As someone who comes from Pentecostal circles it was a struggle for me to make the decision several years ago to pursue a path in academics. I have heard many a sermon demeaning Christians who attempt to “reconcile the gospel with the wisdom of the world”. It almost felt naughty to ask certain questions and to discuss certain possibilities.
I think it was a fair warning from my Pentecostal friends nevertheless. As I noted in a comment on the post that JohnDave Medina wrote this morning, regarding whether or not the anti-intellectual element of Christianity can do good exegesis (read it here), this is a mixed bag for me. I have seen many brilliant people who make terrible Christians. I read the writings of plenty of scholars who must be respected as academics, but they do not understand the gospel nor the mission of the church.
Yet what the church doesn’t realize is there is something very, very beneficial about receiving vocational training for something like the pastorate. Yes, the education is a good thing! It can actually benefit the churches being served by those who took the time to prepare academically.
One area of importance is vocational endurance. This morning Marc Cortez mentioned an article by John Ortberg where he says he read that ninety-percent of those who go into vocational ministry will leave it for another occupation (likely an inflated statistic). Marc notes that this is far from true regarding seminary graduates (read Marc’s commentary here). According to the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) it has noted that most seminary graduates stay in vocational ministry. Also, Marc notes that the Auburn Center did a study confirming this (see here) where only five percent left after the first five years and ten percent after ten years. Of course, as with any statistic, we must take this with a grain of salt realizing these things are very complicated and there is always a lot of data that lies beneath the surface not fully examined. That being said, it seems that there is a striking increase in longevity amongst seminary graduates trained for vocational ministry in juxtaposition to the health of the vocation overall!
One thing that I appreciate about Western Seminary, where Marc teaches and I am a student, is that it is an educational institution that focuses on preparing people for the pastorate and other church ministry functions. Even the more academically inclined amongst us do our thinking in the context of the church (even though I know some readers think I do no such thing). Seminary education is not all about whether or not you can explain the merits and demerits of the JEDP theory or the historical context of diaspora Jews in the Roman Empire to whom the Apostle Paul went first in his mission. That is important, sure, but if you are going into ministry to serve the church it is secondary.
Therefore, a seminary education is a very, very good thing because I think the statistics show a couple of things (my interpretations): (1) Seminarians tend to be more prepared for the challenging valleys of ministry. (2) The investment is often made before there is any return; therefore, you don’t usually see seminarians going into seminary, paying 30K + on a degree, in order to become money-makers and culture’s movers-and-shakers. Rather, seminarians go into their programs to be better prepared to feed the flock of God and because they actually shake a little bit at the thought of ruining people’s lives as misguided pastors due to lack of preparation. Remember, it is often the case that seminarians will learn from people who have been at this vocational ministry thing for some time and they don’t just talk theory!
So I said all that to say that I am glad to hear seminary seems to produce people with vocational endurance, and I want to encourage all those seminarians who went to difficult route when they saw some of their more talented peers go big quickly, it was wise to prepare yourself for the long journey ahead!