April 2013 – For the man serious about ministry, taking the next step in ministerial training may seem like an interruption, not an aid. However, there are many excellent options for further ministerial education, without the formality of earning a degree, and without the cost. There are numerous programs that allow the minister to benefit from the best of Christian scholarship, even as he is active in ministry.
Ministry and mentoring
One such program is the South Dakota-based Timothy Pastoral Apprenticeship Program. Andy Wright, a pastor on the TPA board of directors, explained that while seminary will be important to ministerial training for years to come, less traditional alternatives frequently offer education in ministry at a level beyond what seminary can obtain.
“Alternative venues for ministerial education are available in many forms,” he told AFA Journal. “It seems like they are the wave of the future for theological education because statistics show traditional seminary is not always sufficient. Oftentimes, we’ve noticed some will go through traditional seminary, but haven’t had substantial experience in church doing things they’ll do as a pastor.”
TPA in particular is a program that stands out for its unique and versatile design. Structured as an apprenticeship that gives students intensive ministry training under the mentorship of an experienced pastor, it involves a network of churches which all take part in administering a program comprised of both an academic component of 66 credit hours and hands-on experience in the church.
“TPA students get right into the center of the life of a church, where they have opportunities to build responsibility and experience,” Wright said. “A lot of guys at traditional seminary will be loosely connected to a church and they’re not experiencing the burden of leadership, but church involvement is huge and really helpful. With our network of churches, guys can get plugged into that larger network, and the mentoring pastors are walking right next to the students, pouring into them.”
Multiplying men of vision
In addition, TPA is made very accessible in two ways. TPA is a completely free program; in fact, students are often paid for their apprenticeship in churches. “We want guys to get out with zero debt so the world will be wide open to them and they can follow wherever God wants them,” Wright explained.
Furthermore, the program operates on a schedule that recognizes the demands of ministry and family. With one class taught each trimester, the program can be completed in two to five years.
TPA’s vision is to follow the instructions given in 2 Timothy 2:1, where Paul instructs men involved in ministry to pass on what they have learned to other men, who will then teach others.
“We really embrace that and think that we as a church, in order to continue to grow, have to constantly be investing in the next generation of pastors, passing the baton from one pastor to the next,” Wright said. “We want to see healthy pastors and need to train guys in a way that is even more effective than seminary.”
With four ministry roles in mind – church planters, church revitalizers, healthy pastors and missionaries – TPA invites men “who have a vision to multiply ministry. We want guys to have a real kingdom perspective, a real desire to take the gospel to the nations,” Wright said.
Ministry in a new perspective
TPA is fulfilling that vision. Students coming to TPA find that their experience at TPA adds a new dimension to how they understand their ministry calling. Sean Mustian, a current student in TPA, explained that the low costs, church involvement and mentoring relationships that drew him to TPA are huge assets.
“For a lot of seminary students, being actively involved in church is very difficult,” he said. “Whereas, here you’ll be heavily involved with the church. And with TPA’s network of churches, not only do I have my pastor to look to, but I have five or six pastors I can to talk to and meet with.”
Mustian added that, while he always felt a strong calling to ministry, his time at TPA has made a world of difference to his perspective on ministry and his own spiritual life.
“In a way, before coming to TPA, I had unconsciously approached ministry lightheartedly,” he explained. “A lot of perspective has been given to me about not only attending the needs of the church, but also making sure that spiritually I am being sustained, that I am spending time in the Bible to be nourished and refreshed in the Word. Prayer has also taken on a whole new aspect, where it is more than something to be done on occasion or just meaningless words coming from my mouth. It’s something that has to be heartfelt and constant, even disciplined.”
Ministry training at its best
For those currently considering options for ministry education, Mustian offered a word of advice. “They definitely need to pray about it,” he said. “As they’re praying, I’d encourage them to look at both options, whether seminary or something nontraditional like TPA, and see which fits most closely to what God has impressed upon their hearts. Whether it’s seminary or not, they should look for an opportunity to serve the church crafted into the program. That’s what I would definitely encourage: Consider what option allows you to practice what you’re learning.”
Interestingly, Mustian’s words echo those of Dr. Alfred Mohler, a highly respected minister and president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who also urged church involvement as an inviolable part of ministry training.
“I would remind us all that seminaries, even at their very best and most faithful, can only do so much,” Mohler said. “The local church is the most important school for ministry and the faithful pastor is the crucial professor. The seminaries that serve best will be those who understand this.”
Timothy Pastoral Apprenticeship
More alternative ministry preparation resources
Third Millennium – free course material online for either self-directed study or an accredited program directed and overseen by a local seminary. Materials are available in several formats in five languages. 407-830-0222
Ligonier Ministries – a distance learning program granting certificates through Ligonier Academy. Ligonier Ministries also host yearly conferences and offer a large selection of educational resources. 407-333-4343
Ravi Zacharias International Ministries – resources available online or by mail order, as well as seminars, conferences and academic programs throughout the year in the U.S., Canada, Britain and Asia. 770-449-6766
Nine Marks – multimedia resources for self-directed study in the “nine marks” of a healthy church. 888-543-1030
Many seminaries, colleges and other ministries, such as Desiring God, have made free educational material available online. 888-346-4700