Do you need a degree to be a pastor?
No, not necessarily. Let me back up in a historical perspective. It used to be that there was a clear dichotomy among ministers in the evangelical world. And there were only two kinds. You go back 150 years. There were only two kinds of ministers. There were those who were extremely well-educated and those who were absolutely uneducated and there was nothing in between. For instance, the entry requirement into the major theological seminaries in the 1850s was 10 years of classical Greek and 12 years of classical Latin. If that were a prerequisite package today, we would have no students and frankly, no faculty. That whole world of classical education has just disappeared and the average graduate with a full degree, a diploma from a major seminary in the 19th century was the product of 16-18 years of very serious study.
At the other extreme you had persons who were pastors who had learned everything they learned from their father and from the pastor of the local church, under whose tutelage and mentorship they had come. The development of seminary education was an answer to the problem of that increasing divide. But I would say this: seminaries, when they are faithful as servants of the church and accountable to the church, training ministers without apology for the churches, and doing so effectively, can offer a pastor the most comprehensive background for ministry that can be put into about a three year period.
Now, as I say, I hope every pastor would have at least that much, because I think to really be a skilled preacher of God’s word and a pastor, to continue to grow, most pastors will go beyond that and if not in formal study, at least that better be the investment in how they study on their own. But you ask what about a church or a pastor that does not have an MDiv, should he not be a pastor? I’m saying no, we Baptists believe just as John Bunyan said that every congregation is empowered to call out by the Holy Spirit the ministry to serve that congregation and a boy behind a plow may be the one that is called to preach. Francis Waylan was the president of Brown University, an early Baptist leader, not one who’s theology was entirely evangelical, but he was by temperament a very formative Baptist. He was once infamously in a debate with an Episcopal bishop, and this Episcopal bishop said that it was a scandal how Baptists were growing on the frontier. And Waylan looked to him and said, well it’s quickly explained—we don’t ask permission. We don’t need a bishop, we don’t need a magisterial, we don’t need a presbytery or anyone else to give permission. Where there are Baptists and they covenant among themselves to establish a church, they’re feeling a power to call a minister and they make a boy behind a plow or a farmer off the field, and we rejoice in that. And someone like Charles Spurgeon did not have an MDiv degree. He was not classically trained and he was a powerful preacher. But preachers like Charles Spurgeon are few and far between.