Do You Need Seminary To Succeed?

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.

Me and My Degree (and the Dew that got me through!)

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,, 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.

What are your thoughts on the subject of ministry and education?
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  1. When does education do anything but help a person. I think whenever any of us have the opportunity to further our education, that is the direction we should go. That is exactly what I continue to do myself, and even through one of the avenues you mentioned of CMUO.

  2. I’m so glad to hear you say it like that Karl. I have worked in Kids Ministry for 20 years and I have never had the finances, or opportunity to attend post secondary school. I am fortunate to have a Pastor that sees the anointing and calling on my life, so the my lack of formal education isn’t an obstacle for me to function where I am called – BUT.. I will say that my lack of formal education does close doors for me, and it does alter how people receive what I have to say – especially if they do have a degree. I am considering CMUO as an option as it might be my only one :) Thanks Karl
    .-= Nicki Straza´s last blog ..Inspired moments…. Yes You can! =-.

  3. I’ll throw out a different perspective. I worked at a church where a person with a seminary degree probably wouldn’t have gotten an interview. I’ll clarify that, they had nothing against education, but I’m sure you’ve heard the rumor that many seminary grads are so far removed from the culture of lost people that they unable to create a culture where lost people can connect. That’s the reason why they call it “cemetery”, right? The church I worked at actually wouldn’t not hire you because you had a seminary degree, but if that’s all you had without any kind of track record of leading in a culturally-relevant ministry, you wouldn’t have been considered.

    I have an undergrad in Christian Education. For that degree I got lots of Bible and Theology. I recognize that I’d get a lot more of that from seminary, but when it really comes down to doing my job better… as a children’s pastor… I really don’t see seminary as an answer. What to Children’s Pastors need on top of a good theological and biblical foundation? Leadership. Organization. Communication. You’ll get some of that from seminary, but not much. I’d always suggest a CP wanting more education to get Bible and Theology from a local or correspondence school and get their masters in organizational leadership, management or even Education. That’s what I did and I’m very happy.

    Ultimately, it always depends on the church you attend. Some churches want only Seminary. I do think the higher degrees almost always open doors, so education is always good. I just caution people to think through what education they want to get and how it best helps them to do their job better..

  4. Great post, Karl. This is something I have been wrestling with for years. There is no question that, with time and money, I would jump at the chance to finish my master’s and go on with a doctorate. I have been blessed beyond measure to teach at a secular voc-ed college because I met the state requirements. And then I got to teach at a local Bible college under my pastor’s credential…his doctorate made him the teacher of record, but I instructed the class. My lack of higher education has never been an issue in my current church.
    So why do I want to move on? Beyond the personal challenge, I think there are two reasons: 1) I want some kind of official recognition that I actually know something. I may have finished the equivelant of a seminary course, but I have no paper that says I did it. 2) It opens doors. My college teaching career was a matter of being available at the right time under the right circumstances. If I had gone in with just my resume, the lack of higher degrees would have led to a “thank you” and out the door.
    .-= Tim´s last blog ..CPC10: PICS, PEEPS, AND PARADISE (aka "Friends are Friends Forever") =-.

  5. How is success defined and measured with respect to children’s ministry? That could help answer his question.

  6. Glen, that is an excellent question – that is why I put ‘successful’ children’s ministry professionals in quotations because having notoriety is often confused with success.

  7. I have been in Children’s Ministry for 5 years paid and many years prior as a volunteer. God called me here and I listened.

    But about 2 years ago, I could only teach deeper by going to school and learning more. I teach several classes on a Sunday and one on Wed. night. I was feeling like I just couldn’t keep up with all the different teachings. So, I pursued my degree in Theology, got into the 3rd year and decided to take on Mission/Church Plant classes year 1. I work full-time, learning the classes, have aced most of those classes, grown in my own faith and watched my “kids” learn too, pursuing what God has called is better than trying to do it on your own!

    When I start looking at other jobs out there, a degree isn’t always necessary but it helps along with being out in the field. It also helps in the pay area and because I work in a main-line church and am not of this background, having the degree helps me to keep strong in my own faith.

  8. Karl Uncle Wilson was reading your blog and I was standing further back and thought the old guy in the background had a spiked up mohawk look to his hair. Whoa! Then I realized it was your tassle. Ha! Check it out from a distance! Love you, Aunt Linda xo

  9. You are so right! I know it’s not required to do a good job as a Children’s Pastor, but mine has come in as a great blessing a couple of times! If I had the opportunity to get more, I would! Once, I had someone try to usurp my position, it was obvious she wasn’t in the right spirit, but she had a following…once they realized the church had a Children’s Pastor in place with the proper training, she lost her followers because she didn’t. Plus, like you said, although it didn’t teach me EVERYTHING I needed to be an awesome Children’s Pastor, it gave me some basics that I will never regret having. Info that helped steer me away from Administrative and ministry blunders! That’s HUGE! You may be a natural teacher and think “What can I learn about teaching?” But it’s those Administration blunders that will take you down! I’ve seen fellow ministers go down for things I thought should have been basic knowledge for all in ministry….but it’s only basic to those who have been sat down and had it taught to them. Too many Youth and Children’s Ministers get their knowledge on the “fly”. Becareful of Satan, he carries a big fly swatter! Besides, teachers need to be teachable themselves……Meekness should be the attitude of every teacher!

