Should a Pastor Pursue Graduate Education?

By Randy Sawyer

I believe the time has come for every pastor to pursue graduate level education. The question immediately arises, who are you and why should your conviction about anything matter to anyone?

I understand that I am simply one voice echoing a call that has been debated for decades. However, while I am just one voice, I am one of us—a pastor in pursuit of continuing education.

As a twenty-first century pastor, I want to make a difference, to impact the culture and our world before my ministry is done. One of the ways we can do this is by raising the standard of professional and academic excellence to a higher level.

Cultural Conditions Demand It…

We find ourselves in a cultural morass of chaos and confusion. With the advance of postmodernity, the collapse of moral absolutes, and the influx of eastern mysticism and oriental spiritualism, ministry challenges are becoming increasingly complicated. The preparation necessary to meet these rising challenges must involve an understanding of the biblical context, the contemporary context and how the one speaks to the other.

More than ever, the next generation of preachers must be theologians and apologists of the faith, ready to minister the Word in a multi-cultural and pluralistic society.

Ministry Excellence Suggests It…

Graduate level education allows a student to deepen the disciplines that lead to higher ministry competence and excellence. Is this true in every case? Not any more so than does a college degree. A person may squander his opportunities at any turn, and any level. Are there not many pastors with graduate degrees who are essentially useless in the work of the Kingdom? Certainly! But it does not have to be so. And often isn’t.

There is nothing inherent in obtaining a higher degree that necessitates intellectual arrogance or pride or ministerial laziness. Higher education requires careful management of time, balancing of options and deepening of disciplines that can mature a minister for greater productivity and usefulness.

Future Generations Anticipate It…

It is time for today’s Christian to compete in the arena of ideas. But to do so we need more than practitioners, we need theorists—men and women who can think and who can help shape the thinking of the next generation. Fads and crazes and lifestyle options are not born into a void, out of nothing. They advance on the heels of philosophies, arguments and ideas.

If we want to help mold the future, we must begin thinking today. We need to honor the thoughtful life and encourage the gifted to such a pursuit.

Theological Debate Urges It…

In order for our theology and ideas to penetrate the cultural scene, we need writers. How many times have we complained that the major publishing houses have not offered an equitable treatment of our theological stance? But we can’t expect them to simply move over and make a place for us.

We need writers whose work is so sound, so pervasive and so provoking that it demands a voice in the debate. We have a few who are capable, but just a few. We need more—men and women whose level of scholarship excels even the most prolific Calvinist. It won’t be enough for us to equal them; we will have to go beyond if we are to earn a hearing.

Past Neglect Exhorts It…

The problem is simply that we’re not training thinkers for this level. And we are not because we have placed a premium on it. We don’t have enough men and women with advanced training to staff our colleges with master’s degrees and doctorates.

Consequently, we look outside our circles and hire those who do not understand our position, history and heritage. Likewise, we lose some of our best and brightest to other groups because they find in other pastures the opportunities our close-mindedness has denied them.

Foresight Entreats It…

None of this is meant to condemn those who minister faithfully without a degree or formal training. There are deeply spiritual men and women who serve in our churches whose knowledge of the Word has been gleaned through a lifetime of personal devotion. To them we owe a debt we cannot pay. But we must not allow our love and admiration for them to prejudice our vision of impacting the kingdom in a greater way. If our day is to dawn, we must make it happen by foresight and courage.

Denominational Heroes Deserve It…

Nor is any of this to cast stones at those who have gone before us. It is true that our predecessors bequeathed to us a fine heritage. We truly stand on the shoulders of giants. But in standing on their shoulders we are logically lifted higher, to another level. I believe they themselves would have it so. It is not to denigrate our denominational heroes that I call for graduate education, but to honor them by building on the solid foundation they laid for us.

A number of years ago a major figure in a prominent denomination asked me a question that chilled me. He asked, “Will Free Will Baptists be a key player in reaching the world for Christ in the next hundred years?” Will we? Not if we think we can’t. And certainly not if we fail to raise the standard.