I haven’t written a personal update for a while, and my situation has changed dramatically since the summer so it is time for an update. I came to Seminary planning to get a PhD in New Testament Studies. Last spring I had a personal crisis and switched off the PhD track and into preparation for pastoral ministry. Then during the summer, when I got my spring grades and realized that I was able to do PhD level work, I switched back to the PhD track.
In September I took the GRE, which is the graduate school entrance exam. They give you part of your score right away and the essay scores come two weeks later. I got the highest score possible on the portion they grade immediately so I was looking at schools like Cambridge and Oxford. Then I received my writing score, which was a 49%. Ouch! That means that I am a completely average graduate level writer (not that I missed half the points). All the sudden I went from thinking about Cambridge to thinking about not being able to get in anywhere at all. My score is below the minimum that any top school will accept on the PhD level. This was good on a humility level, but bad for my academic future.
This led me to reexamine getting a PhD at all. My last post laid out what one should do to prepare for a PhD in New Testament and some reasons for thinking twice before attempting it. Briefly some reasons are – 20 PhDs for every job, paid less than a youth pastor, financial ruin, I’m personally not prepared for one, most Christians don’t read their stuff anyway, etc. The point of going to seminary in the first place was to bring solid Bible teaching to the church (not by myself, of course, there are already good teachers out there; we just need more). Maybe I could serve the church best by continuing to grow in the things I have been taught in seminary and working at the local church level. Therefore, I’ve decided not to get a PhD, at least not right now. This might be the wrong decision. I suppose I seem flighty; I don’t pretend to know God’s will for every detail of my life. All I can do then is pray and try to make the most sensible decisions as life comes at me.
So to the question of what next. I’ve asked several church leaders for advice. Everyone I’ve talked to has said I should look for a medium to large church I like and start to serve there. Then as the leadership gets to know me hopefully when there is an opening they will say “we’ve got a guy to fill that.” My classmates create a resume, apply for job openings, and maybe get hired. Non-denominational churches typically don’t work that way. It is more relational. They get to know you, and if you prove yourself a competent leader they will put you in a position. I like this approach, but it does mean that I will have to go back to work outside the church again for at least a year or two.
We are presently searching the country for churches that excite us. The difficult thing is I am a bit of a mutt theologically. I grew up Baptist, went to a Reformed Baptist Charismatic church for a long time, now I’m at a Presbyterian seminary. I’ve taken things from all those groups, and more besides. Therefore, I don’t fit comfortably in any group. The question becomes – what things are so important that the church has to embrace that belief or practice? Broadly we’re looking for a Word/Spirit/Mission church. The Bible needs to be formative to the church’s beliefs, as opposed to say believing things because they’re fashionable. The Spirit needs to be believed in and sought as the source of life in the church, including the continuance of the gifts of the Spirit. The church needs to have a sense of mission and ministering to those around them. I would say there need to be regular prayer meetings. I’m not sure about things like baptism. I don’t know of a church that meets the above criteria while having a Reformed understanding of the sacraments. Should that be decisive? I don’t know yet. So that’s where I’m at the moment. Please pray for me. I graduate in May, God willing, so there is some time.