  10. I’ve been a children’s pastor at a large church in Ohio for the past 20 years. I received a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. After teaching in the public schools, I chose to be a stay-at-home mom when children came along. When my youngest turned 3, I was invited to join the Christian education staff at our church on a part time basis. I did so and realized God had called me to this ministry!

    After I’d been in children’s ministry for several years, my brother, who is a Bible/Theo prof said to me, “Are you going to remain in Christian education?” I said I would. He replied, “Then be the best Christian educator you can be. Go get your masters degree.” I decided to do that, and have been very glad that I did. It increased my knowledge and enriched my ministry greatly.

    I’m working on my doctorate in Christian education now. Talbot School of Theology (on the campus of Biola University) has a wonderful program, in which you do work during the year and only have to be on campus for a week in January and the month of June. I recommend it highly.

  11. I got my M.Div. from BBS in Clarks Summit Pa. It was totally worth it. I’m finding more and more that digging into the details of scripture helps generate creativity AND be better suited to make it simple when teaching-especially the Old Testament. The Bible depth is huge, as well as the ministry experiences by the profs was a huge help.

    It’s not the degree but the disciplship you get from it that matters. If you can, do it. Be warned and count the costs, it’s hard.

  12. When I was looking for a University, I was looking for somewhere I would not have to be on campus for, I could work at my own pace, I would have ample communication with the person whom I am working with and that it would be very cost effective.

    I found that my home church in Hawaii had started a campus from Life Christian University. I checked into more. I pay for classes, take the class, get graded and continue. Sometimes writing papers or taking the tests to get the grade. I have found this to be a great fit for me. I was born in Hawaii, lived there for 4 years as a adult and loved this church. I knew the pastor and his vision, I knew that they had been established in many respects in the community, it was where I needed to be. I am not sure how many others are out in the fray and not on campus.

    I have completed 2.5 years in theology and 1/2 year in church plants/missions. I took on the latter to know more about being a Pastor, my hope is a church plant position one day.

    I believe that the education I have learned is incredible for my deeper thinking and for the way God has laid out this life for me.

    Keep on schooling, it’s fun!

  13. although online schools are good, i think we also need human interaction which we can only get from offline schools ~:-

  14. There have been many times I too wondered if Seminary or even an undergrad degree in biblical studies was essential for a full time Children’s Pastor. I spent much time exploring how and where to pursue education in ministry. I am a 20 year veteran teacher who has a Masters in Educational Leadership. I was part time in my previous church for 4 years. Kidology honestly had the answer for me. After much prayer I decided I needed more of a mentor/coach who could personally help me develop my ministry to kids. I signed up with Kidology Coaching. If you have seen the add Karl put out with the quote from Erica you read that Coaching provides more than any formal education can. Sure you can go to a 4 year institution and get a piece of paper that says you have the credentials but Coaching gives you more than that. If formal class work is essential it will be talked about in your Coaching discussions. Your Coach will know your situation and the needs of your position church through your work together.
    The decision is yours but I say dollar for dollar Coaching is probably the best first step you could take in pursuing further education. Check it out. Make a call. Email Karl or Todd and ask a few questions. I am not saying formal education is not important (especially theology and bible classes) but the decision can be made much more purposeful after some time in Coaching. Give it a try!
    This is more than a shameless plug. I gained so much from coaching (that’s a whole other post) including making the decision to go back to school to get some bible background classes.

  15. Mine is some how different, it is a question not a comment a such, my question goes thus, why do we have seminaries and ministries taht train and equip people for the work of the ministries without one established to train people for the less priviledged, the abandoned, the oppressed and orphan, widow and the aged etc? Are these people not part of us, I have also discovered that most pastors go for the rich and the healthy ones at the expense of the poor and uneducated. Let us establish institutions that train people for the ministry of the wounded and the rejected ones.

  16. Charles – love your heart for the less privileged, abandoned, oppressed and the orphaned. Indeed, this is ministry that is closest to God’s heart and that He approves of the most! (James 1:26-27) But you may be too quick to judge seminaries. I personally know many seminary grads whose ministries are exactly what you describe. They went to seminary to learn to rightly divide the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:15) so that they could teach without error, which is of the utmost important and comes with a warning of stricter judgement if not done carefully. (James 3:1) Let’s be careful not to judge “most pastors” – I would say most pastors try to reach the community they are in.

    Perhaps God is placing a burden on you to establish such an institution as you describe! It is better to focus on the positive, rather than attack your brothers and sisters who are doing what they are called to do – focus that energy positively on what God is calling you to do, as I agree wholeheartedly, more can be done to reach the needy, but I also know a lot is being done, it just doesn’t get the spotlight, as those kind of workers just do it without fanfare, often without brochures or websites or marketing campaigns, but it is happening, as I’m aware of many all over the globe that don’t get the exposure they deserve. And some prefer it that way.

    And many (if not most) didn’t want or need seminary, so seminary is a mute point – they just went and starting doing it as soon as God told them to.

    So in a nutshell, I think seminaries DO train for this, but I also think that there are many types of ministry that don’t need seminary training.

    God’s best to you as pursue God’s calling on your life!

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