Where Should Prospective Ministers Go To College?

question markC. Michael Patton over at Parchment and Pen (one of my favorite blogs), recently offered some thoughts on entering ministry. He made a statement that has always seemed like common sense to me, but that I know many people find objectionable:

If possible, go to a secular university for undergrad and an Evangelical seminary for your masters. You need exposure to both.

I’ve long been mystified that as a matter of course we isolate prospective ministers from their culture for 4 years (more if they go to seminary afterwards). Surely there’s a case to be made for taking our prospective young ministers and forcing them to solidify their own faith and also minister to their peers in a secular setting. Let them prove that they can be both faithful and fruitful before they invest time and money in education that is useless outside of ministry.

I’m sure a Bible college is the ideal route for some people, but it seems to me that we should highlight secular schools as a viable option. It’s certainly borne good fruit for the Pentecostal movement and the impact in the larger evangelical world is even more impressive (Tim Keller, anyone?).

I suppose the most common objection is that secular colleges are harmful to faith, but that’s just not true. And even if it was, I don’t think it would matter that much. If someone who is planning to enter ministry can’t handle Intro to Sociology or the campus beerfest, then I really don’t want them preaching the gospel. They’re a time bomb waiting to explode and take others with them.

But someone who can thrive spiritually at a secular university and make a difference for Christ on campus… give that person a robust theological education and then turn them loose in the pulpit!

4 thoughts on “Where Should Prospective Ministers Go To College?”

  1. Don’t give up on the Christian College!

    No, there not for everyone… but they are for a lot of people!

    One of the best things about the Christian campus is that the faith conversation is a prized one… and not an awkward or out‐of‐place one. Student come expecting to hear about how their faith and what they’re learning in the classroom connect. Their professors can serve as models and mentors to what faithful believers in their particular field of study can do and be!

    The college years are supposed to be some of the most formative in life… why not live them in a context that is asking serious faith questions, challenging students to live and worship in intentional communities, as well as being empowered to go and put their talents, gifts and passions into the service of others… even as a college student!

    Sure, I think the secular campus can also be a great training ground for future ministers… not to mention a great mission field for student leaders… but that is increasingly the case many Christian colleges and universities… the big difference is that in one context you have the support of the administration in having the faith conversation out in the open… and the other you have to be a bit more strategic.

    I think both the Christian and secular campuses can be great training grounds for future ministers… but much if it depends on the individual student, as well as the kind of community they become a part of in that place.

    Those are my thoughts… what do you think?

  2. I hope I didn’t give the impression that I think we ought to shut down all the Christian colleges in America. 🙂

    But in my denomination (the Assemblies of God) we very rarely acknowledge that going to a school like Berkeley or Ohio State or Cornell is a legitimate way to pursue ministry preparation, and that for many people it is the best way.

    Side note: you can find some interesting comments on this post on my Facebook account where it was imported as a note. I think my privacy settings will allow you to see it even if we’re not friends (feel free to friend me in either case).

  3. Glen, as my Albanian friends say when someone says something wise, “May your mouth rejoice!” I totally agree with this post.

    I remember my dad telling me essentially the same thing when I was just a kid. I attended a state school. Still haven’t gotten around to seminary, but I intend to.

  4. I’m pursuing a bachelor’s degree in religion from American Public University. Studying religion at a secular school is great preperation for the mission field. My classmates come from all walks of life, and have varying levels of maturity. Learning to gently and respectfully explain the reason for the hope that lives inside me has been invaluable experience.

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