. But someone in all these D.MIn programs popping up everywhere should study that and let us all know.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Fair question, Jacob. The evidence of which I am aware is primarily anecdotal, though it is the product of years of teaching. Nor will it be a surprise to you — those students who take the work seriously and make healthy application of the materials in a local church tend to grow in their effectiveness as a leader. Not every one does that, of course. One reason advanced training helps here is that advanced training is typically narrowly focused and practically oriented.

  • Keith says:

    I’m a bit conflicted about this topic. I’ve done both the grad school thing and local church ministry (close to 40 years now) and I see both sides.
    However, I think we tend to confuse an educated man with a spiritual man. Education won’t produce spirituality. Only time with the Lord – in prayer and Bible study while meditating on the Word – will produce spiritual leaders.

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