I used to work with high school students. Every fall as kids went back to school and seniors settled in to their new role atop the hallway pecking order, the issue was the same: “Where should I go to college?”
There were some, of course, who had known they would fulfill their dream of going to Georgetown since they were 10, and others who had planned on following in the Husker family footsteps for as long as they could remember, but for many, they had no idea. The pressure of choosing a school was significant, especially for those Christian students who thought there might be just one “right” choice that God desired for them, and many other wrong choices.
That was my story. As a student athlete, I knew that I wanted to compete at the highest level in a quality program. And yet, I also felt a strong sense that I would be serving in vocational ministry and thought going to a Christian school to get a ministry degree just made a lot more sense. Boy, was I wrong.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve had the opportunity to serve in a lot of different kinds of ministries and ministry contexts. I’ve served in vocational ministry both here in the U.S. and abroad, in student ministry, parachurch ministry, worship ministry; serving in the church, global missions, homeless shelters, and church planting. And here’s the thing: I have yet to serve in a ministry role that requires a degree from a Christian school.
In fact, I would go as far as to say that in most cases, a degree from a Christian school has proved more of a liability than anything else. For one, it is often very expensive. The private Christian college I wanted to attend when I was in high school, for example, now costs a whopping $37,990 per year. While that might be on the high side, there’s no way around the fact that private Christian schools are often very expensive. Too much school debt will put a lot of pressure on you to find a good paying job when you’re finished, severely limiting your options.
Can you imagine venturing to plant a church, or travel to the mission field, or start a new business or non-profit organization, (or even just switch careers) when you have several hundred dollars of school debt payments due each month? If your answer is no, join the club. It is possible, of course, but it will be far more difficult and you’ll be that much more tentative to do so. I actually have friends with ministry degrees that can’t even afford to take most ministry jobs because of the school debt they accumulated getting said degree at a private Christian school. That’s a sad irony.
It used to be standard practice to require some sort of formal bible or ministry degree to serve in ministry, but that is no longer the case. The vast majority of those who start out in vocational ministry figure out within 5 years that it is not what they want to do with their life, leaving to do something else. It defies logic for a twenty-four year old to have a degree in something that only 1 in 10 stay in for the long haul.
My advice? If I could go back and do it all over again, I would personally do what I now recommend to anyone considering going into ministry:
- get as much hands-on ministry experience as you can, and
- pursue a degree that will give you a practical, employable skill set
All that to say, I’d encourage anyone considering getting a ministry degree or attending a private Christian school to really think through it, especially if they are considering vocational ministry. In most cases, you don’t need a ministry related degree to do ministry. Most churches will admire your unrelated degree from a secular university, but you won’t get that same luxury from many secular businesses eyeing your “Christian” degree from the school they’ve never heard of. More often than not, I think you’re going to find it will give you less options, not more.