Worthless Degrees

3WlC4B5W1Ge4-IWbELvA-BHizhG2nnrI1XxvjZznIYYLast night on the eleven o’clock news they reported that according to some poll that some organization had conducted they came up with the top ten most worthless degrees. I didn’t catch all the segment, who conducted the poll, what was the meaning of “worthless” in this poll, and why it was even worth airing the findings.

In this poll, Communications was the most worthless – judging by journalism on television today – I agree with this one. It has gone from the honored profession of the Walter Cronkite days to the sensationalism of the present day. Today it is not news but opinion and talking heads. Number five however, of the most worthless degrees, was a degree in Religious Studies or Theology.

(Since I did not know who conducted the poll, I googled the “top ten most worthless degrees…” and came up with many polls which all gave different rankings for all sorts of degrees.)

But I wonder how could a degree in Theology and Religious Studies be worthless, especially in the top five? If worthless means money, then you may be right. Most people in the pulpit in mainline denominations make less than people with Master Degrees in other fields – which is required for becoming fully vested members of the clergy. We have drawn closer only in the last few years. Had it not been for conferences in the church seeking to keep qualified and talented young clergy we would still be lagging far behind like we use to. The old layman’s prayer use to be: “Lord, you keep him humble and we will keep him poor.”

I honor anyone who has the intellectual honesty and moral integrity, the compassion and calling of Christ, and the maturity of spirit to know that one needs to be educated in the things of God, so that whether you stand in the marketplace, the pulpit, the home, bedside, study or at the grave, you may speak as one prepared and approved by man and God to speak with wisdom, truth and grace, and not speak as a fool.

In addition, in the United Methodist Church, before one can be ordained an Elder in the church, he/she must have a college degree or equivalency from a school certified by the University Senate, a (94 Hrs. 3-4- years) Master of Divinity degree or equivalent from a school certified by the University Senate, gone through the candidacy process with a District Committee on Ministry where we pass a fully involved background check and answer many questions concerning our call to ministry and our theology, receive approval and support from our home church and PPRC, and meet face to face in two different years with the Conference Board of Ordained ministry – where we write papers and sermons, defend those papers and sermons before committees on Preaching, Call and Disciplined Life, and Theology. These are tough committees who are charged with the serious responsibility of making sure you are ready to become an ordained United Methodist Pastor. If there is doubt you are asked to redo your papers and return the following year.

Our education doesn’t stop there. Each year we are required to continue our education through seminars, courses, and convocations. We are even encouraged to join a weekly lectionary group where we study and discuss scripture and prepare for sermons we will be delivering in the lectionary cycle.

I invite the Reverend Doctor Charles D. White, Jr. (former Conference Secretary) and Reverend Kimberly Ingram, current Conference Secretary to add to and/or correct anything I may have offered to you tonight.

You just don’t take a correspondence course, talk with a preacher or two, and they declare you are an ordained minister, at least not a United Methodist minister. One of the questions we ask is this: “Would I want this person to be my mother’s pastor?”

Is a degree in Theology or Religious Studies worthless? It is if you don’t use it and take it deeper and further everyday. But, I want to tell you that as you stand at the bedside of some dear parishioner who is moving into the heavenly country, you will let them down and feel very empty… if you don’t have that knowledge of God and that life of faith under-girding you as you lead this family though their most difficult day. I have an undergraduate degree in Religion, a Masters in Divinity, and a Doctorate in Organizing the Church for Ministry, and for me they are most worthwhile. I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for them.

Dear Lord, I thank you for college and seminary – it’s strain, difficulty and excitement. I thank you for those professors who cared so much for their subject – and that others learn well – that they were willing to teach in schools that didn’t pay all that much… but gave their lives to their students. Thank you for sending them to prepare us for the work of ministry, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace


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