Today, I want to talk a little about the importance of higher education in the youth ministry area. First off, let me just say that there are a number of great leaders who didn’t pursue higher education and are doing great things in ministry and making a big difference in the lives of youth and families. In fact, there may be leaders who didn’t pursue higher education but know more than those who did.
With that being said, I wanted to share my two cents of the effectiveness of higher education. If you don’t know my story, after high school I decided to go in hands-on ministry and served two years in a leadership school in Los Angeles, CA. After my time in Los Angeles, I wanted to pursue youth ministry but knew I needed a formal education. Although there are many churches that do not require a Bachelor’s degree to do youth ministry, I felt like I needed to do this to not only validate my feelings about youth ministry but also to learn from professionals who have been in the field.
I found a lot of my classes helped me to not only understand the development of youth and ways to have an effective ministry but also challenged my own personal relationship with God. One of my teachers at Northwestern College in Orange City, IA, Jackie Smallbones, really challenged us to not think of youth ministry as a program of success and strategies but rather as a calling and reflection of our own time with God. It can be said that congregation will grow as much as its senior pastor. I think this is true in youth ministry too. The youth minister’s ministry is a reflection of him-/herself.
Even more importantly than some of the classes was the connections I built with other students who were pursuing a degree in youth ministry. Many of them I still connect with, and we have been able to support each other. We have had similar experiences in searching out the call in our lives and the struggles of being a broke youth director with school loan breathing down our necks. However, it because of these connections that we can relate, learn, and grow together.
If I were to offer some advice for those of you who may be on the border of pursuing higher education, it would be this: if you were to apply to work at a church, how much more would it mean to them that you valued youth ministry enough to pay a lot of money just to learn about ministry, students, and religion. Recently, I had a conversation with my wife about whether we would let our kid go to a youth group that had a youth pastor who didn’t have a degree. As a parent, I would value the pursuit of higher education, even if it wasn’t in youth ministry specifically, because it shows that the individual cared about something enough to invest time and money into it. The pursuit of higher education shows a lot about your passions and character. Regardless of where you are in ministry and whether you have a degree or not, it’s always important to continue to learn. Things change, so you need to stay up to date on things in the industry by going to conferences, reading book, talking to other peers, etc. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”