I received a Facebook message today from a children’s pastor with an interesting question. His church was encouraging him to pursue a seminary degree, but he wasn’t convinced it was necessary. As he looked over the landscape of ‘successful’ children’s ministry professionals, he saw many (including me) whom he didn’t think had seminary degrees, and that didn’t seem to hinder their success in ministry. I won’t list those he mentioned, because he was wrong in assuming that I don’t have a degree, and I wouldn’t want to make the same mistake by stating publicly that someone else doesn’t have a degree if indeed they do.
I actually have a Bachelor’s Degree in Bible Theology from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois, and a Master’s Degree in Children’s Ministry from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, but that isn’t the point.
The point is that this children’s pastor poses a great question. I wanted to share here some of what I shared with him, in case others are wrestling with that difficult decision.
Getting a degree is difficult when you are in full-time ministry! As one who has pursued my education while in ministry, I know it is very hard but also extremely valuable. I saw how disconnected the academic work could be from the practical side of ministry, and yet the biblical foundation was essential and critical. Too many pastors desperately need it. If a good school is not near your church, one good option is an online school such as Children’s Ministry University Online, www.cmuo.com, where I have served on the faculty. I only stepped down from my role there when my plate got too full.
As I said to this children’s pastor, yes, it is true that a lot of people you see with ‘success’ have done so without a degree. But if your church is encouraging you to pursue your degree (as did one of mine), and if they are willing to help FUND that pursuit (as did mine), I would take advantage of that! When I started my Master’s degree, I did not see the value of it as much as I do now. I was receiving invitations to speak places and starting to be a published author, and I thought, “Why do I need a degree?” (I was in my 20’s.) But by the time I had earned my degree, I was hearing more and more, “Why should we listen to this guy?” They started asking about my credentials, and the older I get the more they look at my degrees, especially when I am asked to speak on college campuses – suddenly a degree is very important!
Bottom line: Do you NEED a degree to succeed? No. You’ve seen that you need only to follow God’s calling. But if you have the opportunity for a degree, you should jump at it. It will be hard work, but it will enrich you. It will open more doors and gain more respect for you, as well as higher salaries in the long run and an edge over other candidates when applying for jobs, etc.
To have a church encouraging you to further your education is a blessing. I’d do it with gratitude, especially if they are willing to free up some time and provide some financial support to do it. What a great opportunity to invest in yourself as a person and as a minister. I say go for it! No one who got a higher education ever regretted it, and many who did not DID regret it.