A PROFESSOR in the Harvard Medical School informed first-year medical students that half the information they would receive in medicine during their four years would be obsolete by the time they completed their degree. "The trouble is," he said, "we do not know which half."
It's not only physicians who are caught up in the knowledge explosion. Ministers are too. The minister is constantly called upon to face new conditions and problems demanding fresh knowledge and increased skill. Often he faces an active, aggressive, highly educated laity. They sometimes challenge the preacher more than he challenges them. They want him to update himself. They want increased performance, better preaching, more efficient pastoral care, and greater capability in running church organization. In fact, I firmly believe that the minister is expected to do more things, and do them well, than is any other professional.
Seminary training that formerly equipped a minister for a lifetime now prepares him for only the first five years of his ministry. Though theological education is now better and broader in scope than ever before, nine quarters of instruction just cannot totally educate a minister to face a rapidly changing world for the rest of his life. There is no other alternative. A minister's education must continue after seminary training. Therefore, each minister should plan a program of supervised continuing education that will span his entire career.
Just what is continuing education? It might be defined as self-improvement that begins when formal education ends. An excellent working definition appears in a new book by Mark Rouch:
"Continuing education is an individual's personally designed learning program which begins when basic formal education ends and continues through out a career and beyond. An unfolding process, it links together personal study and reflection and participation in organized group events." *
The pages of the Spirit of Prophecy often refer to the importance of constant self-improvement. Ellen White never used the term continuing education, a phrase that has become popular only in recent decades. However, she repeatedly emphasized the need of continuous self-improvement.
"Never think that you have learned enough, and that you may now relax your efforts. The cultivated mind is the measure of a man. Your education should continue during your lifetime; every day you should be learning, and putting to practical use the knowledge gained." --Counsels on Health, p. 405. (Italics supplied.)
Ellen White does not refer here merely to those random bits of information that come to us every day. She speaks of cultivating the mind, gaining knowledge, and putting it to practical use.
The following clarifies what she means by improving the mind: "Men of God must be diligent in study, earnest in the acquirement of knowledge, never wasting an hour. Through persevering exertion they may rise to almost any degree of eminence as Christians, as men of power and influence." --Gospel Workers, p. 278. (Italics supplied.)
Must Be Systematic
Education, then, to be not only continuous but strenuous, demands mental sweat. It is a systematic process. It has purpose and an objective. It is not light reading or a casual listening to tape-recorded materials. It is more than accumulated experience. It is the result of consecutive and organized study. A minister may approach continuing education in several ways. First, he should inventory his pastoral inadequacies. He should decide in which ways he can improve his ministry for God. Then he should plan a long-range program, perhaps for as long as five years. He then should explore methods of reaching his objectives. He may wish to inquire of the Home Study Institute regarding correspondence courses. If there is a seminary, college, or university within driving distance he may want to study or do private research in some discipline under an expert. The Academy of Adventist Ministers has been formed to help our ministers do this very thing.
Second, he may wish to participate in group study. Several pastors within a given community may wish to pursue the study of a subject of mutual interest. One who has special knowledge in that discipline may guide the group. Group study adds incentive, something that may be lacking in self-study.
Finally, the pastor may request opportunity for a quarter at the Seminary to pursue specific subjects approved by his conference administration. Or he may ask for a short-term study leave to work on some project important to his ministry.
Whatever method of continuing education a minister pursues, he should be ethical and fair. To carry on a study program without the knowledge of the conference leadership is unethical. Since most administrators want to see their pastors improve, they usually will approve. However, there is one exception. A pastor who wishes to educate himself so he can leave pastoral ministry for another type of employment may find his request denied, because the conference does not usually wish to invest either time or money in preparing a pastor for another career.
There is also a role the denomination must play. It must recognize that a healthy, growing, and competent ministry contributes to the growth of the church at large. Strong pastors develop strong churches. Strong churches make strong conferences. The denomination must provide organized, properly scheduled opportunities. Other Protestant bodies have already sensed the importance of a continual training of ministers and :are devoting large budgets and adequate personnel to make such possible.
The ministerial secretary, as well as devoting his time to public evangelism, should use his experience and influence to improve the soul-winning potential of the pastor and to encourage him in all the other roles expected of him. Added to his duties should be "director of continuing education for ministry." He can serve as a catalyst, bringing pastors and resources of education together.
Isn't it time you begin planning your program of continuing education, your plan of self-improvement, in counsel with your employing organization? As Ellen White pointed out so metaphorically: "The true minister of Christ should make continual improvement. The afternoon sun of his life may be more mellow and productive of fruit than the morning sun. It may continue to increase in size and brightness until it drops behind the western hills."--Selected Messages, book 2, p. 221.
* Mark Eouch, Competent Ministry: A Guide to Effective Continuing Education (Abingdon Press, 1975).