After completing my first decade in local church ministry I sat down with my elders to discuss my life and ministry. A big question was: How can I make sure I finish the race and fight the good fight for the long haul? My conclusion: I need to go back and study theology part time.

Were you expecting that?

Do you think that sounds a little odd?

Let me explain.

Pastors, Church and ministry leaders are busy people. Fact. Whilst we face many jokes about only working one day, the reality is that most work beyond their contracted hours and feel guilty that they are not doing enough. And now I am about to say you should go back to study part time….oh boy!

For me there are 3 benefits to continued study for the local church pastor.

  1. Immediate benefit: Refreshment

Part of the glorious monotony of being a pastor is the need to prepare spiritual food every week. Each Monday we sit back down at our desk and start the long climb back up the mountain. This means that every time I go to a conference I am often listening for sermon material I can steal, especially illustrations. But more worrying is the fact that when I hear a challenge I think ‘so and so needs to hear this’. It becomes increasingly hard to engage our own hearts for our own benefit.

As part of my Masters I get to take a week out and sit under great teaching from an excellent faculty. Digging deeper into the Scriptures and doctrines of grace with a band of brothers is a real joy. At times the teaching has been deep and difficult, but I always find that when my head explodes with wonder, my heart follows with an explosion of worship.

  1. Medium term benefit: Refinement

Whilst I spend hours reading, preparing and teaching in my day to day ministry, I can end up developing bad theological habits. One of the challenges we face as pastors is our subtle theological drifts. We can be overly influenced by seemingly sound guys who lead us to wrong ideas, or we can have our theology shaped by the need to keep unity in the church or meet a difficult pastoral situation. I find going back to study has taken me back into a deeper and more discerning study. It is helpful to drink from deeper streams that come from the breadth of church history and not just the latest blog, paperback or conference.

Within my Masters I not only get to sit through lectures and seminars, but I get to devote time to reading and researching essays that force me engage with a wide range of theologians and so equip me to be more critical (in the good academic sense) so that I can ensure that I am handling the Word correctly.

  1. Long term benefit: Rounding

One of the reasons for choosing a Reformed Evangelical college was not just its proximity geographically but also its theological clarity. It’s good to engage with the darker recesses of academia, but it is more important to be drinking from different streams within the Reformed tradition. I find that going back to college has taken me out of my theological bubble, but kept me within a gospel community. I love sitting down and learning (in person or in print) from Welsh Non-Conformist’s, American Presbyterians, and English Anglicans. I find the discussions round me out and help me see what the bigger picture is.

Taking time away from the immediate, both in terms of ministry need and theological influence, means that I can gain a more rounded theological outlook. This helps me to less defensive and more discerning about what is happening in my church and the wider communion.

Closing thought

I’ll be honest, there are weeks when I wonder if the sacrifice of time and money is worth it (especially when I am stressing about footnotes), the urgency of ministry crashes down and my commitment wanes. However, when I take a step back and look at the New Testament imperatives to watch my life and doctrine closely and finish the race, I realise it is worth every penny and minute.

Jonathan Thomas

Jonathan Thomas is Pastor at Ammanford Evangelical Church and is also currently studying a Masters degree on the Union Campus in South Wales.

If you would like to know more about life long learning please get in touch.