When did it become the norm for church leaders to get a formal Christian education and why did that process begin?

When I say formal education I'm not talking about the mentor/mentee style that Jesus did with his disciples.

I'm talking about the following scenario:

  • A person independently enrolls in a Bible School/Seminary/Divinity school
  • They get a degree
  • They apply for pastor jobs and get hired as a pastor somewhere

The reason I ask is because the aforementioned process isn't implied anywhere in scripture. The idea of it had to have come from somewhere and for some reason.

Similar to this question, but I'm not asking whether or not this practice is supported by Scripture—I'm asking when it started and why it started.

  • Wikipedia claims they started as a response to the reformation. Do you want more than this in an answer?
    – Flimzy
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 14:12
  • The process I mention in my question began waayy before the reformation. Luther himself was taking formal education.
    – LCIII
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 14:14
  • @Flimzy I've broadened the wording of my question to "seminary-type" education and not specifically seminary. I can see where you're coming from.
    – LCIII
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 14:22
  • Luther's education had practically nothing in common with seminary. He was a monk, and devoted all of his time to prayer and study.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 14:24
  • 1
    I like the question. I think there is a major distinction between what monks do for education as monks and what pastors, priests, etc. do today for education. I think you might find that the Enlightenment has more to do with it than anything else. Before then, pretty much all schools had a Christian Faith bend; there were no secular schools before then.
    – user3961
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 14:52

2 Answers 2


First let me correct the assumption that the model you describe is normal for Christian pastors. It is in fact only a minority that follow this. The vast majority of Christian churches, including Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Presbyterians follow an entirely different model. In this model they:

  1. Discern whether or not the person has a calling to Christian leadership
  2. Send them for education as necessary. This will virtually always include some formal education, but not necessarily.
  3. Appoint them to a leadership position

Even among those churches where the model you describe is used, it is not exclusive. I have encountered Baptist, Mennonite and other churches where they will find a person who is gifted in a pastoral or leadership area and appoint them to that role. They may or may not then send them for other training (formal or informal) as part of their duties.

However to start answering your question, which is about when it became normal to give church leaders formal education, it has been normal for Church leaders to receive formal education for as long as there has been formal education. Early universities were started as clergy training institutions, and only later developed into general education institutions.

  • It has been a tradition far longer than Christiany has even existed. Jesus received formal training as a Rabbi, for instance.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 18:09
  • 4
    "Jesus received formal training as a Rabbi, for instance." According to who? "How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?" (John 7:15 KJV) Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 2:20
  • 1
    Your "entirely different model" falls squarely under the example of training I was referring to. This answer has some great insight but I think you missed the heart of the question. The disciples had no formal Christian education. No church leader did according to scripture. I'm wondering when that began and how it became normal.
    – LCIII
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 19:15
  • 5
    @LCIII Paul certainly had a formal education. If you are wondering why there was no formal Christian education in biblical times, that's because there were no Christian institutions in NT times that could have provided a formal education. If you consider the Rabbinical model of teaching to be 'formal', then all the disciples received formal teaching using that model from Jesus. Commented Aug 21, 2014 at 13:24

The earliest mention we have to Cathedral Schools is from the Second Council of Toledo in 527; they were set up in order to guarantee the formation of priests after the fall of the Empire caused the collapse of the Roman system of education. After all, priests must at least be able to read, and after the general emptying of the cities in the Early Middle Ages it was a rare skill to find in the general population.

Note that this does not mean that priests didn't receive formal education during the Imperial era; but we do not have information of schools specific for priest formation. But starting from the 6th Century, we have the formation of a string of schools which provide an education which has become the formal Seminary system for priestly formation (as well as the University system).

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