Youth Ministry Without Formal Training

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“Youth Ministry” without “Formal Training.”  Sounds daunting, right?  Heart surgeons spend countless years in school before they pick up a scalpel to mend the body.  Yet we aim to mend the soul, something infinitely more valuable, by ministering the Word of God that is sharper than any two-edged scalpel. And often with less training! 

I know many of you out there are in such a situation.  Through the Rooted conferences, I’ve met a youth pastor from Florida still working his way through seminary.  I’ve met a brother and sister from South Dakota who lead their youth group as volunteers. I myself am an engineering graduate. Surely there are many more who, like us, desire to be faithful in their given ministry context, yet feel under-educated and under-trained for the task.

Weekly expositional preaching, in particular, is a challenge for me.  The theological nuances of a text are often ones I have not studied or contemplated before.  So I’m asking more than simply, “What does the passage mean, and how do I preach it?” I am simultaneously asking: How do I discover the meaning here? What do I think about this debate? What have others said about this? How the heck does Logos work?! 

For us who desire to be faithful in ministry and yet lack formal training, should we quit, or should we stay?  How could we grow in our training?  What resources can we look to?

Ignorance Shouldn’t Paralyze Ministry

The undereducated, the inexperienced, and the ill-equipped can all feel at a loss in ministry.  We are prone to doubting if we have what it takes for what God asks us to do.  However, ignorance and inability are not disqualifications for ministry! It can position us so that God gets the glory for the fruitfulness of our ministry.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”  2 Corinthians 4:7

If God has clearly called you to engage in ministry, it would be wrong to reply with, “Not yet; I’m not ready.”  Truly, the sole qualification for ministry is God’s call, perhaps in spite of our shortcomings.  If God has called you to it, He will supply what you need in the very moment you need it.  Recall that when He called the Israelites to cross the Jordan at flood stage, the waters didn’t recede until they started walking into them (Joshua 3).

Think about how frequently God uses ignorant ministers to accomplish His plans.  God used the ineloquent Moses to free His people from Egypt (Exodus 4).  Jesus sent out the seventy-two before they completed any ministerial training (Luke 10).  Paul started the Church in Philippi with the help of the Lydia and a jailer, both recent converts (Acts 16).  And let’s not forget that the apostles had vocational backgrounds ranging from fishermen to tax collectors!

Ministers Shouldn’t Remain Ignorant

At the same time, I must not imply that training, education, and precision in ministry are unimportant.  Scripture reminds us that “not many should become teachers” and that we will give an account for how we shepherd the flock (James 3:1, Hebrews 13:17).  So we must continually seek to grow and develop by God’s enablement as we “devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).  How can we do that?  What resources should we look to?

First and foremost, we must see God and His Word as our greatest assets.  “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).  As I prepare, by the Holy Spirit, God “guides me in all truth,” and He teaches and reminds me of all Jesus taught (John 16:13, 14:26).  Therefore, I am not limited to my own understanding. God promises that His Word will “not return empty” (Isaiah 55:11).  So even when I feel that the message was under-prepared, I can rest in what He will accomplish.  If God and His Word are all I have, it is enough.

Secondly, we must remember that, as we depend upon the Lord, He illuminates our minds for His work.  God actually uses the ministry we engage in as a tool to further train and develop us.  Paul says in Philemon 6, “I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.”  How incredible!  God equips me for ministry through my participation in ministry.

Next, we ought to continue striving toward deeper training and preparation for ministry.  Formal education, whenever possible, is a gift and a blessing.  For countless reasons, though, many can’t attend seminary.  So as we’re able, we should take advantage of the countless free resources available.  (One of my personal favorites is the free app from Biblical Training.org.  Here, continued education is a constant opportunity with seminary classes available on-the-go.)

Finally, I shouldn’t put too much confidence in whatever training I acquire over time.  No degree or preparation enables us to change the heart of our hearers.  Only Jesus can do that!  It is the very work He came to do. Many pastors globally get their training in the school of suffering or persecution rather than in a formal school of theology.  If God can work through their ministries, surely He can work through mine.

Summary

As one without formal training, my efforts to be faithful in ministry will have additional challenges.  But the qualification for ministry isn’t our ability, it’s God’s call.  He will give us what we need in the moment, often using that very situation to further train and equip us for ministry.  He has given us Himself and His Word, and that is sufficient. He uses us, regardless of our educational background, to plant and water the seeds He’ll germinate and grow.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” 1 Corinthians 3:6-7

So as we plant, water, and continue to learn, may we rejoice that God said, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Let us declare with Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

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