Why am I thinking about getting an education (again)?

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“Why don’t you just go to seminary? You’ve got the mind for it, and you could probably get it done without too much difficulty.”

I’ve had that conversation a lot over the last few years. And I’ve had it at least a couple of times over the last few months.

As some friends know, I’ve long had a love/hate relationship with the idea of seminary. I love learning, I love the Bible, and I love learning about theology from older, wiser people. Years ago, thanks to iTunes U, I listened to a number of courses from RTS and loved it. To this day, I’m still feeling the influence of those lectures.

But there are other things that make me nervous about going to seminary. The potential for crushing amounts of debt is absolutely terrifying to me. On top of that, I have the added problem of only having a 3-year diploma, rather than a bachelor’s degree. This, as you can imagine, has the potential to limit my options pretty drastically. And then there’s also my need to maintain my job in order to provide for the needs of my family…

So why am I here once again thinking about this?

Am I foolish? Maybe. Probably.

But there are a few really practical reasons for it, but the biggest is simply this:

There are real limits to what I can do without a formal education.

I’m not an education snob by any means. I don’t believe a degree makes one person more qualified than another. I know of many journalism majors who are actually pretty terrible writers. I know of graphic design grads who have no visual sensibility. And I know of men with PhDs in theology who most assuredly don’t know Jesus.

But the fact is, I do run up against barriers because I don’t have a formal education. Sometimes it’s a knowledge gap issue for me (which I usually resolve by reading more books). There are also the limitations on where I could go in terms of service in a church, depending on the leadership’s position on whether or not an M.Div is required for pastoral ministry (that’s not me saying I’m planning to move in that direction, by the way).

But I also have the challenge that sometimes my position—no matter how well reasoned it may be—essentially amounts to being just my opinion in the eyes of some. It’s not that this happens often (by and large, I tend to deal with people who are very humble and open on these matters), but it does happen. And, as you can imagine, it can be incredibly frustrating, especially in those times when it really matters.

From a positive perspective, though, I’d be interested to see what kind of doors a formal education could open for me. Would it be beneficial to me in my current job or in a future one? How would it shape my ministry within my local church and beyond? Would it allow me to help people know and love Jesus to a greater degree than I can now?

These are some of the questions I’m wrestling with right now, even as I send off emails to various schools (including RTS and Covenant Theological Seminary, which seem to have the best online/distance programs available) to see what possibilities exist for a guy in my position.

What do you think: Does a degree matter? Have you thought about going to seminary? What factors played a part in your decision?


Photo credit: kern.justin via photopin cc

  • Kim Shay

    I think when others see that you have completed a course of study, they know you have the longevity to finish something, and that can add to your credibility. I, myself, have plans to attend seminary when I am able simply because I learn better in an environment which expects something from me. Having to complete things and receive evaluation is its own kind of incentive. And also, the fact of the matter is, when others around you have advanced degrees in a job situation, you are competing with them. I know a young man who went to Mohawk for engineering, and could not find a job after graduation because all of the other competitors had degrees. He’s in Macmaster now, getting his degree.

  • Chris T

    My path is just different than yours, Aaron. I have always felt called to lay ministry. Several people over the years have asked if I have considered going to seminary to be a pastor. I always listen because God may be trying to tell me something through them. But I have felt a peace concerning where I am now (Business Manager of a church where I also get to do some ministry).

    A few years back, I was speaking with a pastor about seminary. He said that only 1/3 of those who were attending the seminary he had graduated from felt called by God to be there. That was a startling statistic although I am not completely sure of its accuracy. If you feel God leading you in this direction, or that you need further education to accomplish the purposes God has set before you, then this is what you need to do. Keep praying, pursuing, discerning.

  • Neal

    I go to RTS currently, and I am 98% confident they have a program for people without a 4-year undergraduate degree that allows you to still go for a Masters.

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Bad news—they’ve informed me that they do not. Bummer.

  • Clay Kraby

    Hi Aaron – I was in a very similar situation over the past few months. With plenty of reasons not to (job, young children, finances, etc.) my wife and I determined that seminary was something I needed to pursue in order to obedient to God’s call on my life and to move towards full time ministry.

    We have heard many stories of how God has provided in incredible ways for people in this same situation, and my wife and I have already seen Him moving in many different areas as we prepare to relocate and transition to being a full-time student.

    I will be attending RTS Orlando starting in August, and I would encourage you to continue processing what God might have for you in the future!

  • http://www.churchthought.com Matt Steen

    When I graduated college with a youth min degree, I swore I was never going back. You see where this is going. Since that time, I have been able to serve in all sorts of ministry roles, planted a church, and did a bunch of other cool things… while avoiding seminary.

    About three years ago I started seriously considering seminary (it had to be a Holy Spirit thing, it definitely wasn’t a Matt thing). The more I prayed through it, and worked through it with my community, the more I realized that this is something that I need to be doing. This is not about me going back on a church staff, or being a senior pastor one day… it has nothing to do with me getting a job. The key driver for me is having the opportunity to wrestle through my theological framework in order to better know, and communicate, what it is that I believe. Will this help me on the other side of this journey? Perhaps. I, like you, am uncertain whether I will pastor a local church again, but I do know that this experience is a big deal for me from an obedience standpoint, and an understanding standpoint.

    The fact that I am also picking up an MBA while I pursue an MDiv will give me options job wise, and gives me the paper on the wall, but this is more about developing even more confidence in my understanding of God.

    That said, I do not do well in distance learning environments, so I moved halfway across the country to go to school full-time. Some people thought I was crazy (you’re how old?), but it has proven to be a good decision, and the school has helped find creative ways to finance this whole thing. You might be surprised by the options available to the “non-traditional student.”

    If I can help you think through some of this, let me know… it sounds like you are about to step out into an exciting journey.

  • doughibbard

    Aaron, I just finished a 12 year odyssey in finishing the Master of Divinity.

    Here’s what I’ll say:

    It’s worth doing, because the problem with the self-education is that we tend to read lopsided. To illustrate this, take any theological point of view that you already hold. You’ll find that much of your reading, even out of that area, comes from people that hold that view. You’ll find yourself reading (as an example) 75% of your history from Presbyterians or 80% of your worship studies from guitar players–because that’s who you know you can trust, rather than being forced out of that zone.

    It’s very helpful to have someone forcing you to read outside your normal loop, even if you disagree with what you’re reading. Plus, there are the benefits of having completed the work. The greater benefit is that relationships that you pick up on the way.

    As to the challenges, find the balance in a slow, steady pace and meeting what you are already doing: family, work, writing. That may be a challenge, but it’s a worthwhile one.

    I think there are some places that allow for a transitional program from non-degree holder into the Master’s world, but you have to seek that out. I’ve got a friend that’s doing so. The other thing to consider is that most seminaries don’t require “related” work in undergraduate–so you could find a local college, work toward a BA in almost anything (driven by either availability or by employment thoughts) then turn toward the seminary process.

    But it’s worthwhile to do. I’ve been there, thought about not doing, taken years off (started in residence at one school, finished with a distance program elsewhere).

  • Amber

    From a writing perspective, I asked a good friend who is a senior editor if she thought a MDiv would be helpful to an author to get published, and she said yes. She said if it’s an unknown author, it is helpful to know where the person is coming from and that their name could hold legitimacy.

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Yep, that’s definitely one of the other reasons I’ve been thinking about it. Being a lay theologian potentially limits those opportunities.

  • Bryan Spurgeon

    Brother, this online (FREE) school sounds perfect for you! Let me know what you think!!! The North American Reformed Seminary http://www.tnars.net/