Credentials for Ministry
All too often, humble and anointed Christian ministers get beat up by society telling them they are unqualified to teach the Bible. Without a seminary degree
, they are told, a person is insufficiently trained to handle the Word. But we must ask, "Since when do universities and theological seminaries
determine who should preach and teach God's Word?" Actually, the Bible gives precise and complete ministry qualifications which should be sufficient for anyone who is called to the ministry. Paul tells us to "beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain
deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ"
Certainly, there is nothing wrong with a ministry degree
, but if the purpose of the degree is to get the praise of men or add a title to your name, beware! "Let me not, I pray you, accept any man's person, neither let me give flattering titles unto man. For I know not to give flattering titles; in so doing my maker would soon take me away"
(Job 32:21-22). Jesus instructed his disciples not to be like the Pharisees who loved the best seats in the synagogues and took on titles such as "Rabbi", "Father", and "Master" (Matthew 23:1-12). Jesus taught by example that greatness in the Kingdom of God
is based upon servanthood
Prestigious Degrees of Men
Seminary study may help a believer grow into a life calling of Christian ministry
, but even the best colleges and universities are limited according to God's standards. King Solomon wisely said, "Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man"
(Ecclesiastes 12:12-13). Schooling is also expensive, often plunging students into heavy debt which may take years to pay off. So instead of launching into ministry to serve the Lord, many graduates find themselves grounded by financial bondage and end up serving their creditors.
Somewhere along the line, getting a professional, accredited degree
became the norm for ministering the Word of God rather than the exception. This is truly "philosophy and vain deceit" of men! The Bible never once mentions schooling or seminary as a prerequisite to being approved by God
. Rather it says: "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth"
(II Timothy 2:15). Going to school for that study is not all-inclusive here. Study in one's prayer closet counts, too, and is by far much more important! "It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man"
Although I was valedictorian of my high school class and earned a Bachelor of Science degree at Furman University, these titles now profit me very little. Paul put it best when he said: "For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that
he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more."
Paul then listed his credentials: "Circumcised the eighth
day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe
of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee. Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless."
Paul was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel (a chief scholar of the day) and was taught according to the perfect manner of the Jewish Law (Acts 22:3). "But what things
were gain to me,"
Paul said, "those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ"
(Philippians 3:3-8). None of Paul's credentials
meant anything in light of the "excellency of the knowledge of Christ."
Peter and John were uneducated fishermen, yet the world took notice of their message because these men had walked with Jesus. "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus"
(Acts 4:13). The apostles understood that the power behind their message came by the Holy Spirit (see John 14:26) and not by man's wisdom
. They knew that "not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty"
(I Corinthians 1:26-27).
Truly, the high titles of men
and doctoral degrees do not impress God. The Bible says, "He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree"
(Luke 1:52). And, "let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted"
(James 1:9). God is the One Who judges men's hearts. He alone has the authority to accredit, qualify, and equip a person for His ministry
! Don't be led astray by the methods of the world, for "that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God"
(Luke 16:15). The Lord says, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts"
(Isaiah 55:9). Christians should desire the approval of the Lord rather than comparing each other and seeking the endorsement
(see Acts 5:29).
The number one qualification
for a minister of the Gospel is to know Christ. Even all of Paul's distinguished "credentials" did not ordain
him to the ministry or make him an apostle: "Paul, an apostle, (not
of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead) ..."
(Galatians 1:1). Paul was made an apostle by Jesus Christ (I Timothy 1:12); therefore, Paul always
sought to please his Master. "For do I
now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ"
(Galatians 1:10-12). Because Paul learned from the Savior, his preaching did not come forth with wisdom of words or excellency of speech (I Corinthians 1:17-21, 2:1); but it came through the power of God. The Lord delights in showing Himself strong through those who are insufficient
in themselves, for His strength is made perfect in our weaknesses. "Most gladly therefore will
I rather glory in my infirmities [and insufficiencies], that the power of Christ may rest upon me"
(II Corinthians 12:9).
The Pharisees of Jesus' day questioned Him about His schooling. They said, "'How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?' Jesus answered them, and said, 'My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether
it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness
is in him'"
(John 7:14-18). In other words, the sound biblical doctrine
will speak for itself, and those who do the will of the Father will witness to it. The people who heard Jesus teach marveled, "for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes"
(Matthew 7:29). Even though the religious leaders were skeptical, Jesus perfectly met God's qualifications: "He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"
While man looks for the accumulation of knowledge and "years of experience"
to qualify a person for ministry,
God looks for a willing and obedient heart. The Scriptures record several instances where such a heart was found — not
in learned scholars, but in children and young people.
- Jesus taught the scribes in the temple as a 12-year-old boy, "and all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers" (Luke 2:47).
- Samuel was called at an early age because Eli's sons did not follow the Lord (see I Samuel 3:1-21).
- David was just a youth when he faced Goliath because no man stepped up to the task (see I Samuel 17:24).
- Jeremiah was called to speak the word of the Lord in his youth (see Jeremiah 1:6-7).
- John the Baptist was strong in spirit from his youth up. His life calling was to prepare the way of the Messiah (Luke 1:76-80).
- Timothy was exhorted by the apostle Paul, "Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity" (I Timothy 4:12).
These examples indicate that youthful age
does not disqualify a person from ministry. Although maturity comes with age, there are youth who are ready to preach the Gospel
and older folks who are still babes in their spiritual walk. As people get older and acquire more knowledge, all too often pride
takes root in their hearts. But the Bible says that "not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called ... that no flesh should glory in his presence"
(I Corinthians 1:26,29).
God uses people with humble hearts and child-like faith to advance His Kingdom
. Furthermore, "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble"
(James 4:6). The Lord delights in showing Himself strong on the behalf of those whose hearts are perfect
toward Him (II Chronicles 16:9). May our prayer echo the words of John the Baptist: "He must increase, but I must decrease"
Below are God's standards for overseers
("bishops") and ministers
("deacons") of the Body of Christ. Sadly, many seminary graduates meet man's qualifications but fail God's checklist