June 1, 2013 | Written by Matt Carter
The Spring 2013 issue of The Bridge featured comments from HST alumni on the value of graduate theological education. Due to space constraints, we could only include a few of those statements. Here are additional thoughts to take you beyond the printed page.
My education raised my level of patience and has helped me to persevere even under difficult circumstances. I gained not only knowledge, but a deeper appreciation of people. The farther along I went in my theological education, the more humble I became in my approach to ministry.
Graduate education blessed me like an inheritance from a rich uncle. My peers in undergraduate studies and in preacher training schools received good increases in knowledge, perspectives, and skills through their education, but I got more through mine. I received what they got, but was taken deeper and broader. The rigors of graduate study stretched me so that I grew in dependence on God and in self-discipline. Since my graduation twelve years ago, I’ve frequently been grateful for HST’s network of peer and faculty relationships and library support that continues to provide me and my church with new resources and training opportunities for ministry today.
Graduate theological education has changed my life as a minister in two ways. First, it has humbled me to appreciate all that I do not know. In ministry, preachers are challenged to have all the answers; to offer conclusive, rigid, and unaltering truths and proclamations. This can lead to a pat perspective in which the minister feels that he knows all he needs to know and can refrain from the exploration of additional or competing thoughts and ideas.
This leads me to the second impact of graduate theological education upon my life. We live in an information age. While a preacher is in the pulpit, members can be on their smartphones Googling the information he is presenting to ensure its accuracy. The training I received at HST in critical thinking, research methods, analytical comparison, and theological reflection enables me, by God’s grace, to speak with accuracy and confidence. I do not have all the answers, but the answers I have are sure and solid even as I work my way toward additional answers. This confident progression is appreciated by the congregation, and we move together toward greater understanding and application of the word of God as we engage in his service in downtown Richmond.
James T. Wood
I see the benefit of my education in two veins. On the one side, I was forced to grapple with the deeper issues of faith and ministry and equipped to find the answers. On the other side, I was connected to an invaluable network of ministry partners around the globe that are graciously willing to help me.
I do see one major flaw with graduate education in theology that needs to be addressed: the overwhelming emphasis on academics over application has a tendency to erode spiritual health while it strengthens intellectual ability. We can’t sacrifice one for the other. We need to train ministers who are both spiritually filled and academically prepared.