A suitcase full of degrees

I once sat in a “congregational meeting” in which a preacher’s future was being discussed.  This situation involved an “independent” congregational polity (as is assumed by most Christian Church and Church of Christ groups … and, originally, the Congregational Church and presumably the Church of the Brethren and Freewill Baptists and many others). In this meeting, a man stood and proclaimed, “We don’t need no suitcase full a’ degreez ta preech da word a’ God!”  His statement seemed to be denying the value of education in preparing one for teaching a congregation from the Bible, but I think the words betrayed more than that—particularly, the man’s distaste for the preacher in question.  (The former hoped the latter would be let go.  Fortunately, the preacher wasn’t in the room at the time!)

I’m of two minds on the question of education and public teaching “ministry”:

ON ONE HAND, I affirm that a sound education in proper Biblical studies is helpful, if not essential, if one is going to be teaching.  In fact, I can’t imagine someone standing up, presuming to teach others, without having

  • delved deeply into biblical texts under the tutelage of someone more learned
  • recognized and developed some natural gift and/or training in communication
  • learned some Hebrew and/or Greek
  • come to understand hermeneutical principles, to some extent

These things are just some of the benefits of having studied the Bible formally—whether in a college/university or in some other setting.  I’m not dealing here with “religion” studies or “theology” studies as separate from “biblical studies,” because I frankly think religion and theology decrease decidedly in value when separated from biblical studies.  Studies in logic and rhetoric and communication and homiletics may also be of great aid, whether or not one has the natural giftedness in assembling and communicating instructive thoughts.

ON THE OTHER HAND, having been around for a while, I would call into question the value of some ministerial education.  Peripheral pragmatics seems to rule in so many “pastors'” vocational lives, and their “training” can end up having little to do with the activities with which their weeks are filled.

Actually, some of the better teaching ministers I’ve known of do not have PhDs.  A few icons in my own vocational field come to mind here, as well:  Bob Reynolds, Jerry Junkin, Gene Corporon, Allan McMurray, and Craig Kirchhoff.  None of these men earned a doctorate, yet their art, their craft, and their professional experience has justifiably earned them highest berths in the field of collegiate and professional wind band conducting (a field which all the newer-comers must have doctorates in order to enter, much less to succeed in).  It is not always a direct result of a set amount (or type) of education that one ends up being an exemplary leader.

What do you think?  Ever known a D.Div. or Ph.D. “pastor” that wasn’t as well-placed in his field as someone without a Bible or ministry degree at all?

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