Qualified or Not?

“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.

Oh boy!

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.

All of the above was stated in order to ask this question: Does one need a degree to be a pastor? IX Marks has a response from Dr. R. Albert Mohler to this very question.

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.

 

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About Travis

Christ follower. Husband of one woman. Father of three young men. Pastor. Former 11B. Blessed to pastor the Bible Baptist Church of Mount Vernon, KY.
This entry was posted in Education, Ministry, Pastor(s) and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Qualified or Not?

  1. Estelle says:

    Well, as a congregant at Rodgers Baptist Church, I believe you do a mighty fine job being a pastor. 🙂 Do you not have a personal relationship with the Lord? Is He not your Teacher? Remember that Moses was educated in matters of Egypt, but God taught him matters of His people, Israel. Remember that Jesus had a problem with Pharisees, who were “educated” with the laws of Moses and supposedly taught these very laws, but they still had dark hearts and were blind in their conceit, not able to spiritually discern and apply those laws as Jesus taught them.
    From what I’ve observed over the years, that piece of paper declaring you capable (in any area) does not always mean you are. This is true in engineering, medicine, law, etc, as well as seminary.
    You’ve proven able to take THE textbook of all textbooks (the Bible) and apply that in ways that brings glory to Jesus, comfort to the hurt, understanding to the lost, and encouragement of change to the complacent.
    Perhaps you do have a long way to go, I personally wouldn’t know that; but I believe that you’ve gone far to prove God’s capability through you in your qualifications to pastor a church, with or without your diploma or certification.
    Also, remember 1 Corinthians 1:24-31
    “…But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yeah, and things which are not. to bring to naught things that are:
    That no flesh should glory in his presence.
    But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:
    That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”
    Blessings be unto you, Brother Travis.
    Estelle
    🙂

  2. David Pitman says:

    I agree! It is amusing to see the arrogance from others who think you a) did not attend school,b)did not attend the “right” school, c) did not attend “enough” school or d) attended school at all. I have seen academic arrogance and the arrogance of ignorance. You just keep reading and learning.

  3. Travis says:

    Thank you for your comment, Lynn. I do not doubt my calling. This post was not about feelings of inferiority, shortcomings, or anything like that. I wanted to comment on a mindsets that a) believe “book learnin’ and study” are wastes of a pastor’s time, or b) are convinced that without a formal education one isn’t qualified, and c) those who hand out “degrees” and “doctorates” like candy at a (“like-minded”) parade.

    Thanks for reading and commenting, and 1 Corinthians 1:24-31 is one of my life verses!

  4. Greg says:

    Well said, Travis!

    The difference between you and the pastor who stands out as ignorant or arrogant might be that important phase of “mentor/disciple” that you describe… the mentor being a genuinely spiritual man like Darrell and the disciple being in voluntary submission to his mentor for an extended period of time, as you had been.

    You and Darrell captured the essence of genuine discipleship and church building by your example. I think it is exactly what needs to happen in every true church, anywhere in the world. There is no essential difference between what I am called to do in Mexico as a “missionary” and what any pastor is called to do in the US.

    We can all name examples of people older than us in the ministry who we look up to today because they have been hungry and diligent in their study of the Word; men without “credentials” who no one dreams of asking, “Where did you go to school?”

    Great essay and great testimony… Greg

  5. Totally agree bro! Lots and lots of seminary graduates say that seminary never really prepared them for the pastorate and ultimately cost them that role. I had bible school and on the job training much like you did, I would not have it any other way! Mentoring is the way to produce life long dedication and service. It was good enough for Paul and Timothy, I guess it’s good enough for me! By the way, which school did the Apostles go to? For some reason I cannot remember, lol! Oh wait, I remember now! They went to school with Jesus everyday! Praise God for what Bro. Darrell did for you man, I just wish more Pastors would plan to prepare the next generation as he did! Love ya Bro!

    Jeff Williams

  6. Roy Dearmore says:

    Bro. Travis,
    Excellent post. well balanced. I have seen a lot of “educated fools”. Some of the best Bible expositors I have known had very little post high school formal education and certainly no seminary. One of them of blessed memory was pastor Charles Thomas.
    Mentoring and hands on experience under a Godly (and preferably but not necessarily, well educated) man is an excellent preparation for serving the Lord. Tragically some pastors are not willing to mentor and teach.
    Although I hold an earned Bachelor of Theology (Worth Bible College – a local church operated school), Bachelor of Science (Texas Wesleyan University – that good “Baptist” school :0), Doctor of Medicine (University of Texas -Hook ‘Em Horns”), post-doctoral Master of Public Health in Tropical Medicine (Tulane University), I am not of the opinion that alphabet soup after your name has anything to do with being a good preacher, missionary or pastor. I have seen people that were ruined by secular education and others who were ruined by seminary and many that had nothing to ruin because they showed no evidence of a true call to the ministry, anyway! :o)
    A true divine call evidenced in the life of the person and a willingness to study, learn, work and profit by Godly advice from sound men with long experience are essential to a successful ministry. Formal education can be a great help or a devastating hindrance depending on the student and the source and quality of the education.
    1. No person should pursue education in a public university who is not well grounded in the faith and able to give an answer.
    2. Many preachers who are firm in the faith could profit greatly by a secular education to improve their English, analytical thinking, organizational skills, study skills and patterns, writing skills and speaking abilities.
    3. Secular skills (medicine, teaching, building, administration, finances and economics, etc.) can contribute greatly to ministry especially on the mission field.
    4. Honorary degrees _ there is only one honorary degree that is worthy of respect if given for the proper reasons: the Doctor of Divinity. It is supposed to be given in recognition of demonstrated abilities and contributions to the Lord’s work, as a mark of esteem and appreciation of a qualified person (especially by experience).
    5. I agree on paper mill diplomas – “Doctorates”, even Ph.D.’s with little or no studies or work are a farce.
    You are an able expositor of the Word. Keep studying. God bless.
    Roy F. Dearmore, M.D.

    • Travis says:

      Bro. Roy, I think your comment is spot on and appreciated. Thank you for your comment, and especially for your faithfulness in service to our Lord.

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