Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Seminary or not

It's funny that I've often been accused of being anti-education because of some comments I've made about a seminary education. As many of you know, I began my pastoral ministry with no education beyond high school, and I did not follow a normal ministry education track.

About 18 months after beginning my ministry I began to attend a Bible college about an hour from my house. Although it was a two year program I needed four years to complete it as I was working a full-time job and pastoring a church besides attending school and being a husband and father. When I completed that program I enrolled in a university, also about an hour from our home, and spent the next seven years earning a bachelor's degree. I sat out five or six years before beginning a master's program, and then I followed that with a DMin degree which I completed when I was 62 years old.

The truth is that I sometimes wish I had sought even more education, maybe a PhD or a ThD so that I could teach in seminaries or Bible colleges now that I am retired. Although I have 35 years of practical ministry experience as both a bivocational pastor and a judicatory leader, I do not have the education that these schools seek in their instructors.

However, that is not the only reason I wish I had pursued additional education. While in Bible school I fell in love with learning. I learned to love the reading, the study, the writing of papers, especially in the postgraduate studies. I was able to go deeper in my understanding of the Scriptures and the ministry through my studies.

Although my education experience was not the norm, there were some advantages in doing it the way I did. I never incurred any student debt as I was able to cash flow my education since it took me so long to complete each of my degrees. In college I enrolled in General Studies which meant I did not have to take specific courses to complete a major. That gave me great freedom to take courses I thought would be most helpful to me and fewer courses that were required to complete a major or minor. Rather than earning an MDiv I enrolled in a MAR program with an emphasis in leadership. Again, a much more practical program for a bivocational minister (and for many other pastors as well IMHO).

I've written in this space recently about how ministry is going to change in the future, and one of my prayers is that seminaries are looking now at how to best prepare their students for these changes. I am concerned that many seminaries are now preparing people for a ministry that will not exist in a few years.

Do I believe that pursuing a ministerial education is a good thing? Absolutely, but don't think you have to follow an educational path that might have made sense in the 1950s but might not be the best one for you to take today. Also, do not limit your education to formal degree programs. Young ministers today must accept the fact that they will be lifelong learners if they are to remain effective in ministry.

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