Friday, February 25, 2011


by Jenny

I’ve had a couple of experiences lately that have made me reflect on where our credibility as church leaders comes from.

On Tuesday I had my first teaching experience at my church as part of the class for new believers. When my supervising pastor prepped me for this experience, he encouraged me to share something about myself so that people could get to know me, but not to focus on the fact that I’m a seminary student. As he put it, I would not gain credibility with people because of a degree but because of my experiences in the life of faith.

At first this seemed odd to me, since studying in seminary seems very relevant to teaching a theology class. Yet his explanation made sense, especially considering our context. First, we are in a church where pastors do not necessarily need to be ordained or have a seminary degree. Second, we are dealing with new believers or people who have been disillusioned by church, so emphasizing a seminary education or being a “professional” church person might put a distance between them and me.

Depending on the context, being in seminary might gain for us a certain degree of credibility. I have visited churches where people ask me all sorts of theological questions, assuming I have an answer. My voice was given a place of authority because of my education, whether this was deserved or not.

Then in my church history class yesterday the professor touched on this point, claiming that the office of pastor should not carry an inherent authority, but rather the authority or respect must be earned. One student responded that the reality is often that people automatically give respect because of the office, whether it should be that way or not.

I think there is a balance here somewhere. A seminary education is very important in preparing us for our ministries. In the class on Tuesday, I was able to answer many of the questions people had precisely because I have studied these issues at Luther. I think people are more likely to trust a teacher who demonstrates some knowledge about the subject at hand.

Yet my education or the degree I will some day have cannot substitute for relationships with people or showing that I understand questions of the faith on a personal level as well as an academic one. Eating dinner with the students is just as important as teaching a class, and in these moments there is no distinction between who has a theological degree or not, there is just being together.


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