Zeal without knowledge is a runaway horse. -English Proverb
From time to time I come across groups and individuals that downplay the need for ministers to have much education. I was once like that.
As a teenager, one of the influences on my life was the music, ministry, and life of Keith Green. He challenged me to not compromise my faith, to notice the lost, and to consider ministry and missions. In my final years of high school, I seriously considered skipping college and going right into ministry with Last Days Ministries, Keith’s legacy. After all, the need to reach the world was immense, and this ministry offered an immediate avenue to make a difference.
Wisely, my family gently steered me towards college. This included conversations with my parents and brothers, and even a phone call from a church friend who had gone to college before entering ministry. In part, they saw that my gifts and abilities included academic study. No doubt, however, they also recognized that I needed to learn a few things. I am forever grateful. Here are a fe of the reasons why.
I Didn’t Know What I Didn’t Know
We are probably all familiar with the tendency in our youth to believe we know everything -at least everything important. Without a heavy dose of exposure to the thoughts and experiences of others (both modern and historical), however, we are immensely limited in our thinking, Christian experience, and leadership capabilities. This was certainly true for me. The reality was that I didn’t even know that the breadth of knowledge available even existed. Education has provided me a foundational beginning point of knowledge with which to carry on my own understanding of the Bible, theological reflection, spiritual formation, and ministry. It has increased my repertoire of resources for helping others experience God, follow Christ, worship, and serve.
I think it was C. S. Lewis who quipped that there is a lot of flabby thinking among Christians. I concur. I know that my thinking skills needed a good bit of toning when I was young (they still do!). I remember defending foolish positions, making leaps of logic (and illogic), taking Scripture out of context, and using the Bible to support my pre-conceived theology rather than forming my theology from the Bible. My education challenged all these things. But more than that, it provided tools and practice in critical thinking so that I can continue to challenge and weigh my thoughts and those of others.
I left high school with a fairly decent ability to write (I co-won my school’s English award at graduation -if I might boast a bit). I attribute this ability to a challenging high school program, a heavy dose of personal reading, and an innate desire to write well. Regardless, my college and graduate school experience taught me that I still had a good bit of work to do in communicating well. While good writing (and speaking) includes grammar and form, much of it has to do with clarifying and honing one’s thoughts (back to the flabby thinking issue). It is also about being able to communicate those thoughts in a way that others can understand, follow, and apply. What I received in higher education was a constant challenge to better form and communicate my thoughts -something vital to teaching and preaching. I received this challenge nowhere else.
Does everyone need a college education to share the Gospel and live a good Christian life? Certainly not. Are there good pastors who love their flock and exemplify Christ without having even a high school education? Definitely. How much richer and effective, though, is the pastor who can, in the words of Wesley, combine both knowledge and vital piety. This has been my experience.