Monday, October 8, 2007

Sermon Question 2: Why Does Someone with an M.Div. have to be the One Preaching?

Somehow, by the grace of God alone, I graduated from Southeastern Seminary with an Master of Divinity (M.Div.) in May 2006. I praise the Lord for getting me through Southeastern's program, because there is no way I could have done it in my own power and strength.

While in seminary, I heard quite a bit of preaching, most of it in chapel. I am no expert in preaching, but I thought that most of what I heard was pretty good. Some of it was excellent. Some of it was not so good. A few of the sermons were even poor.

Why do I bring this up? I'm mentioning it because everyone I heard preach at Southeastern has at least an M.Div. degree. Therefore, an M.Div. does not guarantee excellence in preaching.

This brings me to my question for today: Why does someone with an M.Div. have to be the one preaching? This is the view held by most churches in our country.

If you ask almost any pastoral search committee at a church, they will tell you that one of the qualifications they are looking for is an M.Div. or equivalent degree. They are usually assuming that this will lead to good preaching.

My experience tells me otherwise. I can tell you that in my preaching class at seminary, we had a very wide range of preaching abilities. Some of the men interpreted scripture well, but their presentation was weak. For others, their presentation was excellent, but their interpretation was not up to par. Of about 40 men in the class, I would say that seven or eight were excellent preachers in all phases of the task.

Having grown up in the church, I have heard many different of preachers. I have even heard a few who did not have an M.Div. (this is rare because most pastors have to have this degree to be called by a church in the first place). Some of the M.Div.-less men I heard did a good job; others did not.

What does the bible have to say about all this? It is clear that anyone who preaches must be faithful to the biblical text. In writing to Timothy, Paul reminds him of the importance to "preach the word," which in his case was the O.T. (you can read II Tim. 3:14 - 4:5 by clicking here). In that particular context, Paul was warning Timothy of the danger of false teachers. Timothy was to be faithful to the holy scriptures.

Most current churches are looking for a pastor who will preach faithfully. The qualifications for pastor/elders are in I Tim. 3 and Titus 1. Paul tells Timothy that elders must be "able to teach." He writes to Titus that elders "must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it."

What can we glean from the above two passages? Anyone who is an elder must be able to teach the scriptures and hold firm to them. What is the purpose of this? The elder should, then, be able to teach biblical doctrine and also correct those disagree with a faithful interpretation of the bible.

So a pastor/elder must be able to teach. This much is clear. However, let's not make the mistake of saying that only a pastor/elder should preach. This is clearly nowhere taught in the bible. In fact, I Cor. 14 shows many different people involved in the gathering of the church. I think it is fair to say that more people than the pastor/elder should be preaching (read here).

What can we make of all this?

Here are some conclusions I have come to:
1) An M.Div. does not guarantee good preaching.
2) A man without an M.Div. may be a good preacher.
3) A pastor/elder must be able to teach.
4) When the church gathers, a pastor/elder does not have to do the preaching.

If a church, then, is looking for a pastor, and they expect him to do the bulk of the preaching, what should they do? My suggestion is that they look at the man, his character, and his abilities. An M.Div. will not ensure good preaching ability. In fact, a man with no theological degree may be an excellent preacher.

Get to know the man, not the degree.


Alan Knox said...


Probably because, for the most part, Christians consider elders/pastors to be professional, vocational positions similar to doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, accountants, etc.


tenjuices said...

where do you think presentation comes in biblically? as i struggle in that area, i never understood it from the bible as saying "be entertaining!"
but i do see that the person must be a clear teacher or able. it seems cultural alot too as the difference between macarthur and begg and tony evans and piper

love the posts. good reading
ed payne

Eric said...


I agree with you. The people want to see a degree, in part because that is what they have always seen. It's too bad because it keeps laymen from getting the opportunity to preach.

Eric said...


It's good to hear from you. I hope all is well in SF.

In this post, I should have clarified what I meant by "presentation." When Timothy is told to "Preach the word," I think Paul wants him to stick to the meaning of the biblical text, and be clear in what he is saying. Timothy has the responsibility of making himself understandable to the people.

Concerning humor, I don't see it in scripture.

A key to preaching is that we not try to be what we aren't. God has given us all strengths. We should use these as we preach and teach. Good advice for anyone preaching would be to be yourself, and be faithful to the biblical text.


Richard Boyce said...

