John Greening (national representative, GARBC), Don Shirk (pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Batavia, New York), and Jim Lytle (president, Summit University) jointly led a workshop on the importance and value of continuing education for ministers. Theirs is a chorus formed by the voices of experience: all three men completed their doctor of ministry degrees while engaged in full-time vocational ministry.
Jim Lytle recalls the genesis of his doctoral work. He was teaching at Baptist Bible College at the time, and the new dean asked him, “When are you going to get your doctorate?” Lytle answered, “Never. Getting a doctorate means a move, it means $30,000 in tuition, it means after I spend the $30,000 I still have to support my family. I don’t need this! My ThM is fine. I don’t need to be called doctor instead of mister.” But the dean insisted and Lytle complied. Looking back, he’s glad he did: “That doctorate I never planned on getting opened all kinds of doors for me later on, especially in the process of getting a school accredited in South Africa.”
All three presenters agree that continuing education is a worthy engagement for busy ministry professionals, but they also realize how difficult the enterprise can be. Probably the foremost challenge in the minds of many would-be enrollees is coming up with the requisite funds, which is precisely why local churches need to be invested in the ongoing education of their ministers. Shirk points out that this expectation is par for the course in the secular workplace; most corporate employers expect their employees to be actively engaged in ongoing professional development. Why should ministry be any different in this regard? Shirk’s church values continuing education so highly that it instituted a tuition assistance program for church members engaged in continuing education, complete with a complex matrix for determining who qualifies and how much assistance is granted. “This is just a tangible way that we can show our appreciation for ongoing education,” Shirk says.
The presenters are also quick to point out that for continuing education to be truly effective, it must be undertaken in the right spirit. Specifically, the learning process should be valued more highly than the degree. Lytle says, “In all my years in education programs, no one has ever asked me what my GPA was. No one’s ever asked! They don’t want to know what your grade was in pastoral counseling, they want to know, Can you help me?” So formal education done right is about more than securing a title and hanging an expensive piece of paper on the wall; it’s about development, self-betterment, and—in a very real sense—sanctification. While continuing education may not be for everyone, it can certainly generate a remarkably high return on investment as it enables Christian ministry leaders to maximize their effectiveness as they minister to the body of Christ for the glory of God.