Why I Decided to Go Back to School for Ministry
I recently earned a postgraduate degree. When I first entered full-time ministry ten years ago, I didn’t have such aspirations. My undergraduate degree was sufficient training in youth ministry and I was a full-time youth pastor—the job I had looked forward to since middle school. I didn’t think additional education was necessary. But after being a salaried youth pastor for six years, I decided that pursuing additional education was wise. After a lot of careful prayer and thought, my wife and I took a hiatus from full-time youth work to go back to school.
The first reason I went back to school for ministry was to pursue further theological training. My undergraduate degree was, overall, an excellent program. I majored in Youth Ministry with a minor in Biblical Greek. The courses on Biblical exegesis and teaching were extremely valuable. I was also required to take many courses that prepared me to work within a church environment. When I graduated and entered vocational ministry, I felt well prepared to run ministry programs and teach the Bible to all ages. However, during my time at my alma mater, the Bible faculty was somewhat lacking in theological rigor. The faculty was composed mostly of highly accomplished Biblical exegetes as opposed to dedicated theologians. As such, the dedicated theology courses were not emphasized, nor were they fully sufficient. While I graduated with training to be a good Bible teacher, I knew that I was unaware of hundreds of years of valuable Christian thought. I wanted the benefit of the Church Fathers’ preserved wisdom, and the ability to pass that wisdom onto the youth within my ministry.
At times, it was difficult to find the connections between what I was studying and my desire to help young people make a lifelong commitment to Christ and his Church. It was hard to imagine many teenagers asking the questions we were discussing in class. But we never had a discussion that I thought a teenager couldn’t understand or wouldn’t find interesting. With years of practical experience, I was able to approach my assigned papers from the perspective of a youth worker. I intentionally studied church doctrines trying to find avenues for communicating truth to teenagers in a valuable way. Best of all, I was able to focus my dissertation specifically on the theological complexity of raising a child as a Christian in the collective Church while anticipating their personal, individual conversion to Christ.
The second reason I went back to school for ministry was to improve my earning potential. Youth ministry as we practice it today is moving away from being a movement ripe for pioneering into being an establishment in need of refining. Young Life is more than seventy-five years old. Youth Specialties has been hosting the NYWC since 1970. Fuller Theological Seminary houses the Fuller Youth Institute and Princeton Theological Seminary has the Institute for Youth Ministry. As a movement becomes an establishment, the level of knowledge and training available to its practitioners becomes greater. And as pioneering gives way to the need for refining, the expected competency for its practitioners becomes higher. More and more churches’ youth ministry job postings prefer or require graduate-level degrees. This is especially true of larger churches looking to hire full-time. In many parts of the country, an advanced degree is necessary to building a career in youth ministry.
Lastly, I went back to school for ministry to increase my options for the future. I hope to be a full-time youth worker until I die. I love youth ministry and I’m good at it. But I’m aware that I may not always be as good as I am now. Some aspects of youth work are for young people with immense energy. Someday, it may be best for the teens for me to step away from full-time youth work. Right now, I imagine that I will transition to training a new generation of youth workers at the collegiate level. But perhaps I will step into the high school classroom or camping ministry or even find success as an author. No matter how it turns out, having an advanced degree gives me options for what will come next.
My studies took me away from full-time youth work for about two years. While I knew I would miss ministry, I didn’t expect to miss it as fully as I did. I’m entirely thankful for the opportunity to go back to school. It was an enormous blessing. But I’ve come to describe my time away from ministry, partly, as a sacrifice. If I ever go back to school again, I intend to find a way to do it while maintaining my full-time youth work.
If you are considering going back to school for ministry, I applaud you. It’s a valuable pursuit that is likely to make you more useful to the kingdom.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.