I have been mindful of the need to express myself with this particular article for quite some time. Back in the summer, I was assigned a text to read (as prep for a doctoral seminar) that greatly challenged my thinking. In it, the writer argued that the world and the Christian faith to be specific needs more (not less) thoughtful people. He then went on to chastise me and an errant (even arrogant) viewpoint I had held and even perpetuated for many years.
I remember my cocky state of mind as I was considering preparation for my newly understood calling to the preaching ministry. It was back in the late 90s and I was an almost 30 year old father, husband, businessman, and Jesus-follower. After discerning a specific call to ministry (which is the subject of another post to come) I sat down with my pastor who advised me to pursue my education as far as I could. He told me that education would help open doors for me to serve in “any position on the field” that God assigned. If I chose, however, to only pursue minimal education (in my field it would be an Associate Degree of Divinity) then there would be many assignments that I would never be considered for by search committees simply because I had not demonstrated a commitment to train. At that point, I made a conscious commitment to pursue school through the doctoral level.
Now, while I made a conscious decision to get an education, my heart was not fully convinced. I used to say “God called Moses without seminary” and if God can use “fishermen to start churches, He can use me regardless of what search committees might say.” While these statements are not wrong on their face, they do lack understanding and call for me to repent of the foolishness of my youthful arrogance.
Today, I read an article from Tim Challies in which he advocates for professional training for ministers. This article along with the book I alluded to have prompted me to make a few direct statements and an apology related to seminary education.
- Seminary cannot hurt you. If simply discussing theology of various stripes damages your faith, it wasn’t very strong to begin with and you’re overestimating your resolve grow and develop on your own.
- Seminary requires you to submit to authority, a great training ground for ministers. Everyone needs to be under authority. That is a biblical principle and a practical reality. Your self-paced, self-guided education may be an indicator of an unwillingness to “yoke up” with a discipler.
- You will learn more in higher education than you would discipline yourself to learn without it. This should be self-explanatory, but few people study cross discipline without a reason. (i.e. most bible students don’t love the idea of studying physical sciences, statistics, algebra, English, or Spanish, etc.
- You are not as smart as you think you are. The value of higher education is it teaches you to know what you don’t know. It is not about indoctrination but inspiration to think and consider truth.
- You are more missionally effective with an education than without. Just because you’re educated doesn’t mean you have to display your erudition in every conversation; however, no one goes to a surgeon who watched YouTube on surgery and opened a practice. They go to a surgeon who was educated, trained, supervised, and has experience. Why would we think it works differently in the pastorate?
- A high calling requires deep training. I thank God for Dr. Dunavant, a pastor and mentor to me for a season. He shared that truth with me when I was discouraged because I was “only” doing itinerant preaching and wondered why no church had called me to be their pastor.
- Thinking is DIVINE STEWARDSHIP for all and to some particularly. In our emotionally driven, self-absorbed culture, we desperately need men who have spent time thinking about life, God, people, theology, ideas, implications of ideas and actions, etc. Jesus gave us a brain…we must use it if we recognize stewardship as essential in our faith.
Finally, I am not arguing that there are no exceptions or that a man cannot go into pastoral ministry without a formal education. In fact, there are times when that might be exactly what God prescribed…but I would contend that this is the EXCEPTION, not the RULE.
As for me, I have repented of making light of thinkers and educated people. Sure…my quips about such people may gain a smile from the crowd and perhaps a few misdirected “amens,” but the heart behind those statements is wicked and boastful. Do I still think some educated people are foolish in their thinking? Sure. I’m foolish in my thinking now and again…and such thinking requires correction and adjustment. I will still refer to “Dr Fluffyhead” as the foolish professor who has determined there is no God as a fool and someone who needs to leave his office more. (Psalm 14:1) But, my objection is not his education nor is his education the cause of his wrongheaded thinking. He just needs to be educated further by an encounter with Jesus. (Hey, it worked for the Apostle Paul).
So, if you’re a pastor or if God is dealing with you about ministry…go and commit to learn your craft as a minister approved by God and a steward of what He has entrusted to you. Your preparation is not wasted but required. The responsibility is tremendous and the honor of shepherding God’s people is great!