[This month we will be discussing the future of theological education on our blog. To read the introductory post go here: This Month’s Conversation: the future of theological education.]
As a young man I was a member of a Pentecostal Church in my hometown where the Senior Pastor told young men such as myself that showed some interest in serving the Church that the best thing we could do was develop a trade to sustain us and then either assist in an established Church or “plant” one ourselves. It was unthinkable to this man that someone who was seriously committed to serving the Church would spend too much time on their education. Maybe one can take a community college class or two, but overall education was more likely to corrupt pure faith than it was to establish and strengthen it. While I’ve never been an Ivy League student it is obvious from my current path in life that I disagreed with him and did so strongly. Now that I am not part of the Pentecostal circles in which this man lived I know for a fact (he has named me in his sermons in the past) that he sees me as a “case-and-point”. Go to college and apostatize!
Sadly, it isn’t just hyper fundamentalist, sectarian Pentecostals who downplay education. There are many Christians who do so either explicitly or implicitly. We have pastors spending thirty thousand dollars on their M.Div program who then oversee a Church of fifty who pays them a wage of forty thousand annually while some charismatic person uses crafty oratory and fancy stage antics to draw a crowd of a few thousand. One cannot enter the medical field this way or the study of law. Sadly, the “clergy” of our Churches can be more skilled as public speaking and community organizing and voilà! it would seem as if spending time and money in seminary was a bad idea.
So, why should we encourage our future pastors to give their time and money to educating themselves and why in biblical and theological studies? Would the best path be to “learn a trade” as my childhood pastor advocated? Would it be better to receive an education in something “secular” like business or law in order to have a “fall back” career if the pastorate doesn’t work?
If a young person asked you why they should or shouldn’t go to seminary of divinity school what would you tell them? Would you encourage them? discourage them? If so, what points would you make to persuade them?