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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on June 1, 2022.

Seminary is Not for Everyone

I have known many good pastors who did not go to seminary. My pastor, Tom Stipe, used to tell me that one of the geniuses of Chuck Smith and the Calvary Chapel movement was that Chuck was willing to take chances on and empower people who, like the apostles, were “unschooled, ordinary men” who “had been with Jesus” (see Acts 4:13). I experienced this myself: I was trained, ordained, and sent out to plant a church within the Calvary Chapel ecosystem without any formal education. I am so thankful that the leaders in my life encouraged me and affirmed my calling rather than telling me to curb my enthusiasm and go to school first.

However, since that time, I have chosen to go to school. I now hold a BA in Theology from the University of Gloucestershire (UK) and an MA in Integrative Theology from the London School of Theology.

Over the past few years, Calvary Global Network has developed a partnership with Western Seminary, and many Calvary leaders have enrolled in institutes of higher education. For some, this may feel like a change in culture, and the question may arise as to whether this is a move away from dependence on the Holy Spirit.

While I have benefited from attending seminary, I do not believe it is for everyone. In addition, I think it is imperative that Calvary Chapel continues to believe in the work of the Holy Spirit through called people, regardless of their level of, or lack of, formal education.

Here is why I chose to go to seminary and what I would say to those who ask if education makes you less dependent on the Holy Spirit.

My Crisis of Faith

I am not sure exactly how it started, but at some point, I began to struggle — then it reached a point that felt like a crisis.

I was living in Hungary at the time. Rosemary and I had just had our first child; he was about six months old at the time. I was pastoring a church, and things were going well. People were coming and growing in their faith. Others were coming to faith for the first time and being baptized.

I was teaching the Bible twice a week, on Sundays and Wednesdays, yet I found myself struggling with feelings of doubt. I began to question whether the things I was saying about the Bible were actually true! I started having doubts about whether God even exists!

Until that point, I had never struggled to believe, yet suddenly, my mind was plagued with doubts. Regarding the things I was teaching, was I just parroting what I had heard from other people? Was I just taking their word that the things they said about God and the Bible were true? I had not researched and studied those things for myself… What if they were wrong?

My Journey to Formal Education

This crisis of faith led me on a journey that involved enrolling in university and studying Christianity, the Bible, and other religions at the university level. And as a result of that journey, having learned these things for myself, I am at a place today where I am more confident than ever that the Bible is trustworthy and the gospel message of Jesus Christ is true.

What the Bible has to Say about Pursuing Education

Here is what Paul said to Timothy, a young pastor:

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Here is what Peter wrote in his “general epistle” (to all Christians):

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence …

“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:3; 5-8).

Why Can’t You Just Be Self-Taught?

I have heard people push back against formal education and insist that you can get just as good of an education on your own by reading books. My response is that you probably can — but there are some big benefits to studying at an institute of higher education.

One of the greatest benefits is that you will be forced to read things you disagree with, and you will be required to critically engage with the material and with intelligent people who hold positions other than your own. This will make you sharper and force you to examine the foundations of what you believe. If you navigate this well, it will lead to a stronger faith.

Furthermore, if you are like me, the rigor and deadlines of a school program will help you actually do your work and think hard since you know your work will be examined and critiqued by people who will not let you get away with sloppy or lazy conclusions.

Does Education Make You Less Dependent on the Holy Spirit?

Having spent years in seminary, let me tell you that I have never met anyone who thinks that they no longer need the Holy Spirit now that they have learned more things. In fact, gaining education affects a person by making them more aware of how much they do not know.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is the phenomenon that those less competent tend to be more self-confident because they do not realize how much they do not know. In contrast, more competent people tend to be more aware of just how much they do not know.

This is not always the case, I am sure. Some people probably become proud because they think they know more than others once they receive some education.

“Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies” (1 Corinthians 8:1).

I absolutely agree! However, I have also met people who are proud of their lack of education and look down on those who have pursued formal theological education, as if their choice not to go to seminary is more spiritual.

The key is to keep love (for God and for others, in response to God’s love for us) as the motivating factor rather than pursuing knowledge just for the sake of knowledge. We should certainly never seek knowledge in an attempt to assert superiority over others; instead, we should view it as something to be used to help and serve others.

May the Calvary family continue to be one where we prioritize dependence on the empowering and leading of the Holy Spirit, along with the diligent study of God’s Word.

Whether you pursue formal education or are self-taught, may the Lord keep us all from becoming puffed up or condescending toward others, and may Calvary be a network in which we sharpen and encourage each other as we work together to build God’s Kingdom and carry out His mission.

Please note: Eligible CGN leaders currently receive a significant grant to enroll in various programs at Western Seminary! Are you a member of CGN? Click here to join

Nick Cady is the lead pastor of White Fields Community Church in Longmont, Colorado. Within CGN, Nick is lead for the Cultivate Initiative, a member of the Expositors Collective team, host of the CGN Mission & Methods podcast, and member of the Executive Team.