"Should I Go to Bible College?"
I have my Bachelors degree from Moody Bible Institute. I also taught in the theology department at Moody for 3 years while completing my doctorate. High school students often ask me for advice in preparing for bible college. After observing my 2010 graduating class at Moody, and the things they have accomplished—as well as observing the lives of my students as they have gone on to pursue ministry—I now only give one piece of advice to anyone considering bible college. Don’t pursue your undergraduate education at a Bible college. It is one of the worst decisions a young Christian could make. There are several reasons for this.
1. You won’t learn as much as you think.
Moody is one of the best Bible colleges in the world, in the company of Biola, Wheaton College’s bible program, and the like. What students could learn in their four years studying the Bible will likely not far outweigh what they could have learned by through self-study for four years while pursuing a bachelors degree that has value in the American job market.
Learning Greek and Hebrew no longer requires Bible college attendance—use Pratico and Van Pelt’s resources (you can get the flash cards, study sheet, and video lecture bundle—it’show I re-taught myself Hebrew after letting it go for a few years). For Greek, get the Reading Biblical Greek pack by Constantine Campbell and Richard Gibson (we did a podcast with Constantine a while ago on how Greek knowledge changes Bible reading—it was fascinating).
For theology, most undergraduate level Bible colleges don’t actually bring you much deeper than Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, which you could easily read yourself. You could also surpass this level of theological research by reading Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics yourself.
2. Good Bible college teachers are being phased out.
As the higher education model changes, most Bible colleges are switching a majority of their course hours to doctoral students who teach adjunct classes. In other words, instead of paying a seasoned theologian a $70,000 salary (plus benefits) to teach 6 courses over the year, they will pay an army of underqualified doctoral students $2,000 per class, with no benefits, in order to maintain the same course offerings. This greatly diminishes course quality, not only because it removes expertise from a majority of the student experience, but also because adjuncts aren’t fully devoted to the students—their primary goal is to work several jobs while finishing their degree and publishing articles in journals. They are the last people who should be teaching, yet they are becoming the primary employment strategy of Bible colleges.
Many seasoned Bible college professors are either retiring or seeking employment by graduate schools with more prestige and older students with a more seasoned and devoted aptitude for the material. In short, the pedagogical quality of Bible colleges is drastically dropping.
3. There is no “job” for a Bible college degree.
Many students seek Bible college degrees because they want to go into full-time Christian ministry. It sounds natural—aspiring engineers get engineering degrees, and aspiring teachers get teaching degrees; wouldn’t aspiring pastors and missionaries go to Bible college? It makes sense, but it’s tragically incorrect. What many bright eyed high-schoolers don’t realize is that for every Bible college graduate applying to a ministry position, there’s someone else applying for the same position who has an M.Div. and more ministry experience.
The standard degree for full-time employment in Christian ministry is an M.Div. Nobody cares about your Bible college bachelors degree. You might as well have your picture with Goofy from Disneyland because a hiring committee is going to value the two exactly the same. Granted, some Bible college degrees—like those you could get at Moody or Biola—are better than most M.Div. programs. But it will still be just as meaningless to most hiring committees in the real world. People just don’t care about Bible college degrees. They’re completely worthless.
They are only valuable if they are accredited, in which case you can claim to have a bachelors when you apply to a Masters program which could give you an employable degree. But even this serves to highlight the more basic point—that you should have pursued an employable degree in the first place.
4. You could be spending this time pursuing an employable degree.
Let’s say you are convinced that God is calling you to full-time ministry. That’s fine. Many high school seniors feel this call from God. I certainly did—my career goal from the time I was very small was to join the army, and I spend my life devoted to that goal in order to apply to West Point Military Academy. But when I became a Christian in high school, I felt a strong call to pursue Christian ministry, and I went to Moody instead.
I regret that decision. It was a bad decision. I’m not saying I dislike my life—I love my life. But I should have gone to West Point. Then, when I graduated, I could get an employable ministry degree—like an M.Div.—from a reputable seminary. Because a bachelors degree in biblical languages means nothing, I ended up needing to pursue my M.Div. regardless of the fact that I already had four years of training in theology and the languages.
