13 Reasons Church Leaders Ought to Continue Their Education

I admit my bias here. I am a seminary dean and professor, and I believe in education. Regardless of my own feelings, though, I believe church leaders should continue their education – including looking at doctoral degrees. Here’s why:

  1. The Christian life is about growth. 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. 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. 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. The view that there is only one way to God remains under attack. 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 35 years ago, I did not imagine ministering in a culture that affirms same-sex marriage. Internet pornography was not even an option. Further education equips us to minister in this changing culture.
  5. The people we lead are frequently still learning. At least in North America, 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 campus. Today, the Internet offers unprecedented opportunities for continued training—including doctoral degrees—without evacuating significant ministries. 
  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. Peers become not only classmates, but also prayer partners.
  8. We often learn better after leadership experience. The best students I know are those whose 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. Continued education, on the other hand, challenges us to return to rigor and discipline.
  10. We’re blessed with opportunity and accessibility. I travel the world, spending time with believers who would sacrifice much for even just an hour of concentrated, relevant training. Most of us in North America have so much opportunity that it seems to me we should consider why we would not get further training.
  11. 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.
  12. Many of us are already doing the reading anyway. If you’re already a studier — someone who’s reading and learning anyway — why not look at ways to earn a degree for that same kind of work? 
  13. Churches have a responsibility to help their leaders continue growing. That’s why I believe churches ought to help cover the cost of their leaders’ further education. All of us need to think about equipping one another to do God’s work better.

What are your thoughts about continued education for church leaders?



  • Mark says:

    If you are leading a large congregation today, quite a few of your parishioners will likely be doing continuing education themselves. Also, even in 10 years, times change, situations change, and people change. When I was growing up, when someone’s parent died, the person’s minister would have gone to the house of the deceased, known the family, and likely conducted the funeral. Today, people don’t usually live where their parents do so you might be introducing yourself to a family that does not know you or expressing your condolences from afar, depending on where you are located. Also, you cannot presume today that just because the (grand)parent was a Christian that the (grand)children are. You also may have one of your parishioners who comes to you because his/her friend committed suicide. Now that is tragic but today you may hear that the deceased had been ostracized from their family and lived in another part of the world. There will be limited information, no house of the deceased to go to, no family to console, only one person who will not be attending a funeral either because there won’t be one or because of logistics. This confounds the leader trained in the 1980s. Given that sometimes the people in your congregation are the ultra-educated. They will expect you to be as knowledgeable in your area as they are in theirs.

  • Brian Thorstad says:

    That’s all good. My concern is that some pastors seek further education to get (1) More impressive initials behind their names, or (2) An escape from the reality of their pastorates. Seeking another degree can be just one more escape mechanism for the struggling pastor who needs to face the reality of his situation.

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