on the value of theological education

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?

13 responses to “on the value of theological education

  1. Brian, this is a great post especially your comments about your tradition’s historical downplaying of theological education. To this I say, “Gordon Fee didn’t turn out too badly did he?”

    Your reflections on Bible School and Seminary are spot on. Having begun in a BS and then studied at degree and post grad level the difference is amazing. I would say that BS teaches you what to believe where as a seminary education teaches you how to think for yourself, engage the arguments and come to your won conclusions. I also appreciate you picking up on the importance of character and spiritual development. So important as part of the ordination process.

  2. You are right, Mark – Gordon Fee is still one of the single most prominent New Testament Scholars in the world today, even this late in the game he’s written the definitive work on Pauline Christology, and in my opinion, his work on Pauline Pneumatology still stands above the rest.

    Funny thing is, his position on some “distinctives” in our movement vary slighty from the norm – not much to worry about really – but some less educated folk have tried to “confront” him on some of these issues publically! I mean, really, talk about ignorance, total disregard, and disrespect. gosh. Apparently this happend years ago at one of the General Councils. I was astonished when I heard about it. No wonder he moved to Canada and had his citizenship switched – he was so embarrassed.

    Thanks for the comments!

  3. Good thoughts, Brian – thanks for posting this. Pentecostal/charismatic movements have such a love/hate relationship with education. You have a really balanced view of all that – part love, part “suspicion.” To me, that’s a good thing…


  4. With all due respect to your analysis of Youth Ministry being the biggest waste of a degree, the fine (once called “Bible college”) institution associated with our denomination in the city where I pastor has a degree in “worship leading.” Really.

  5. Hey, thanks for the plug! Your article is excellent too. I hope you got my email and I’m going to be praying for you and the church plant there! Pray for us too!

    On a related note, “ouch!” to your comments about a youth ministry degree! I don’t have one, thankfully, but I’m sure glad I don’t now that I’ve come to the same conclusion that you have… though I’m not opposed to the study, just aware that most youth pastors are flipping burgers.

    Seminary needs to integrate practical experience as much as Practical Theology as a subject, IMO. I’m thankful that I was already pastoring while I finished my M.Div.

    Here’s a question: @ AGTS were you required to interact much with the Cessationist positions regarding the office of Apostle and what are your conclusions? We’re about to have that discussion over at ThinkTheology.org

    Love to read your thoughts…

    luke g.

  6. Yo, excellent post! I WISH I could go back to August 2001 and slap myself out of my STUPID youth ministry degree! I graduated from Philadelphia Biblical University and had the option to major in Business or do a co-op program in IT. Nope, I chose youth ministry.

    The crappy part about this degree is that I am loyal to one church because I firmly believe in their philosophy of ministry thus I refuse to go anywhere else. But this church has no youth ministry at all!!! And even if it did, there are plenty of men who are more qualified to lead in that area than myself.

    I had to get a job to support my wife and myself, so I took a temp job as an administrative assistant. Now that I am in the business world, I find that I love it. But I cannot get a marketing job because of my degree! Business would have put me in a much better position, PLUS we all had to take 52 Bible and Theology credits, so the business track would have been the smart thing to do even if I was interested in youth ministry.

    In the end, things really suck in my life right now. 3.5 years after graduating I only have the option to apply for entry level jobs because none of my jobs have been steady (usually temp jobs). Most people my age are able to apply for those marketing jobs that say 2-5 years of experience and a degree. I have to try to slip in the back through mail clerk jobs which usually end!

    {{{SIGH!!!}}} But I am headed back to school (trying to figure out how to survive for the next 3 years) for a degree in IT. THIS is actually a REAL degree.

    STAY AWAY FROM YOUTH MINISTRY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. N. Buck, thanks so much for commenting. I ma glad to see you are going back for a more useful degree. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with youth ministry per se, just a youth ministry degree. The ministry is needed, the degree is worthless. Press on my freind!

    If it will make you feel any better I have a non-certified teaching degree – without the certification, it too is next to worthless and I too am subject to either subbing or low level entry jobs (both low paying). Our pastorate does not pay, so I get to work as a janitor at a local hotel to make ends meet….

  8. 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).

    Perhaps, but I would hold that the one I went to sets a standard that is at least as high as a seminary. In fact, its undergrad is more academically rigorous than its grad school.

  9. Pingback: Is Seminary Worth It? : Part 1 » Doug Hankins : Into The World

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