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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Please Don’t Go To A Bible College!

The other day I got a message on Facebook from an old Bible College student of mine, Jeremy.

“Hey ProfeShah (that’s what my students used to call me), do you remember the advice you gave me 5 years ago? It was one of the best words of advice I’ve ever received in my life,” he said.

Shoot, if you know me, you know I don’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning, let alone a piece of advice I gave someone over five years ago. So, being a good shame-based culture person that I am, I faked it and said, “Yes, of course!”

In my Middle Eastern culture, by admitting to not knowing something, you’ve committed two sins: not knowing something and admitting to not knowing something. 

I responded, “I told you to get the heck out of the Bible College and get yourself a degree that you can make a living with”.

To my amazement, he wrote back saying, “Yes, and thank you. I’m an engineer today making a living and taking care of my family.”

I know some of my evangelical friends get upset when they hear me taking such a stance, but I had my reasons, of which the most important was the welfare of my students. It was within the second year of teaching at that college when I noticed a good number of my students were graduating college with $20-30K debt and ending up working behind a counter, asking customers, “Would you like a tall, grande or venti?”

“If that’s going to be the case, you don’t need a four-year college degree to pump syrup in a coffee cup or work as a bank teller,” I used to tell them.

Most of these kids were being trained to be one thing and one thing only: pastors. The problem was that the denomination the college belonged to couldn’t provide enough churches for these graduates to pastor. On the other hand, the available churches were usually 20-30 member churches not able to support the new pastor fulltime, which again, put my students behind the same coffee or bank teller-counter.

Knowing how difficult it is to pastor in general, I knew we (the college) were setting many of my students up for failure. If you haven’t thought about it already, someone has and is ready to write me about it: “Aren’t you taking these kids away from their godly calling to be pastors?” To believe that is to believe the only way to serve God is to stand behind a pulpit, which in and of itself is a false assumption that has been shoved down our throats for many years. I don’t need a pulpit to serve Christ.  

For the first 10 years after starting the first Iranian Christian organization in the United States, I was a civil engineer during the day and a house-church planter at night, driving all over LA County preaching the Gospel to a newly-arrived group of Iranian immigrants. Even if I had wanted them to, these Iranians would have never been able to support my family and me for what I was doing.

For 10 years, it was my engineering degree that put a roof over my family’s head, food on our table and gas in my ‘69 VW Bug.  Maybe even more important, I own my home today – not because of the 30 years I pastored, but because of the 10 years I engineered. My salary as an Iranian pastor would have never been able to purchase my family a house.

It took me 10 years to build a solid enough base of supporters before I was able to leave my engineering job. By then, I was also convinced that was something I was called to do.

Maybe 40-50 years ago, a church of 40 members was able to support her pastor fulltime, but those days are over. Today, to be fully supported, the same pastor needs a church that is four to five times larger than that. That was a reality that most of my students faced. Since, right off the bat, pastoring a large church was out of the question, they needed to have a job that would put a roof over their heads and food on their tables while trying to pastor a small church.  

That is why I encouraged many of my students to get out of the Bible College and first get a degree that would give them a solid base of financial support. Meanwhile, they could do what I did for ten years: serve God where they were.  If they never get into a “fulltime ministry,” they haven't wasted four years of college and thousands of dollars getting an education they never needed. But, if they do, and feel they need more Biblical education, they can always go back to Bible College and get their Biblical degrees with the money they saved from their well-paying jobs.

That’s what I did.

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