Do You Need A Degree To Be A Pastor?

I grew up in a seminary town. It wasn’t hard to bump into an aspiring pastor or ministry leader just walking down to the local grocery store, never mind the area churches.

I also really value education and appreciate the discipline that many of these young, or not-so-young scholars were seeking as they studied the Scriptures and prepared themselves to lead and guide others.

However, growing up in a seminary town you also meet a lot of people that nearly anyone will say… “Yeah, they shouldn’t be a pastor….” Anyone, that is, except the seminary. After all, that person is paying tuition and possibly excelling in their coursework.

But are they a pastor? Do they have a pastoral gift or calling? Do they have the right heart towards people and towards God to lead in such a sensitive area as spirituality?

In Latino culture, it’s common to meet pastors who have no seminary training. At first, this horrified me… given my nerdiness and high respect for a good ‘ole degree that “proves” you know what you’re doing.

Billy, on the other hand, had a different perspective. “Why would you trust someone to lead you spiritually just because they completed coursework and got a degree?” Instead, he explained a method that focused on calling and confirmation of that ministry by other leaders and co-laborers in the church.

And I thought back on all those whackos… er… “people-who-probably-shouldn’t-be-pastors” I have met in my 31 years of church and ministry involvement (apparently I count my time in nursery). It was a new approach that actually made some sense to me.

Of course, this practice can be abused as well. And there is sometimes a focus on the person that means the ministry is solely tied to them and their calling, which is short-lived.

I’m not saying that one is perfect and the other isn’t. But I am questioning what I have noticed as a quickness to invalidate leaders without seminary degrees, as well as a swiftness to trust and follow leaders with one hanging on their office wall.

I still value education, but there is a reality that it is a luxury and a privilege. And God may choose to use whomever He desires… regardless of degree. There are examples in the Bible of leaders from all education and preparation backgrounds.

As we pursue multiculturalism… especially in the church… we must be wary of placing emphasis on an American cultural value of education in exclusion of listening to who God may be calling into leadership. Choosing who to follow, especially our faith leaders, is a task that requires discernment.

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  1. This was great, Sarah.

    I have been coming to see how education really is a luxury (especially as Philadelphia is closing 23 public schools!!!) and how "God qualifies the called, not necessarily calls the qualified." In fact, one of my favorite preachers never went to seminary, and he is definitely qualified (though I do think there is something unique about the discerning process that can happen in seminary.).

    While I don't necessarily have anything to add to the discussion, I appreciate your final reminder, that as we purse multiculturalism we must not place one culture's ideas and values above another. These are things that make me excited! What does this look like here on earth, how do we bring/live out God's kingdom now? And how much better and beautiful will it be in heaven?!?!


    1. Thanks for chiming in, Emily. It's great to hear your perspective from your context!


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