Education Is Not a Dirty Word

In another board I am active on, there has been quite a discussion as to whether ministers should be educated–specifically in a seminary–or whether they should depend primarily on the Holy Spirit. At times it’s gotten quite heated!

I’ve always wondered why the two have to be seen as antithetical to each other.

I think a lot of it grows out of our understanding of what scripture is. I don’t believe it was ever intended to be “fact” or “history” in the way we look at those two words today. The scripture writers had a spiritual message to share–and the writers told it in the ways that would catch their readers’ attention. Do I believe that every word of it can be authenticated–as I would expect if someone today were writing a biography of a figure like Jesus? No. But do I believe it is truth? Yes.

How? There’s a Native American storyteller I know who starts out every story with a sentence something like this: “I don’t know if it happened exactly this way…but I know that it’s true.” In other words, there’s something behind the words of the story that’s important, and if I get caught up in parsing every single word and every single fact, I’ll lose the essence of the story.

Unfortunately, I’ve known some people who have had seminary training who would tend to make me agree with the point of view that education can be detrimental to ministry–some who have seen their education as something that makes them “better” than the average person in the pew. These are folks who flaunt their education as being the answer to all questions.

There are also those, however, who make me wonder why seminary education isn’t required for all who would want to bring ministry! Some of them wear their lack of formal training as a badge of honor–badgering those who have gone to seminary and accusing them of somehow “killing” the Spirit.

It’s not an either/or situation. The problem occurs when we try to make it one.

Both are important in creating effective ministers and ministry. They enhance each other (or at least, they should) rather than tearing each other down.

Education helps us understand the background of scripture…the context…the changes scripture has gone through over the centuries…and how changes in our language have sometimes significantly altered the meaning of what we think are common words. Education provides us with training to assist us in knowing when and how to help those we are called to minister to…to know when we are dealing with issues we need to turn over to someone trained in psychological areas. Education can give us tools to help create vibrant worship…to understand how worship elements work together to create an environment in which the Spirit can breathe.

The Spirit gives us sensitivity to know when people are hurting…when they need someone to reach out. The Spirit can bring to memory those scriptures we’ve learned that would be helpful in specific circumstances…the words of healing or chastisement or forgiveness.

Education provides the framework; the Spirit gives life.