Monday, October 5, 2009

Rick Warren And Seminary. . . .

Over the weekend I and over 42,000 other people read an interesting tweet from Rick Warren. It said, "It takes about 10 yrs of local church pastoring to lose the arrogance u pick up in seminary, otherwise u likely won't lose it." Fully aware that there are a multitude of dangers related to tweeting stand-alone sentences and thoughts like this, I didn't want to risk mis-interpreting what Warren was hoping to convey. I've been chewing on his tweet for a couple of days and am struggling deeply with what he said and the implications for the generation of young leaders who are trying to figure out whether or not to engage with a seminary education. Sadly,I'm afraid that Warren's tweet will only serve to justify and feed the anti-seminary attitude that so many already have.

To be fair, a couple of tweets later Warren did say that "seminary teaches u to THINK & learn essential tools u dont know u need yet. Just beware 'Knowledge puffs up.'" I was grateful he passed on this fact that was certainly one of the many benefits I took from my own seminary education. . . . along with the warning. But I'm still troubled by that first tweet. . . so I thought I'd jot some thoughts for those who might quickly embrace and believe Warren's words and advice.

First, from a theological perspective, I'm not sure that a seminary education is the thing that makes pastors arrogant. Like the rest of us, pastors are all pretty messed-up people before they even set foot on a seminary campus. A good seminary education that takes the Scriptures seriously will convince you of your own depravity if you are already too arrogant to see it for what it is. Seminary doesn't make people arrogant. In Matthew 15 Jesus has one of his many conversations with the arrogant and pride-filled Pharisees and teachers of the law. While the context is all about ritual cleansing, there's a theological reality Jesus passes on about all of life. It's not the seminary education that goes into a person that makes them arrogant, but the arrogance that's already in there that rises up out of their hearts. Don't blame seminary. Arrogant pastors were arrogant people long before they went to seminary.

Second, I think time spent in seminary and 10 years on a church staff are really all about the never-ending process of learning how much you don't know, rather than getting puffed up about what you do know. If that's not happening to you during the process, then maybe it's time for a heart check. I remember walking up the steps of the library at Gordon-Conwell a few days before graduation. A friend and I were conversing about our education and what we had learned during our years on campus. We both agreed that the biggest thing we were going to take away from our seminary education was this: how much we don't know. I said, "I wish I knew as much now as I thought I knew when I first enrolled here." It was very humbling.

Finally, I want to offer some encouraging words to those who are pondering or have pondered a seminary education, but might be holding back due to any number of reasons (fear, cost, time investment, getting messed up, etc.). DO IT! If you are planning on spending a lifetime in ministry and you've been called to - as John Stott says - serve as a bridge between two worlds by bringing the light of God's Word to bear on people living in our times, you'd better equip yourself with the tools to understand and apply God's Word through teaching, preaching, and conversations.

I have found it personally helpful to be constantly reminding myself that I don't know as much as I think I know, that I'll never run out of things to know, and that I can never stop being a learner. For that reason, a good seminary education is worth infinitely more than it costs in dollars, cents, effort, and time.


Brandon said...

I am working full-time as a youth pastor and going to seminary part-time. I see some tremendous benefits of taking classes while being involved in ministry. There are also painful side-effects, least of which it will take me 12 years to finish my MDiv!

Pastor Jeff said...

I'd say that my experience affirms much of what Warren is saying.

Seminary was fantastic, and an important part of preparation for pastoral ministry. But only a part. Seminary trained me to be a relatively well informed theologian. But it certainly didn't prepare me to be a pastor. And much of what I learned in seminary has had little if any practical application in ministry.

Somewhere down the line we're going to have to figure out a way to get more "on the field" training for pastors. Call it mentoring, or being an apprentice, nothing compares to ministering in a real church with real people with a real pastor to share his/her life and ministry.

The problem is that only large churches can afford to hire an apprentice pastor. And serving in a large church may not be very good preparation for being pastor of a small one.

To borrow a phrase from Warren, one of the most important things I learned after leaving seminary is that most church members won't care how much you know until they know how much you care.

-Jeff Wildrick

Allen Keller said...

I really appreciated your blog entry.

Everyone's experience is different. I am a 57 year old part-time volunteer youth pastor. I am a 40hr full time engineer to pay the bills. I am in my 4th of 7 years of seminary working toward an M.Div. and your blog entry caught my eye.

Only been an "official" pastor 3 years, but been working with youth for about 15-20 years.

Maybe the experiental education in the trenches of youth ministry makes my experience different, well of course it does, BUT I often say that I can look at EVERY course I have taken in seminary and say that it has changed me in some way, and it is always in a postitive way.

Risking arrogance in stating my humility, I agree I am NOT learning arrogance at seminary. I think we all like to think we are smart. It is ashame because I think we are most available to the work of the Holy Spirit through us when we humbly accept the fact that nothing good can happen without Christ in me.

Thanks for your blog entry!

- allen keller

Matt McGill said...

Great post Walt!

Rick definitely isn't against seminary... He has talked about starting one at saddleback ...

If he would have added something like "some people seem to pick up in seminary..." that would be easier to read...

