Before I articulate what I have been thinking about recently, I need to put in a small disclaimer before I launch into my thoughts:
I am not against formal education. I am still working on two degrees presently.
I have dealt with this issue many years ago and now I am seeing the same dynamic all over again. When I first dealt with this dynamic back in 1987 shortly after my conversion, I was able to articulate my thoughts verbally with several different people. Now 20 years later and the internet and blogging are very viable forms of communication, I felt that since I was experiencing some of the same feelings, thoughts of 20 years ago, that I might be able to articulate what I was thinking and write about it.
Shortly after my conversion in 1987, I noticed within our church that there was a great deal of emphasis placed on education. I did not see anything wrong with it, but it raised the question “What does someone with a degree have that I do not have?” I felt that there was an extreme bias against people who did not pursue some form of higher education (college). Our pastor said that it was good for every young person to go away to Bible college for at least one year. I eventually went to Bible College in 1988 and graduated in 1992. I had a good college experience and felt that I was prepared for the next step in life. The Lord did not see fit to allow me to enter full-time ministry immediately after college in 1992. I was working a good secular job in Jacksonville, FL and felt that it was best to stay put in that job and in the local church where I was serving at the time. There was a sense of frustration that I felt because I was told indirectly that in order to be considered credible, that “I needed to attend Bible college”. Now that I had finished college and graduated, the next dilemma that I faced was that I was too young and had no experience. My mother was converted shortly after I graduated from college and not understanding some of the “politics” and the “unwritten” and “unspoken” rules of the IFB world, could not figure out why I was not in full-time ministry somewhere. Unfortunately, she passed away last year and those questions were never answered for her. She had also left an IFB church because of the nepotism and politics that she saw repeatedly.
In 1999, I was offered a position with an IFB mission agency. I accepted it by faith knowing that I would give up a lot of perks to accept this position. After a while, I noticed that ministry in some ways was no better than the secular world. I saw more backbiting and backstabbing in the three years than I had ever seen. Maybe I was guilty of having unrealistic expectations, but at the same time, I expected the ministry to be a different place and at this point it was not that. It was slowly sapping the life out of me and I again grew frustrated because I felt like I was trapped in a position that I was starting to hate because of the micro-management that I was serving underneath. My experience was not totally negative, I learned a lot about myself and about people during this time. I was able to meet some of God’s choicest servants and gleaned a great deal of experience in many different areas. I left the position and organization in a better standing than I had inherited three years prior.
Shortly after the 9/11/2001 attacks, the Lord started to work in my life and make it known that I needed to consider the possibility of returning to graduate school to further my education and make a fresh start. I resigned my position and moved in August, 2002. It was a tough move to make because I had been in the same church and location since 1988, but in retrospect, it was a move that was needed.
Now that I have been here for a few years, I am now seeing some of the same dynamics that I saw 20 years ago and I am starting to feel some of the same frustrations that I felt in 1987 and again in 1999-2001. No one has said anything verbally to me, but it is all in attitude and actions. I am seeing a dynamic where I do not feel that I possess any credibility unless I have a degree (in this case a graduate degree).
Here are some reasons or things that have struck me in this line of thought:
- There are not many people in seminary who are serving full-time on a church staff or pastoring as their sole source of income. Rewind a few years and most people in seminary were in full-time ministry.
- Students have to fulfill different requirements including an internship before graduation. During this time, as an intern, one is called upon to do various things and is given the opportunity to preach (never on a Sunday morning), etc. But once the internship is complete, the opportunities are not as frequent to serve and then you are left with the thought, “Was I asked to preach because they wanted to hear what I had to say or were they just fulfilling a requirement?” I completed a evaluation form and said “The true test of the internship will be if any of the interns will be used in ministry within the body outside of the scope and requirements of the internship”
- If men who are studying for the pastorate are expected to know and to be able to do certain things, then why is it that most churches will never ask a seminarian to preach for them on a Sunday morning? Are they endued with special power once they receive the M.A.T degree or MDiv degree? We expect them to be competent once they graduate, but greatly limit how they can serve in the body of Christ? They are expected to be able to do everything within a local church context, but are never given the opportunities to hone those skills. It seems as if once the degree is completed, that suddenly doors of opportunity swing widely open for those who have completed and that those doors are not available to those who are still plodding away.
- It has been said and repeated dozens if not scores of times. “You will never go to a big church” I hear that and I sometimes chuckle. What is a big church? The church I am currently a member of runs about 600-700 and that is small in comparison to the two previous churches that I was a member of. One church averaged over 4000 in Sunday attendance and the other well over 1000-1200 in attendance. I also think of men like Spurgeon who preached to crowds of thousands at the Metropolitan Tabernacle and yet he was mocked and ridiculed. I think of Tom Messer who had no pastoral experience and in his first pastorate was called to a church of over 3000 people at the age of 33. I know that people have good intentions, but are they trying to set us up to look for the smaller church? Some people thrive in a small church under 100, others do better in a larger setting.
- I came out of the radical, pragmatic wing of the IFB world, but being away from it for five years has made me appreciate being away from the Finneyesque style of revivalism, the end justifying the means theology, and the KJVO crowd. Seminary has been good for me and it has allowed me to see many things, and I am puzzled as to why these thoughts and frustrations from the pragmatic side are coming back. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that our church is in the process of looking for another pastor and I went through this process in 1992 when I was a member of another church and how that process was so “political” in nature and mishandled by the deacons and pulpit committee. Our current situation is good, there is a good spirit in the church, but yet we have only been without a Senior Pastor since the end of May.
- Does a position automatically grant someone credibility? I have seen people rise up out of obscurity to serve in positions of leadership and have watched them obtain almost instantaneous credibility by the sheer nature of the position/office that they occupy. It runs against what I was taught that respect, honor, and credibility are things that can never be expected but they are earned over a period of time.
- I have been taught that you never seek a position, etc. Then the tension arises, “How are people going to know who you are, etc. if you keep your mouth shut all the time?”
What I have said may not make sense to anyone reading it and it might get me into trouble possibly. I am really not worried about getting into trouble because I felt that this would be a better way to express what I am feeling and thinking, rather than trying to verbalize it to someone who may or may not understand what I am experiencing at this present moment. I may choose to write further about this subject or this could be the only post that I write.
In spite of my present “frustrations” and emotions, I must remember:
And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. – Galatians 6:9 NKJV