“Son, you have it in you to be a strong Bible teacher. But for now you should shut your mouth, sell all you have and buy a clue.”
This statement was made to me after a sermon I preached back in 1995. It’s burned in my memory like a cattle brand. I was hurt, shocked, offended, angry, and embarrassed. It was made by a theology professor in town to preach a revival at the church I served. He spent more time with me the following week, affirming my gifts and calling while also pointing out how my lack of education was a limitation to me and a liability to those under my teaching.
By 1997 I was enrolled in an undergraduate program majoring in Biblical Studies and Counseling. It was the beginning of an ongoing education that has spanned the last sixteen years. I am now an unapologetic advocate of education. I am committed to the belief that the moment one stops learning; they stop living.
I understand that education comes in many forms, and that a formal education (classroom, tests, papers, etc…) is not for everyone. I have and continue to learn from men and women who have earned Ph.D’s and from those who never graduated high school.
However, when it comes to those that endeavor to pursue vocational ministry, particularly roles that involve teaching the Scriptures, I take a hard stand for education. A man or woman intending to pursue teaching ministry must pursue theological education. There’s just too much at stake.
As a minister in the Baptist Tribe, I recall how easy it was for me to be ordained back in 1995. I had a calling, a passion, gifts, but no education. The local autonomous body ordained me and put me on staff.
It was a mistake.
While cleaning out some old boxes, I found tapes of sermons I preached in those days. I heard what that professor heard. They were passionate and pathetic. They were intense and inaccurate. They were high energy, but at times heretical. I had no business teaching the scriptures to others.
Yet, I regularly see this mistake repeat itself as uneducated young preachers plant churches, write blogs, make videos, and lead groups – with listeners, readers, and congregants processing and spreading the errors. Some have made big names for themselves, even boasting in their decisions not to acquire formal theological training. Then they teach things that a basic level course in theology, philosophy, Greek, Hebrew, or literature would reveal as incorrect. These are talented young men and women with passion, certainty, and a calling. Their potential is exciting. But right now they are clueless.
I can hear the criticism, “Kevin thinks he knows so much.”
It’s not that education gives one all the answers. Far from it. I felt like I knew much more before I attended school.
Having completed doctoral studies, I am confident in my assertion that I know far less now than I did back in 1997. I’m educated enough to embrace the limits of my knowledge. I celebrate the confines of my limited capacity. I am at home in the mystery. I know enough to tell you that I don’t know much, but I’m always hungry to learn more.
Education teaches us how much we have yet to learn. Which is why the scriptures are dangerous in the hands of the untrained. Theological education, when successful, brings to the fore the limitations, insufficiency, and inadequacy of the preacher, so that they know enough to get out of the way of the One who is glorified through the foolishness of their preaching.
To my young friends. Do not take up the scriptures until you are educated enough to know how little you know.
Do what I did. Sell all you have and buy a clue.