Pursuing an employable undergraduate degree does two things. First, it safeguards against the possibility that you may not be called to ministry. Don’t be so arrogant to think that your certainty is a guarantee of God’s call. You could be wrong. You might not be called to ministry. Either way, you won’t have lost any time or insight by pursuing an undergraduate education in engineering, accounting, teaching, or a STEM field. Get a degree that guarantees you a job, and study theology in your free time. After four years, you’ll be just as theologically educated, and infinitely more employable.
Second, pursuing a marketable undergraduate degree instead of a Bible college degree makes you a more attractive hire for ministry organizations down the road. Major in marketing, or business, or coding, or engineering. You can translate all of those majors into ministry down the road. You will probably need to get your M.Div. anyway, and having a combination of theological training with a marketable job skill will actually empower you to out-compete other M.Div.’s without marketable skills besides theological training.
Pursue a marketable undergraduate degree, not a Bible college undergraduate degree. Get an undergraduate degree that guarantees you a high-paying job. If you are inclined to shrug off this advice because of a sense of urgency, I would caution you to inquire whether your sense of urgency to go to Bible college isn’t in fact arrogance and impatience.
As I’ve explained—there isn’t anything you can get from Bible college that you can’t get from being a faithful Christian college student training to be something that makes real money. Either way, even if you do go into ministry, these marketable skills are equally marketable in the ministry job hunt. And the ministry job market is currently bursting at the seams with over-trained, over-credentialed people with multiple degrees. There aren’t a lot of ministry jobs out there. The ministry job market is a very competitive, low-paying, soft skills economy. It is one of the worst industries you could enter.
The beautiful thing about young high-schoolers is that you can do ministry, and even enter into full-time ministry, much more easily and with a much more financially secure path that enables you to support a family if you choose not to go to Bible college.
5. A Note to Pastors
The people who need to hear this message most aren’t actually high-schoolers—they are pastors who foolishly advise high-schoolers to go to Bible college. It is a selfish, narcissistic, ignorant, misguiding, irresponsible compulsion to advise high-schoolers to go to Bible college. Pastors who do so need to become informed and stop doing this immediately. It sounds good to have a young person from your church go to college, but you are actually robbing them of an opportunity to become an employable, productive member of your society in order for a fleeting sense of vanity about the efficacy of your church.
Pastors, your primary advice to students who want to go into ministry should be this: Get a high-paying undergraduate degree at a low-cost school, get plugged into a good local church in the area, spend the next four years of your life theologically educating yourself in that context. That is the very best advice—and in fact, the only advice—that pastors should be giving college-bound high-schoolers.
Do not rob children of their opportunity to become financially stable adults. Do not indulge their fantasy that attending Bible college indicates a career track in ministry. It most certainly does not. Most of my peers in Bible college who didn’t pursue a masters degree are now stuck in low-paying shift work positions, even 8 years later.
I love Moody Bible Institute. It was a beautiful place of spiritual formation for me. But I could have received the same thing from a good local church and campus ministry at a well-funded and effective state college. And I need to say this—the Bible college is a professionally useless institution. The very institution of the Bible college in the 21st century is a scam. Students who throw away four years of their lives at these institutions will miss out on a very formative four years of their lives for which they will be paying for the rest of their lives.
No one will tell them that. Everyone will celebrate them for going to Bible college. Even their parents think that they are pursuing an employable ministry track. Everybody is wrong. The institution itself is a farce. And if you are considering attending Bible college for an undergraduate degree, you very much need to avoid that path. To eschew this wisdom would be utter foolishness with a high cost. Do not make this mistake.
Get an employable degree — become an engineer. Then, get your M.Div. A bachelors in biblical studies will get you nowhere. If you are called to ministry, you will still be called to ministry after college, at which time you’ll have the time to get a masters degree—a prerequisite for most pastoral ministry.
I’ve seen so many Bible college graduates end up in coffee and retail. It’s tragic. Don’t get a Bible college degree. Study theology in your free time. Learn Greek and Hebrew in your free time. It’s easier than you think. And, if God has called you to ministry, and you also plan to have a family, then getting an employable bachelors degree and a prestigious M.Div. This path will be the most preparatory and godly choice that will honor both the excellence of God’s call on your life to ministry, as well as the weight of responsibility that will one day come with being a husband and father, or a wife and mother.