Much to think about on all these things. Thanks for posting.

Jon said...

Thanks Walt! I'll just say you are right on.

To those who question their own seminary education, or what they see in others, it may not be seminary itself, but what seminary you chose to attend. The longer I've been out of seminary, hear stories and see others in ministry, I'm convinced that the seminary you attend can and often does make a world of difference!

Paul said...

I always wonder if pastors take into account how much hurt some of them bring into the world, compared to the "joy" they allegedly try to bring into it.

I find most pastors, (especially the ones of Baptist churches), to be very arrogant, very self-centered, and far more interested in putting down others, than they are bringing people to Christ. I find many of them to be biggots who seem to take pleasure in hurting those who come to them in peace, and spreading lies about other Christians.

Frankly, I wonder if some of their seminary "schools" need to be torn down and have Wal-Marts slapped up in their places rather than let them continue to thrive and put out more of the same people that they currently seem to.

K & S Dalbey said...

Thank you for your post Walt. I know that Seminary education for Steven and I was the most influential experience in our lives. We learned so much about the bible and so much about ourselves. I agree, we will never end learning about our great God and his Grace.

J. said...

Maybe one day, Walt, you'll actually talk on a subject you actually know something about.

This clearly isn't teh case here.

Joe said...


It seems that your comment, "Maybe one day, Walt, you'll actually talk on a subject you actually know something about. " insinuates that you have something helpful to add to the conversation about how seminary may or may not be helpful to students and pastors.

If this is the case, I would suggest giving your insights in a helpful way rather than tear down Dr. Mueller, who is trying to articulate his convictions about experiences he, and others he knows, has had

I am considering going to seminary, and if, in a kind way, you tell me why you don't think it is a good place for me to be for ministry training, perhaps I can take your opinion to heart.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a seminary attender but I did go to a 4 year Bible College for ministry. What I learned there, in the long run, prepared me for teaching the bible but not really ministry.
I know a lot of guys who are very puffy because of Bible College/Seminary...and what he says is true...if you don't get it after 10 years then you aren't going to get it. It isn't seminary's fault though, it is a personality issue.

J. said...

Do we really believe that none of that attitude of arrogance and hate of other people doesn't come from seminaries, as often as it comes from the pastors themselves?

Its ignorant to believe so. Look at Baptist seminaries and colleges. Name one that doesn't take time to instill a sense of sell-superiority in its members, and pretty much require them to look down upon anyone from another religion, or even Christian denomination who doesn't agree with them.

Seminaries are filled with problems, and they aren't just brought there by the students. Those running the seminaries have their issues, too, and it shows in what they produce.

j. said...

Forgive me for not finishing my point in the comment above.

My point is that there are bad seminaries, just as there are bad pastors. A bad seminary can corrupt (and has corrupted) a potentially good pastor. A good seminary could correct a potentially bad one.

And even seminaries and Bible colleges that are considered "good" have their problems and let some things and people fall through the cracks. The result is poor pastors, which then trickles down to their followers.

Mr. Meuller's assertion that its more commonly on the student's part and what they bring with them into the seminary is, in my view, flawed because of how easily it can go the other way.

Walt Mueller said...

Here's something to consider. . . my own experience had me going to seminary after four years spent in church ministry. In other words, I didn't go straight from college. There was a marked difference between my classmates who had some experience under their belt, and those who matriculated right after college. There seemed to be more of an arrogance and know-it-all attitude among a greater number of the straight out of college folks. While it was present in some of the experienced folks as well, it wasn't as widespread. The folks with experience tended to come to seminary knowing the questions and realities of church ministry. I think that helped to head some arrogance off at the pass. And, I agree with J that you have to pick your seminary very, very carefully.

J. said...

Walt, unfortunately, my problems with Bible colleges and seminaries go much deeper than with just the arrogance (or perceived arrogance)of the students, and from where it originates.

And unfortunately my own experiences and emotions sway my opinions on this matter. I just see seminaries and Bible colleges as being places where this arrogance and some of what comes with it tends to start, or at least start to become more prevailant.

Matt Murphy said...

I am attending DenSem, I think that Ricks' status troubled me at first. I have heard that seminary is a spiritual cemetary, which mostly comes from my more left leaning friends. I think that arrogant people come through arrogantly. I have seen many different types in seminary, most of the people i come across here are humble. I am uncertain where alot of this criticism comes from. I do know in my undergrad had some people who were very arrogant, especially as they lead in bible studies.

I also have my MSW. (master of social work). I will say that it is also true in that field that the years after school you learn how much you don't learn or things that school didn't necessarily teach you. Till about 5years after, when i went back and read some textbooks that were appropriate to where I was in my vocational life. Then the two sides clicked in together. I think seminary and vocational ministry are like puzzle pieces that fit into your life along with your gifting and circumstances, It can be frustrating when they don't fit, but when they mesh well, you have a good end result. I've also seen people with fire going into ministry, get dragged down by the ministry itself.

those are my random thoughts for the moment.

Anonymous said...

I responded to Rick and utilized your comments Walt. Thought you may be interested: Should Youth Ministers Do Seminary?