What Would It Look Like if More Pastors Had PhDs

There are two messages that graduate students in seminary hear quite often:

1. If you like academics the pastorate probably isn’t the place for you, for sale you should go into academia instead.
2. Don’t go on for a PhD because after you spend all the time and money on it, medical there probably won’t be a job for you at the end (particularly if you are a NT major).

The first one is the one I have heard the most, viagra particularly when I was working as a pastor. Pastors are to be compassionate and caring and academics just get in the way of that. The average person in the congregation won’t care about theology or textual criticism or exegesis; they only want someone who will walk beside them. And so, those who feel called to a deeper and more academic walk go into graduate school only to be told to not waste their time because it won’t pay off in the end. What’s a brainy Christian to do?

John Stackhouse recently wrote an article in Faith Today exploring this idea. He writes that it is a shame that our churches are dumbing down the requirements to be a pastor, and as a result seminaries are too. Why is it that we are okay with pastors and leaders who have the bare minimum of theological training, when in other disciplines we demand that the professionals have the highest form of education available (e.g., doctors)? He writes:

Happily, however, pastoring apparently isn’t like that. No, pastoral challenges in Canada today have greatly diminished. You’ve noticed that, haven’t you? Canada is becoming a more and more ethnically uniform country, so pastors need no longer know how to understand different cultures – say, those of India or China. Canadians are attending post-secondary education less and less, so we don’t need a similarly educated person to help us co-ordinate the gospel with our lives. Just give us a charismatic speaker with great storytelling ability and a big heart. Biomedical issues, political challenges, cultural currents, financial questions, technological innovations – everything is much, much simpler to understand today,so our pastors can be simpler people too. Yes, let’s expect less of our clergy and theological schools. Let’s demand, in fact, that seminaries reduce degree requirements, lower standards for their professors, drop their tuition charges accordingly and give our next generation of pastors what they need – an education that is cut-rate, compromised and convenient. (Read between the lines of some of those seminary ads. That’s what they’re offering.)

And as for the second statement, that graduates are discouraged from pursuing PhD studies, it appears that advice this is not limited to theological and religious studies. Claire Potter over at The Chronicle notes that this advice is given to students in the humanities and social sciences as well, especially now that the economy has tanked. She writes:

This is wrong, and we need to fight back. I propose that we need more Ph.D.s, not fewer; we need smarter and better educated citizens, not more ignorant ones.
Responding to the current employment crisis in higher ed by withdrawing education is a huge mistake, and demonstrates only one thing. In an effort to prove how truthful and responsible we are, and to reduce our complicity in the unemployment problem, senior scholars are failing miserably at our primary responsibility, which is to redefine what can be done with the Ph.D. and what a doctoral education for the 21st century should look like. Instead of agreeing with graduate students that what they learn in seven years of intense study is of no earthly use outside of academia (do we really think that what we do is so useless?), we need to articulate forcefully that doctoral education serves social purposes beyond university walls.

All of this leads to my big question: What would it look like if more pastors had PhDs?

Now, I am not saying that all pastors should have PhDs, or that a PhD should be the new minimum requirement for pastoral staff. Nor am I saying that those pastors who do not have PhDs are something less than those that do.

But, what would the Church look like if we encouraged and affirmed and supported pastors who felt called to pursue the highest level of education possible?

What would the Church look liked if we said to those who were academically minded that they do not need to be forced out of the Church and into the ivory tower of academia but that instead there was a valuable and needed place for them in the life of the Church?

Of course, some of you may come back and say, “But Amanda, you’re just saying that because you are academic.” But you know what? I wasn’t always academic when it came to the Christian faith. If anything, it was because I had a pastor who had a PhD and a life-long love of learning, that I began to choose the academic route. He taught me that Christianity is smart, and deep, and thoughtful, and mysterious. He taught me that thinking and pondering and wrestling and researching can all be forms of worship. He taught me that to be a spirit-led pastor does not mean getting up into the pulpit on Sunday with zero prep because “the Holy Spirit is going to work today.”

Somehow we’ve made “relevant” and “practical” the litmus test for ministry and seminary education. But the majority of the time, when pastors and seminary students say, “I need something relevant or practical” what they mean is: “I need something that works for the lowest common denominator” or, worse, “I need courses that doesn’t require a lot of time and effort to do because I’m busy.”

Is there a place for relevant? Absolutely. But let’s realize that sometimes the most relevant thing that the Church needs is not something that will speak to the lowest common denominator, but something that will in fact raise up the lowest common denominator in the Church.

Is there a place for practical? Absolutely. But let’s realize that sometimes the most practical thing is not “10 ways to a better you”, but is instead something that encourages to people to wrestle with profound questions like, “What does it mean to be human?” “What does it mean to love?” “What does it mean to live a sanctified life.” Sometimes the more theological and philosophical questions, the ones that take the longest time to wrestle through and require the most study and work turn out, in the end, to be the most practical.

