Skip to main content

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 did choose 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 going to seminary, I do not believe it is for everyone. In addition, I believe 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 began having doubts about whether God even exists!

Up until that point, I had never struggled to believe, yet all of a sudden my mind was plagued with doubts. The things I was teaching, was I just parroting what I had heard from other people? Was I just taking their word for it, that the things they said about God and the Bible were true? I had not actually 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, which involved enrolling in university, and studying Christianity, the Bible, and other religions, at the university level. And as a result of that journey, having studied 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 smart 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, if anything, 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 who are less competent tend to be more self-confident because they do not realize how much they do not know. In contrast, those who are more competent 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 have received some amount of 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 to not 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. And we should certainly never seek knowledge in an attempt to assert superiority over others, but instead view it as something to be used to help and serve others.

Discussion on the CGN Mission & Methods Podcast

In the most recent episode of the CGN Mission & Methods Podcast, we discussed the power, presence, and work of the Holy Spirit, and this topic came up. Here is a clip of our discussion:

You can listen to the entire episode here (or in the embedded player below): What Do CGN Leaders Believe about Charismatic Gifts and Their Use in the Church Today?

May the Calvary family continue to be a place where we prioritize dependence on the empowering and leading of the Holy Spirit, along with 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.

CalvaryChapel.com does not necessarily endorse or agree with every message or perspective in the diverse links posted. By providing these links, we hope to help you stay informed of important events and conversations taking place in the world that are relevant to the Christian faith.

Nick Cady is the lead pastor of White Fields Community Church in Longmont, Colorado. He is a leader for Expositors Collective as well as Calvary Global Network.

Kellen Criswell M.A., currently serves as Global Strategist of Calvary Global Network and calvarychapel.com. He is the primary host of the CGN Mission & Methods Podcast. Previously, Kellen has served as a worship pastor, assistant pastor, senior pastor, church planter, missionary and Bible college instructor.