The Mis-Education of the Black Seminarian: A Slave to my Debt but I own a Masters

This will probably have a lot of errors because I was extremely honest with this and didn’t want to read my honesty about myself. I could have written more but the last sentence got my attention. I truly took the words of Langston Hughes to task when he said, “hang yourself with your words.” I just did…it all makes sense now.(this is written like an emcee would freestyle)

In 1933, Carter G. Woodson wrote his seminal text, The Mis-education of the Negro, depicting the deplorable learning outcomes of African American in the American educational systems.  The impact of the psychological damage one can insert when you “control a man’s thinking” was consistent theme.  His desire to implement systemic change to an educational system that de-valued the academic importance of the African American was a trailblazing movement. His apt and descriptive use of the word mis-education denoted the mishaps that had befalling the education for the African American.

With a certain level of similitude, Woodson makes a statement that would prove problematic in today’s social media world as it did in 1933;

One of the most striking evidences of the failure of higher education among Negroes is their estrangement from the masses, the very people upon whom they must eventually count for carrying out a programs of progress, of this the Negro churches supply the most striking illustration. The majority of Negro communicants still belong to these churches, but the more education the Negroes undergo the less comfort they seem to find in these evangelical groups.

Woodson’s critique of the educated black preacher (seminarian) is an ever present toil. He balks at the track that the educated black preacher embarks upon to be relevant. The relevancy is connected with emulating the dominate culture which places the educated place preacher in a place of exile deems Woodson.

The black seminarian stands at an epic place of “juxtapositional consternation”-wanting to stand firm with his/her people group but so misunderstood because of his/her educational progress.  The frustration is located somewhere between, The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson and The Dilemma of the Black Intellectual by Cornel West.  The need is to progress in all intellectual pursuit without getting out of touch with the masses. Then there is the other issue of staying true to the diversity mandate of the scripture of treating every the same.

The black seminarian or educated black preacher is caught is this whirlwind of being relevant, theological correct and community connected.  How to navigate this terrain is a tumultuous deed of resilience, humility and patience.  The issue is diagnosed by the church as an over-educated problem of the preacher/seminarian. The preacher/seminarian sees it as a lack of progress by the church. So inevitably the preacher /seminarian moves toward other playing fields where he/she feels that the skill set is of value. Thus the community at large misses out on what potentially could have been a massive vehicle for change. Woodson declares that the church had the power to bring “social uplift, business and public welfare “if they could center upon correct leadership.

Here is where the genesis of this narrative begins…

I asked a brother if seminary was needed for pastors? As we dialoged my question was one of personal bias as well as a reflection of some of the materials that I had read. It appears that the pursuit of a seminary degree, at least for me, is becoming futile. What I am finding is that churches want a person that has an MDiv. (Master of Divinity) but for all intense purposes can’t afford to pay that pastor the salary deserved. Now, to clarify the statement most pastors believe in the call justifying them taking what the church can afford, nonetheless it still is well below what is needed to a pastor to take care of their family in most cases. It seems as if the pastor would have been better off getting degree in something that could support their family rather than preparing for a call that may never come.

It is disheartening to prepare for a call only to find that all the doors have been closed toward you. Is this the sovereign God building your faith or is this the slight hand of churches unwilling to compromise anything for positive change?So the seminarian is left to spend valuable time in prayer deciphering the next move of God.

What have amassed are high levels of debt without a secure job in hand, coupled with other cultural issues mentioned prior, the seminarian is left with difficult decisions to make. Unwilling to forsake the call but needing to find some financial relief becomes priority. Normal jobs interfere with the call but life necessities outweigh the need to pastor.  It would appear that the sovereign God has left the decision up to you to decide and he will back your plan but that is not the case.

After six years of seminary and working toward a doctorate/PhD., I am not sure how to write or even put into words my exact feelings.  This is my story everyday as I wrestle with the call of God. Do I continue to move down this road or do I love God from afar?-still study my word but look for what has been deemed a secular job.

I have penned these thoughts because I have not had the words to adequately share with others the level of rejection that resounds, as I receive rejection after rejection.  The level of rejection that you feel when you have returned from seminary loaded with information to share with your church, only to be told that you use to much Greek and Hebrew. The disconnect you feel from your community that leads you to a place where you want to separate yourself from them altogether but you realize that your heart is not at that place.

Seminary taught me a lot of things but it didn’t teach me how to wait. I thought my dreams would come true if I got a MDiv. When it didn’t  happen I thought it definitely would when I started working on a doctorate and then a PhD. Well, what I found out was that at the end of the day it still is all futile without God. I am not sure if I would have been any far along with or without seminary degree but I would not be in as much debt and probably would not have this certain level of angst either.

As I ruminate over this there is this sense of entitlement that I have because I have done the work. I have spent the long nights learning things that I totally disagreed with but I learned it nonetheless. I felt as if God owned me that because I worked hard. I thought I was the savior of the black community because not many young black males wanted to go to seminary to learn the Bible and theology. Now, after three years of searching and applying for different pastoral positions, a humbleness has shaken me at my core. I depended on my information and books so much that I forgot to even bring God in the equation. I learned so much, so quick that God became the afterthought.


15 thoughts on “The Mis-Education of the Black Seminarian: A Slave to my Debt but I own a Masters

  1. Brian,
    First of all, know that I’m still praying for you.

    I have struggled with this from the other side. As a “layperson” I have found that I desire to be a part of a bible teaching church led by a person who was an educated student of the Scriptures. Unfortunately, in my area I have not found many black churches that meet that criteria. I also desire to be a part of a more culturally inclusive church & I have not found that in my local black churches. Those two things combined have pushed me to churches led by white pastors with culturally diverse congregations.

      1. Vetta,

        Thanks for the encouragement sister and know it is a hard thing to do. Truth be told I was not sure what I was doing but knew I needed to do it. I think most black pastors wrestle with the question: “what does it mean to be black and Christian, at one time or another. I live in that thought for many reasons. But god has to have a plan or else I am in trouble becasue this is wearing me out.

  2. ‘Seminary taught me a lot of things but it didn’t teach me how to wait.’ ~well said. Thanks for your honesty (esp. abt the feeling of entitlement); my wife and I (both graduated seminarians) are struggling to find how we can be used for the kingdom w/o attempting to build our own and using other ppl.

    My prayers are with you; may He be glorified, you be enriched though distraught (we’re there too), and your community rally to show support in discerning God’s will.

    1. Thanks jrlookingbill…I thought that I was the only person that felt this way and it bothered me. But after today, a lot of people have expressed the same sentiment. Thanks for responding and reading.

  3. I admire you for being honest,from the first time we met,continue to travel on your journey,but remember GOD first…

  4. It’s the dirty little secret of seminary. I was grateful that I got my first church 6 months after graduating from Seminary but after 10 years there was still not financially where any other Masters level professional would be on their job. I moved on to another church and decided to go ahead and get my DMin but am realizing that is not a guarantee that I will get a church who wants an educated preacher and is willing to pay for that person. Like Paul I have just learned to be content because the other option (and I have been there) is a mad, angry and resentful Pastor.

  5. Sir, you are telling the truth! Many seminarian graduates struggle to acquire positions that are commensurate with our education level (i.e. debt level). For me, I’ve been trying to find a secular job but’s its hard because they are looking for experience within the given field, not the fact that I have two earned masters degrees from seminary. It’s deeply frustrating. Yet I believe that God is faithful and that God will guide us in the right direction. Thank you for sharing your story.

    1. Brother I understand you more than I would care too. I too believe that God is doing something marvelous through this but sometimes it is called into question but the grace of God…

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