“So, where did you go to school?” I am frequently asked that question. I distinctly hate that question. I am a pastor who does not have a seminary degree; not even a bachelor’s degree. My academic credentials are slim; an associate’s degree in business administration not church administration or Biblical studies. Yet it never fails, as soon as I inform someone that I am a pastor, they inevitably ask me what seminary I attended.
In the past I would try and make a joke about my lack of formal education. “Four years as an Army Infantryman was the best training for the pastorate I could have received!” The joke was a ruse; a transition springboard to another topic. No one has ever said, “WHAT?! You presume to lead and teach God’s people with no formal training?” But some people are surprised (maybe disturbed) that I don’t hold a seminary degree.
I hate the “where did you go to school” question not because I have disdain for education; the reason is that I wish I had gone to school. I enjoy learning. I enjoy the classroom. I love to read; specifically non-fiction: historical, biographical, and theological works.
Why then have I not gone to school? That is a long, boring story, but this is the gist of the tale. For almost nine years I was personally discipled and trained for the ministry by my pastor. Seven and one half of those years were spent as his assistant on the pastoral staff. During that time I was to Pastor Darrell what white is to rice; I went where he went, did what he did, and studied what and how he studied. I was his apprentice as we ministered together in a vibrant, healthy church. I was learning first-hand what it meant and what it took to pastor such a church. From my teacher I learned the absolute necessity of Biblical exposition and the careful, hard work that exposition necessitates. He modeled, taught, and equipped me to be Biblically grounded and focused.
As far as I was concerned, the best way for me to prepare for the ministry was to continue doing what I was doing. During that time I did attend the local community college. I wanted to earn some college credits and use my GI Bill money before I lost it. My desire, and my plan, is to continue with my formal education. For over three years I pastored a small church in west-central Indiana, and now I’m the associate pastor of the Rodgers Baptist Church in Garland, TX.
Blogger Dr. Jim West had also responded to this question in a post he entitled “What Happens When Your Church Calls a High School Drop-out?” He had written the post in light of then recent events surrounding churches that were enduring humiliating and devastating circumstances related to pastors who had either not been educated and/or who had lied about their education. It was Dr. West’s opinion that ordination should require “at the very least a college diploma and then a few years from now a Master’s degree”. Dr. West contended that until formal education is required before men are ordained and allowed to pastor churches “members will continue to be taken advantage of by ill-informed, ignorant ministers who are in the ministry, frankly, because they are too lazy to do anything else (include learn).”
Now remember, I’m not against formal education. I’m not suspicious of the “university”; however, I cannot agree that a “college diploma” or a “Master’s degree” be a pastoral requirement. Why? Because I don’t find that qualification in 1 Timothy 3:
“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.”
Nor do I find it in Titus 1:
“If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.”
In response to one of my comments, Dr. West assured me that formal education was a Biblical requirement for a pastor. He cited 2 Timothy 2:15: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
I never knew that verse was referring to a Seminary degree, or at least to some kind of degree, and I told Dr. West as much. To which the good doctor replied:
“One cannot be described as ‘diligent’ if one doesn’t invest the time, money, and effort to achieve the highest standard of accomplishment in one’s chosen pursuit. Hence, it is utterly appropriate to say that one doesn’t really love one’s field if one doesn’t learn as much as they can about it. Therefore, study and diligence are two sides of the same coin.”
Yes, study and diligence are opposite sides of the same coin, but that coin is not minted by the education department. Not only should a pastor but all Christians must diligently study scripture in order to approvingly live scripture. Bible and Seminary degrees are helpful, but are they necessary? The answer is no.
I understand that some men in the ministry wear their ignorance like a badge of honor. Those men should be avoided, and so should the men who glory in their education. There are still others who receive degrees from a Christian “college”, and that degree is worth only the cost of the paper on which it is printed. And I like what Jerry Vines said about honorary doctorates: “They are like a pig’s tail; all style and no pork.”
It is ignorant to glory in stupidity. It is arrogant to assert only the formally educated should pastor.**Please note** This was originally written about four years ago. I’ve always liked this essay, and decided to re-post it with just a few modifications. Unfortunately the links to Dr. West’s post and the article which fueled it are no longer available. You’ll find my original post here.