I was thinking about education the other day – I guess I tend to do that a lot especially since I earned an Master of Divinity back in 2007 and and tend to think about what the next steps might be and when. I happen to be part of a fellowship that historically has played down the value of education and folks often warn their young people to stick close to Jesus and not lose faith, especially in “cemetary” or there are jabs about being a professional student when one seems to always be going to school. Well, I guess I missed all that because I went to seminary and really grew during the whole process.
I think there is value in a theological education. I even think it is good for everyone and not just those intending on going into “the ministry.” A theological education can and should be integrated into every area of life and not be limted to just “ministry” related avenues. Scientists, Doctors, Teachers, Lawyers, Business people, Social Workers, Counselors, Moms and Dads, and on and on, can all benefit from a theological education. Do we “have” to do it? No, but I think more people should think about it, especially Pastors, and especially Pastors in those groups that do not require the MDiv for ordination.
What are the benefits? Well, character development for one. Seminary is hard work and a masters degree (in any subject) is not easily earned, especially when one has to juggle life, school, work, family. Graduates are appropriately congratulated at commencement each year for a job well done. Is seminary the only way to develop one’s character? No, of course not. But I happen to think its one good way more folks should think about.
Spiritual formation is another benefit. In fact, I would say Seminary in and of itself is a means of spiritual formation. All aspects of it. From attending the classes, the engaging discussions, to doing the research and writing of papers, to the discipline of doing such. All these and more factor into the process of the spiritual formation gained through obtaining a theological education. Through the process of spiritual formation we come to know God and grow in our relationship with him in ways we hadn’t before realized. Is it the only way or even the best way to grow spiritually or grow in our knoweldge and understanding of God? No, of course not, but I think it is a good way. A really good way to grow.
Personal growth on a number of levels is another benefit. In many ways, this encompases the previous two benefits I noted. Going to seminary is not about being a professional student or trying not to work, or any such thing. It’s about personal growth and putting onself in a position to “move to the next level” in one’s vocational pursuits and abilities. I think the same is true of pursuing either the Doctor of Ministry (DMin) or the PhD.
To be truthful, a Bible college degree, while also valuable, can only take a person so far, vocationally and even personally.
I would say one difference between what goes on at a Bible school and what goes on at Seminary is the difference between encountering and engaging the biblical text (to use one example). In Bible school, you learn/encounter the content of the Bible and Theology (and ministry related issues). At the seminary level, you begin to engage the content of the Bible and Theology and critique it. You learn different theological perspectives and learn how to evaluate them and their usefulness. In some respects you even begin to learn how to “do” theology. You take it to the next level.
In fact, I personally do not advocate attending Bible School – I prefer to advise folks to either go to a Christian University or State College/University (with a Chi-Alpha of course!) and then later go to Seminary. This is not to put down Bible College, but practically speaking what can a person do with a Bible college degree? Not much really. In a lot of respects its pretty useless, especially for those interested in doing missions work or ministry in some avenue such as inner city ministry – and for Pete’s sake – whatever you do – PLEASE AVOID a degree in Youth Ministry. Good Grief – this has to be the biggest waste of a degree I’ve ever heard of. If you want to do cross-cultural missions, think more practically such as something in community development, nursing, or even water treatment. Even a computer focus can be more useful than a Bible degree.
The main reason to avoid a degree in Youth Ministry? Very few “youth pastors” are full time, if paid at all, and quite low pay at that – so what will you do to pay the bills? Bag groceries? It happens. Don’t let it be you. Instead, think about a teaching degree or more preferably a business degree, especially if you intend to become a lead Pastor or plant a church, etc. Most pastors start out in small churches where they do all the busy work of the church: the accounting, the organizing, the paying and managing of bills, the fundraising and so on (in fact small churches are the overwhelming majority). All of it. I can hardly think of a more useful degree for a future pastor than something in business.
So, I think a theological education is and can be quite valuable and can do more than just abut getting the degree or being that “professional student.” Think about it.
Luke over at Think Theology also has some great thoughts on theological education.
As does Bryan Lilly where he asks do pastors need seminary?