Professional Development for Pastors and Other Church Leaders

January 30, 2018
Professional development is an important but often neglected part of the church leader’s task. Seminary cannot teach us all that we need to know to be good servants and leaders of God’s people, and we need to keep our minds nimble and active as we gain age and experience.

It can be difficult for pastors and other church leaders to obtain high quality professional development. Ministers often serve in places that are quite removed from a Christian university or seminary (especially one that is approved by the minister’s denomination), and not all universities and seminaries offer opportunities for continuing education. Fortunately, we now live in the age of the internet, and that means that there are options available to anyone who has a computer and a high-speed internet connection. In this blog, I want to give you some ideas about where you might find some of these resources.

YouTube

Surprisingly, YouTube is a really good place to find high quality, academic and professional lectures. My experience is that you won’t get anywhere by searching for subjects. It is better to search for a specific scholar or practitioner that you trust and see what (if any) videos come up. Here are some examples.

  • N. T. Wright, Ben Witherington III, D. A. Carson, and Gordon Fee present a large number of detailed lectures on a variety of topics in New Testament studies.
  • Douglas Stuart and John Walton present lectures on the Old Testament. I especially like Stuart’s series about his four favorite mistranslations.
  • Kevin Vanhoozer, John Webster, Robert Jensen, and Thomas Oden present lectures on a variety of topics in theology and church history.
    J. P. Moreland presents lectures on apologetics and other topics of philosophical interest, but he also lectures on prayer and other topics of spiritual interest.
  • Dallas Willard presents a large number of extensive lectures on spiritual formation.
  • Jim Wilder presents two long lectures on brain science and how it should impact our practice of pastoral care, discipleship, and leadership.
  • Doug Fields and Kara Powell present lectures on leading effective youth ministries.

Another way that you can find resources on YouTube is to search for a particular academic institution or lecture series. For example, if you search “Baylor ISR,” you will find lectures from the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion. If you search “Hayward Lecture” and add a specific year, you will find lectures from Acadia Divinity College’s Hayward Lecture series.

Institutions of Higher Education

Many Christian institutions of higher education conduct academic lectures, and some of them put those lectures on the internet. You may have to do some digging to find them, but they will be well worth your effort. Some, as we have already mentioned, can be found on YouTube simply by searching the institution’s name, but others will be buried deep within the institution’s website (sometimes in the “Library” section).

By the way, don’t limit yourself to institutions that share your denominational identity or theological perspective. Sometimes, worthwhile lectures occur in places you would never expect. Moreover, you will do well to keep tabs on what is going on in the larger Christian community and not just in your corner of it.

Individuals and Organizations

Certain individuals and organizations provide in-depth training for ministers and other church leaders. These are not academic lectures presented in an institutional setting. They are training programs organized around specific competencies and oriented towards the non-specialist.

Two examples will help us understand what is available. N. T. Wright has developed a wide range of courses on the New Testament. These courses are not free, but they will provide high quality content at a lower cost than can be offered by many seminaries. Deeper Walk International offers training in discipleship, spiritual warfare, and emotional healing. The first course, which explains how discipleship is related to emotional well-being and spiritual warfare, is available online for free. The other courses are available for purchase, but the organization hopes to make them available for free at some point in the future.

Websites Dedicated to Biblical (and Other) Training

Two websites dedicated to offering free, online courses in a wide range of Christian disciplines are worthy of special mention. Biblical eLearning was developed by faculty from Gordon College with the help of scholars from other institutions. It offers introductory and advanced courses in Old Testament, New Testament, and church history. BiblicalTraining.org is Bill Mounce’s effort to bring high quality biblical training to the masses. Many of its courses are geared towards beginners and lay church leaders, but pastors and other ministers can benefit from his more advanced course offerings. Courses cover a wide variety of topics and are taught by leading pastors and scholars.

Other Resources?

As you seek to become a better minister, are there other resources that you have found particularly helpful? Share them in the “Comments” section below. Let’s help each other be more competent practitioners and more thoughtful leaders.