experience trumps education

I just got a message from a guy who has graduated college and is considering a career in youth ministry. My advice to him was the same advice I received when I was considering the same thing. Experience trumps education. If you have to choose between getting a degree or getting experience, always choose experience. Even if it means you won’t graduate until you’re my age, married, and everyone thinks you’re the professor on the first day of class.

I asked my lead pastor nine years ago if I could be a part-time intern and go to school full time. He said I could do that, but he’d be offering me the same job in 4 years that I was being offered right then. I took the job, went to school part-part-time, and have never regretted it.

I think school is a huge waste of time for many people. Well, atleast seminary is. Barnes and Noble has the same books, at half the cost, and you don’t lose 4 years of life. I still may attend seminary, but only now as I’ve landed the job I’ve always wanted.

I meet a lot of guys who have seminary degrees who have no idea how to lead a ministry. I’m NOT saying that seminary is a bad thing, it’s just not the answer. If you’re in seminary, keep plugging away!

So go drop out, find a job as an intern, and don’t blame me if it doesn’t work out.

Blame Matt Chandler: he feels the same way (sort of).

10 thoughts on “experience trumps education”

  1. i get there partially with you. i went straight into ministry out of undergrad and don’t regret it at all, but then did seminary in the midst of full-time ministry, and it was incredibly helpful. Of course i didn’t do an mdiv and did a masters in leadership instead at the seminary, which may have made a difference.

    I already was reading 50ish books a year when I did, and already had a smart group of friends/community who I was processing stuff with, but seminary was a different experience than all of that.

    i was forced to read books that i wouldn’t have otherwise read, and i was forced to interact with them in ways i wouldn’t have otherwise. i got to regularly interact with people who were way out of my league in biblical understanding and thoughtful interaction with scholarship.

    i do think it’s good to get into ministry first b/c you approach seminary differently and you’ll get way more out of it and you will be a better leader, but my opinion is that it’s not helpful to ditch it totally. i’ve interacted with way too many people who are reading good stuff, but don’t have a good filter for it and aren’t engaging it in a thoughtful, scholarly way, and are swallowing stuff that they’d have a hard time defending against a good phD prof.

    there’s a lot of really good seminary options now that are current, thoughtful and practical, so the old calling seminary, “cemetery” joke doesn’t really apply as much anymore.

    but hey, i’m not matt chandler either

  2. This is good. I see Mike’s side really well, also.

    My AP classes have helped me make connections when I read the bible that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. It’s been a process for me, and you’re one of those people that has a gift of reading quick and comprehending/analyzing well!

    It seems like it would be good if a person went to school where experience was the curriculum. Like learning to be a student teacher or internship. Or is that still not what you’re getting at?

  3. Mike, I appreciate your opinion brotha. I agree that you RARELY find those sort of conversations outside of seminary environments.

    Chris, you’re right on. Both would be ideal!

  4. Tyler I like what you’re saying. This isn’t a good vs. evil scenario.

    If I have two resumes on my desk, one from someone who has four years experience at a great church, and one from someone who has a four-year degree from a great school… I’m picking the first guy. The other guy has a ton of value though. I thought about you as I was writing this. You’re doing both right now. Not everyone gets to do that, so this is more for people who have to choose one or the other.

  5. I agree with Tyler….(after all you are the one that said “experience trumps education”)

    I have known a lot of educated people I would NEVER hire and I was also apart of a nice little cult led by a really experienced pastor who had no education.

    I don’t know if you can ever lay out a blanket statement about one “trumping” the other. I think it has more to do with the person. Both are important and both should be pursued. I’m not particular about the order. I am however particular about the character and personality of a person I am hiring.

  6. My experience trumps my education!

    My experience got me hired at your church too 😉 It definitely wasn’t my education, in the land of MDivs!!!

    Maybe I’ll change the title to this first sentence.

    Doug trumps Ryan.

  7. I guess it depends on the type of experience and education. I’ve met people in ministry with tons of experience, but it was really bad experience (i.e. spending 20 years creating unhealthy habits or creating an unhealthy church culture). I’ve met people who had lots of education on paper, but must not have paid much attention in class, or didn’t know how to connect that knowledge with real life (which is probably your point).

    I struggle with this tension though, between wanting to go back to grad school (which is expensive and time-consuming) or just sticking with growing as a leader in ministry (which is not as expensive, but still time-consuming…in an awesome way). And I think, deep down, both are really important.

    Or a way shorter version of this comment would be:

    “Yeah, what Tyler and Melissa said.”

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