Wednesday, April 4, 2007

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 associates 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. Currently, I am pastoring a small church in central Indiana. I work part-time to supplement my income. This makes it more difficult to enroll in classes. Plus, every year my children get closer to college themselves (funny how that works). I have an ethical dilemma with taking their money and using it for me.

All of the above was stated in order to ask this question: Do you 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 has also responded to this question in this post entitled "What Happens When Your Church Calls a High School Drop-out?" (Read this article for background on West's blog-post.) It is 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 contends 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 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.


Jim said...

Hello Travis!

Nice post. Given the choice, and supposing you had to choose, who would you rather have as your pastor? Someone stupid, or someone snooty?

(re: your last sentence)

Best as ever!


Anonymous said...

Dr. West needs to listen to you preach a message from God's Word.
I don't think he would be able to say after that that you shouldn't be a pastor if you haven't been to seminary!
God uses the ordinary all the time. Not just the well educated and most articulate. You do not have to be educated to the hightest level for God to use you.

Travis said...

Dr. West,

I appreciate your visit to the Oxgoad. I admit that I don't like the options you present: the stupid or the snooty pastor. (I wonder, is the alliteration purposeful or accidental?)

Does the pastor meet the qualifications that Paul delineates to Timothy and Titus? I'm not impressed with the guy who ridicules "book learnin'", nor am I drawn to a church because "Dr." prefaces the pastor's name on the church sign. Which is worse: a knife wound (stabbed) or a gunshot wound (shot)?

You were painting with a Texas sized brush in your post. Not every ordained man who lacks a formal education is a "Dr." Jerry Johnston. As important as education is, I believe it to be presumptuous and dangerous to require it for ordination. Presumptuous to assume no man can or should pastor without a degree; dangerous because scripture does not list such a requirement.

David Pitman said...

I agree with your exemption from formal training but I would consider it an exemption.

Jim said...

Hello again Travis!

First, Jim is fine. No need for formality among friends.

Second, obviously my intention was to oxgoad you into a choice that was clearcut - though such clearcut choices never exist in real life. We can sometimes learn more from the stark choices than we can from the gray.



jps said...

I would not say you were untrained. You mention that you spent 9 years in training with another pastor. You also mention that you learned the value of biblical exposition. Is that not training?

Far more important than a degree is the attitude of life-long learning. Far too few seminary graduates have that. If you have the drive to learn, it doesn't matter whether or not you have a degree.

Just an idle musing...


Anonymous said...

Does the Holy Spirit require a degree to be used by Him? Do you have to have a degree to translate Gods word? For Him to use you in the ministry to preach or teach Gods word? If that is the case then the church needs to fire a bunch of Sunday School teachers and a lot of excellent preachers!
You are an excellent preacher so I wouldn't worry about what the "educated" say!

Brian Krumnow said...

I am a licensed United Methodist local pastor. We have a system based on how Wesley trained frontier pastors in the US, called the Course of Study. It is essentially a compressed and accelerated seminary education, without any biblical language training, and with no degree. It does provide a pretty thorough grounding in basic biblical, historical, doctrinal, and theological issues.

I am also self-educated to a degree that probably exceeds a seminary education in some areas.

I don't think that education should ever trump fitness for ministry in other ways. There are always going to be small churches that need pastors. It just simply isn't practical to require all of those men to have degrees. That is no excuse for ignorance, but I think reality needs to be a factor as well.

Travis said...

Just so we are clear: I am not against the educated or institutions of higher learning. I think that all Christians should be learners, and that pastors in particular should be educated if at all possible. I have been blessed by and am the student of "the educated". This is not an "us" versus "them" discussion.

The point of this post is that I do not think a diploma or degree alone qualify and/or disqualify a man for the ministry.

Illinoisboy said...

I thank you rote a grate artucal en this won. i wuz reely impressd with yur posishun.
Seriously, the Holy Bible is our rule and guide for life. If there is a Biblical method for being trained for the ministry it is in a mentoring situation like you went through. Jesus chose 12 men and then he poured his life into them. He took what he knew and gave it to faithful men who could then teach others also. Then you look at Paul and he did the same with Timothy. You are right on in your stand. Something else I thougt of when I was reading your article and some of the posts. There were some men who spent some time with our Lord and the Bible says that some people saw that they were unlearned and ignorant men, but they took note of them that they had been with Jesus. Isn't that the real qualifier for ministry. Somebody needs to be able to see that we have been with Jesus.

Fresh Dirt said...

I think that you have a very good point regarding all of this. People need training-- formal or informal. The one thing that I would say is that by being trained primarily by one person, you only have the experiences and slants of that one person. Of course books and contact with others can help balance this out-- especially reading books from those who have a clearly different viewpoint. But overall, I agree with your premise.

Travis said...


This is true; my philosophy of ministry is heavily flavored by Darrell W. Sparks. Obviously, there are personality and stylistic differences between Darrell and I, but I am very much his 'disciple'.

I do try and read authors who are not just like me. Doing so forces me to think through what I believe and why.