A friend of mine asked me the following question:
“Would you go work in a church under another pastor where you have a masters and he only has a bible college degree?”
I think this is actually a very important question. I think it’s entirely possible for pastors to serve alongside or even under the authority of another when they have more formal education. I actually think such diversity can be very healthy for the local church. Who wouldn’t want a pastor who has a graduate degree and a pastor who has years of experiencing both offering their gifting and abilities to the church?
Yet there are some obstacles that need to be considered. Before I would venture into this situation, I think some questions need to be asked:
- Are YOU teachable?
- Is HE teachable?
- Do you see the value of ministry experience and scholarly theological reflection?
- Does he see the value of scholarly theological reflection and the value of ministry experience?
- Are you both committed towards building the type of loving relationship that will allow for you to both work together? In other words, is this situation going to be based on relationship or is it based on a corporate mentality?
Those initial questions may help you determine where I’m headed here. The biggest obstacle in a working relationship like this is probably related to insecurity. This is due to two character deficiencies that I think can easily find expression.
First, people who have formal education can be prideful. Rather than take opportunities to communicate and teach, they can be condescending and arrogant. Why? Because they have two years of Greek and some Systematic Theology under their belt. When this happens, it becomes very difficult for the person who is less trained to not feel judged or belittled and that can start to manifest itself as being defensive and insecure.
Second, people who have lots of ministry experience can be prideful. This often is expressed by statements like, “Theology is boring and doesn’t matter.” Advocates of this type of thinking often view pragmatism as the end all be all. Methodology matters little if it works. But this is deeply insufficient because methodology does matter and effectiveness needs to be reflected on. What makes something effective? Is it numbers? Giving? Participation?
Third, people who have no formal education can be insecure. Folks who struggle with insecurity can be suspect of everything that scholars suggest. They often feel threatened or worried that they will lose their credibility as a “specialist” or “authority” because someone with more education is around. As you’ll notice, the insecurity actually reveals an unhealthy sense of identity where the person feels validated because they are the main leader.
Fourth, people who have no ministry experience can be insecure. Because they have little experience, they may not voice concerns or questions that need to be asked because their training has given them the ability to understand certain topics better than others. Yet because they are insecure and the relationship may not have some helpful clarity, they sit by and watch as mad decisions are made or ministries function in unhealthy ways.
I should mention that I’m a strong advocate for an interview being two-sided. Candidates should be doing just as much interviewing as church boards or pastors. If many of these issues aren’t addressed ahead of time, they will be addressed in the deteriorating context of relationship failure.
What are other issues you think are important to address? What other advice do you offer?
it does seem that humility and a strong sense of pastoral identity is key. some can handle it (Matt Chandler, for example, has a pastor under him who has a ThM from DTS), whereas I personally have been in situations where i could see the pastor wasn’t handling it too well being around others more educated than himself. but I agree it goes both ways. AND of course this situation probably is limited to those church groups where theological education (if any at all) is not a requirement for ministerial credentials.