Seminary Degree or Not, We Are Called to Know God and Serve Him
As a high school teacher who has just finished another year of teaching (yes, in a very weird and challenging way!), I began my third year in the classroom thinking about when I would begin pursuit of a master’s degree, where I would choose to study, and what area of study that degree would encompass. For educators, there are so many options when it comes to this degree – a basic education degree; a degree that would allow you to move up the ranks in a school district; a degree in a specific discipline area, which for me would be music; a degree to become a school counselor – – the list goes on. I had no idea what I would want to focus on. With the state of Kentucky recently doing away with a requirement for teachers to get a master’s degree, I felt less restricted in my decision-making.
I love teaching. It is challenging and exciting, it keeps me on my toes, and while it comes with days of disappointment, it also comes with great encouragement and reward. It is a passion that I feel the Lord has instilled in me. It has allowed me to value a good education and has pushed me to do all that I can to be a hard-working teacher. So, when I was deciding what to pursue for my master’s, I wanted to get a second degree in something I would use long-term; something that would benefit not only myself but also people around me. I had been considering attending seminary for some time, but I always questioned whether or not it was for me. I doubted that I would be able to push through formal theological education, especially while continuing to work as a full-time teacher. I even thought that it might be odd for a young woman who is a high school teacher to attend seminary. But when it was announced that Kentucky would no longer require master’s degrees for teachers, the idea of a seminary degree was something that would not leave the back of my mind, even though it took a few pushes from the Holy Spirit for me to finally pursue it.
In November of last year, I had the incredible opportunity to hear Jen Wilkin speak at a small women’s conference, where I spent two days being challenged in my knowledge of the Bible. In the first session, we were asked to take out a pen and piece of paper and begin answering rapid-fire questions about the Bible. I’m sure you can imagine the stress that overcame the room when we realized we were going to be quizzed on how well we did or didn’t know the Bible! My own mind was running rampant with thoughts… “Surely I will know the answers, I’ve been in church my whole life! Maybe they will be really tough questions about really random things and I won’t feel so bad if I get them wrong. Maybe I don’t know the Bible in the ways I like to think I do. . . . “
The questions began and I started to feel better about myself. Where did Jesus grow up? What were the occupations of Cain and Abel? What type of animal did Balaam ride? Halfway through I was humbled. Which disciple found a coin in the mouth of a fish? How many years of famine did Joseph prophesy to Pharaoh? The questions kept coming. So did the conviction. I have spent time studying the Bible. I have spent a great deal of time in church, in Bible studies, in small groups. Why did I not know the answer to every question?
After a few minutes of self-pity, I finally realized that it was okay that I didn’t know the answer to every question. Isn’t that the point? As followers of Christ, we are to be like Christ. I can only be like Him when I know his character and his word. When I made the decision to give my life to Christ in second grade, I was not expected to just automatically know the Bible – – I must learn it, study it, practice it, and make it a part of my daily life.
Day two of the conference rolled around and I was challenged with the idea that Matthew 22:37, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” wasn’t simply a command to love Jesus because we should but to love Him by knowing Him and His love for us. Jen spent time explaining that the more we know someone (love Christ with our mind) the more we love them (love Christ with our heart and our soul).
These two days of both conviction and encouragement led me to a place where I felt the need to make sure I was intentionally studying the Bible in a way that would allow me to look like Christ to those around me and to confidently defend the Word of God and my own faith.
I didn’t know how that weekend would impact me long-term at the time, but in February, when I decided to pursue my master’s at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, I was able to point to that weekend in November, along with many moments of conversation and time in prayer, and see that the Lord had used those two days to push me toward pursuing theological education. I have since realized that there have been moments throughout my life that the Lord has used to further instill this desire in me.
I have spent my life surrounded by godly, Christ-seeking people who have spurred me on in my walk with the Lord. My parents, who have taught me the Bible and displayed servanthood and living a Christ-centered life; pastors and pastor’s wives who have invested in my knowledge of the Lord and what it is to be a true follower of Christ; my sisters; my husband; and my friends who have encouraged me in my own walk with the Lord. Both the church and the commitment to ministry that so many people who poured into me have made have shaped me. I have seen firsthand the impact that intentional ministry can have on someone’s relationship with the Lord and have been given opportunities to serve in the church and in other ministries. I can confidently say that I would not know the Lord like I do today if it were not for the faithful ministry of people at Buck Run and my family! I can also confidently tell you that the Lord has used these things to give me my own desire to serve in ministry in whatever capacity I am able. Right now, that capacity is a weekly commitment to serve in student ministry – something that does not require a formal degree, but a commitment to disciple young people and study a weekly lesson to teach them. (This is a great way to get involved in the church!)
In the summer of 2018, I had the opportunity to serve as a chaperone for Buck Run’s Student Ministry mission trip to Malaysia. This trip gave me the ability to prepare a team to lead worship, to help develop a curriculum that we would teach to students on our trip, and to work with a missionary in a way that allowed me to hear about their own vision for their ministry and the ways the Lord had blessed it. This experience continued to encourage me to think about my own desire to one day work in ministry in a more formal way. I was eager to learn more about missions, ways the local church can partner with ministries around the world, and what a seminary degree could teach me about these things.
I am not entirely sure what serving in ministry may look like in the future, but I do know that the Lord has called me to be ready and as equipped as possible to serve whenever and wherever I am asked. I fully trust that God will prepare me for anything He calls me to, as He did so clearly for Moses in Exodus 3 and 4. However, I also believe that God has given me a mind capable of growing in my knowledge of Him so that I may serve Him to the best of my ability. As a result, I have begun the course of study for a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Though it is much less frequent for a woman to choose to pursue a theological degree, I have been so encouraged by our own pastor’s desire to see women learning in this formal environment. I am not yet sure how the Lord will lead me in using this degree in my future. I am not sure that I will even use this degree in any formal capacity in my future. What I do know is that a degree that will enhance my knowledge of and love for the Lord, that will challenge me and will give me confidence in the things of the Bible, will not ever be in vain. So, I applied to Southern, was accepted, registered for classes, and have begun learning, trusting that the Lord will use the time and money I am investing in this education for His glory, my good and the good of others.
I want to encourage you to ask how the Lord could use you in ministry. I can tell you with confidence that the Lord uses the ministry of His people to grow His Kingdom. You may think you are not equipped, that you don’t know the Bible well enough or that your relationship with Christ is not strong enough. Be faithful to learn. Pursue Him first and foremost. Serve in your local church. Pour into others and let them pour into you. Invest your time in the eternal things of Christ instead of the fleeting things of this world. Know Him, love Him, serve Him.
No, theological education is not necessary for you to know and serve the Lord, but it will give you tools that will allow you to serve when and where you are called. I want to answer the calling the Lord has put on my life with confidence that He will equip me and that I have sought to know Him and His Word in the best way possible. I want to know the Bible well enough that when I am asked a challenging question, I can answer it, knowing what the Word of God says is true.
In her book Women of the Word, Jen Wilkin explains that the word “disciple” means “learner”. I want to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ – a learner, a studier, a follower, and a servant. God calls His people to bring Him glory and to grow His kingdom through the power of the Holy Spirit. Knowing that this is the overarching call of the believer, I have to ask you… what are you doing to equip yourself for the calling that the Lord has placed on your life?
Carrie and her husband Ryan live in Lawrenceburg, KY, and are members of Buck Run. She teaches music at Anderson County High School and has just begun her studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Carrie serves as a Connect Leader in the Buck Run Student Ministry.