“If you’re going to be a REAL pastor, you need to go to seminary.” I have several close friends who are doing effective ministry that have been told this by ineffective ministers. This begs the question, “If seminary makes me like you, why the heck would I want to go?” 8)
I’ve outlined my thoughts on seminary in a previous post (read it here). The bottom line is that I graduated from seminary with an M.Div. (Masters of Divinity), and I loved it. The other bottom line is that some of the best hires I’ve EVER made as a lead pastor have been people who did NOT go to seminary.
Recently I read these words from J. Oswald Sanders regarding Jesus’ “staff”:
When Jesus selected leaders, He ignored every popular idea of his day (and ours) about what kind of person could fit the role. Jesus’ band of disciples was untrained and without influence – a motley group for world change.
Any campaign for change today would have a star-studded cast of directors and advisers. In Jesus’ group, where was the prominent statesman, the financier, the athlete, professor, or acclaimed clergy? Instead, Jesus looked for a humbler sort of person, unspoiled by the sophistication of His day.
Jesus chose from the ranks of workers, not professional clergy. […] Jesus chose people with little education, but they soon displayed remarkable flair. He saw in them something no one else did, and under His skillful hand they emerged as leaders who would shock the world. To their latent talents were added fervent devotion and fierce loyalty, honed in the school of failure and fatigue.
The truth is that none of these guys were “ministry studs” when Jesus asked them to be on His team. They were just normal dudes… normal dudes who changed the world as they followed their Leader!
If you have a seminary degree, good for you. I celebrate the hard work you’ve done to earn that degree. Use what you’ve learned and don’t be ashamed of those letters behind your name. You earned them.
If you have a seminary degree, be careful that you don’t buy into the fallacy that it is necessary for every other pastor to have one too. It’s not. Don’t overlook the “mere fishermen” around you because they don’t have letters behind their names.
If you don’t have a seminary degree, do not allow this to stop you from pursuing ministry. If you’re called to ministry then get on with it! Find a mentor, a leader you trust and align yourself with him/her as much as possible. Read, study, do what you know and learn from your mistakes. One of the young, leading theological minds of today is Matt Chandler. Matt did not go to seminary and outlines his reason and respect for the institution in this blog post.
If you don’t have a seminary degree and want one, go for it. It’s a worthwhile investment. Know this though, going to seminary will only give you information. It will not take the place of a clear calling from God into ministry. It will not replace the anointing that God places on His called men and women. It will not replace a vibrant relationship with the Lord of the Church. A seminary degree will only give you tools. What you do with those tools depends on who you are, and that is largely determined before you enroll.
So, to all of you saying, “You’ve gotta have a seminary degree to be a pastor” – stop it.
To all of you saying, “I don’t need any degree… I’ve got a calling” – don’t write it off… you may find it useful.
And to all of you that have no “letters behind your name” that I’ve been privileged to serve with, thank you for ignoring the chatter of “lettered people”, following the heart of God, and changing lives through your passionate, committed, thoughtful leadership. I love you.