Tips On Presenting in a Seminar-Based Class

You’re in a class that is seminar style. This means that the prof is not going to stand up every week and lecture. Instead, viagra each member of the class will be presenting and facilitating class discussion. Usually this is done with each student being assigned a chapter in one of the required textbooks. What is the best way to approach this if you’ve never done it before? Here are a few Cheese-Wearing tips:

1. Don’t just read your assigned chapter. Let’s say you are to present on chapter three of a book. The arguments in chapter three are probably built upon the foundations laid in the previous chapters, so it’s important to read the previous chapters carefully, looking for key definitions and for the methodology that is being employed. Don’t rely on the fact that other students are going to present on chapters one and two. You also may have to read the chapters proceeding your chapter to know where the argument is going, especially if the author is presenting one side of the argument in one chapter, and another side of the argument in the next.

2. Don’t criticize what you don’t understand. Part of presenting in a seminar-based format is to offer a critique. But often times critique and criticism are confused. You can’t critique what you don’t understand, and if you try, your critique becomes a misplaced criticism, that is more likely to make you look silly rather than intelligent in front of the professor. It is okay to frame your final analysis as ‘questions you have’ rather than a sustained critique. Doing it this way shows that you are making an effort to engage and understand the text.

3. It’s okay to look at other sources. If you don’t understand what is being said by the author go and read what other people have said about the material you are presenting. Scholarly Book reviews are great for this. Look for a minimum of two reviews that generally agree with the author, and two that generally disagree with the author. It’s okay to use their arguments to form your critique/questions/analysis so long as you cite your sources.

4. If you still don’t understand, it’s okay to have a chat with your professor. You’ve read the chapter. You’ve read the rest of the book. You’ve read what other people have said about the book, and you still don’t get it. At this point it’s okay to make an appointment with your professor to chat about the chapter. They want to help you give a good presentation. Bad presentations make for painful group discussions, and don’t help the class learn. (The key here is to do all your reading first. If you just go to the prof without having actually read the material, they may not be as helpful).

5. Use whatever aids will help you communicate the material. Maybe do a powerpoint. Maybe do a handout. Maybe do a handout that has fill-in-blanks. Write out your presentation essay-style as a way of bringing your thoughts together, and then prepare lecture notes based on your essay.

6. Don’t wait until the night before to start working your presentation.

Do you have any tips to add to the list?

Is Education a Democracy?

Earlier this week I posted a story from the Chronicle of Higher Education about a man who writes papers for students; students who either have no desire or no ability to write papers, cheap and have several hundred (or thousand) dollars to spend on hiring a professional paper writer.

Today I am reading about another case of cheating, this time in Florida, where 200 of 600 students cheated on an exam. All 600 students have to re-write the exam as a result. The professor is offering academic amnesty (i.e. no punitive repercussions) for those students who confess and agree to take an ethics course.

Nathan Gilmour, over at Christian Humanist, looks at both situations and the state of education in general. He writes:

I still believe that higher education exists not for its own sake but for the sake of a larger community. That particular sort of benefit has at its root a set of aristocratic assumptions, namely that some human beings have over the years acquired a real and intelligible range of human goods alternately called wisdom, expertise, and learning; and that inherent inequality between teacher and student can and should have the erotic force (in the old Platonic sense) to draw students upward, inspiring them to emulate those professors whom they admire and to supplant those whom they despise…
My own working assumption, the assumption of aristocracy, is that students must rise in their relationships to their teachers, not assume a prior and all-consuming equality, and to cheat within this context is to betray the institution and the larger community. The open secret is that every professor worth anything at all longs for the day when student supplants teacher, taking the future of the community in directions that the teacher is incapable of imagining. But a system corrupted by widespread cheating stands to ruin all chances of anything like that happening.

Is education a democracy? Are students and teachers equal in the classroom?

I admit that I struggle with this. The seminary where I’m taking classes has small class sizes, which is great. But because we all live, work and study in the same small college town, there is an informality and equality that I find hard to navigate.

I sit under these professors. I am paying to learn from them and to be challenged in my theological and biblical assumptions. They are the experts in their fields, and deserve respect and a degree of deference. A sign of respect that I can use is to call them by their title, “Dr. so-and-so.”

And yet, the informality of the community has us all on a first-name basis. One of my professors (and his family) is a friend of my family. We semi-regularly have family dinners together. In the informal setting I can call him by his first name. But once I’m in the classroom, I can’t do it. I know that some teachers say, “Just call me so-and-so” but I can’t.

Professors and students may worship together on Sundays, together as equals. They may be neighbours and friends. They may do extra-curricular activities together. But in the classroom, there is, for me, a clear demarcation of roles. I am the student. They are the teacher. I am not the expert. I am the one who is called to sit at their feet and learn from their wisdom. They are called to teach and guide and utilize their wisdom to challenge and grow us.