As a first year seminary student, I too have questioned the Biblicity in requiring 7 years of college before a man is 'qualified' to preach. I think this is what it's all about:

1. The value in original languages or even a language tools track is immense.

2. Three years in seminary goes a long way to teaching sound doctrine to your future preacher/pastor.

3. Three years of experience in sermon prep/ministry/etc ensure not getting a 'green' preacher.

4. Three years will hopefully show the student if they truly have been called by God to preach.

5. Three years of learning how to talk to people that hold different beliefs and opinions is a valuable tool for a pastor/preacher.

In a nutshell...I think it's the experience that comes with seminary and not necessarily just the head-knowledge that churches look for in a pastor/preacher.

Plus, requiring an M.Div makes screening much easier, though I concede that many men of God are overlooked for not having a pretty piece of paper on their wall.

Good article.

Eric said...


Thanks for your comment. I recognize you from TBNN.

I agree with all of the above points you have made. I'm thrilled to have had the opportunity to go to seminary; I know for a fact that I personally was in no position to preach prior to going to SEBTS.

My hope for our churches in general is two-fold. First, I hope that churches will look at the man, and not automatically require an M.Div. Second, I wish our churches would raise laymen up from within to do some of the preaching in the church.

Thanks for your kinds words and insight.


Corey Reynolds said...

Ahh, we city dwellers truly want to give the uneducated man some leeway. You simply have to spend some time in rural Illinois to understand why a preacher ought to have an M.Div. Heh, I would settle for some of these guys just reading the Bible through once!

I didn't think people like this existed until I came out here. They don't care to read at all. They use the whole "the Holy Spirit will tell me what to say" bit all the time. The people in the churches seriously think that God is speaking audibly to the preacher through the whole event.

And such arrogance! I thought that seminary students thought they knew it all. Wait till you hear the swagger of a 20-year-old screaming, jumping preacher who can't find Leviticus in his own KJV!

Can a person be a faithful, thoughtful, godly leader and preacher without official seminary training? Yes. Can a person be all that without wanting or caring to grow deeper with God? Nope.

Eric said...


Thanks for your comments.

I agree that if a person does not have a good knowledge of the scriptures, then they have no business teaching others. It gets very dangerous when people assume that the Holy Spirit will bless their lack of preparation.


Leah said...

Hi Eric,
After reading your Sermon Question #1 and then reading on to Sermon Question #2, I have a few questions for you. Where do women and children fall into the picture then of edifying the body when they gather? Is there a line to be drawn between a woman and/or child being permitted to share a psalm or speak in tongues, but not to preach a mini-sermon? And also, should only recognized elders of the body be the ones speaking on a Sunday morning?
When someone proposes a different model than the one currently used in most protestant churches, these are the questions that most often come to my mind. I think one reason we are comfortable with the one speaker, MDiv trained pastor is because it sets very distinct parameters for who is permitted to speak and "lead". In my opinion, we find it is much easier to set guidelines beyond what Scripture defines in order to exercise more control over the roles within the church. Thanks for the discussion - Ed told me I needed to catch up on my blog reading; I'm glad I did.

Eric said...


It's good to hear from you. I hope all is well in SF. We miss you all.

You are asking some good questions. I'll take my best shot at answering them. I'm no expert, but I will tell you what I think.

I'd like to answer your first and second questions at the same time.

As far as a woman's role in the gathering is concerned, I think women should be free to participate in any way that is not an authoritative one. I believe that I Tim. 2 makes it clear that women should not be preaching and teaching men. I Cor. 14 tells us that women should not sit in judgment of male prophets. I Tim. 3 informs us that men should be elders. However, women (and children under appropriate supervision) should be free to offer a prophecy, a psalm, a prayer, a hymn, or a testimony.

In Acts 2, when Peter is preaching, he quotes the prophet Joel and says, "In the last days...your sons and your daughters shall prophesy."

In I Cor. 11, Paul writes, "but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head- it is the same as if her head were shaven."

So we see in these passages that it is fine for women to both pray and prophesy. What is forbidden is only the taking of authority over men. I think women play a very important role in the gathering; we should encourage more female participation.

As for elders speaking at a Sunday gathering, it makes sense to me that some of the elders would do some of the speaking. Since one of the qualifications for being an elder is that he be "able to teach," it appears that elders should be doing some of the teaching. However, I certainly do not think that elders have to do all, or even a majority of the teaching. As Alan has pointed out recently, elders should lead by modeling servanthood within and outside of the body.

I hope that helps.

Thanks again, Eric