Recently I heard that Amazon had available, and then pulled from its inventory, a do-it-yourself (DIY) gastric bypass kit. I never was sure if the product was some sort of gag or was meant to be a serious offering. The company that made it claimed it was intended for professionals only.

Soon after that report came out, I got a book catalog in the mail offering among many other works The Portable Seminary: A Master’s-Level Overview in One Volume. The blurb proclaimed it the “next best thing” to a seminary degree in biblical studies for those who “can’t afford the time or money needed for” such work.

Imagine! By reading a volume shorter than Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, you can now get the academic credentials others take three or four years to receive! No tests or papers or projects! No student sermons, CPE or supervised ministry! And best of all, no student loans or uprooting your family! You can say you are qualified to be a pastor by having read just one book of 704 pages! It’s the DIY seminary!

I don’t think so. Even those who do have a seminary degree are not truly prepared to be pastors. For that, a woman or a man needs real world experience in both the Church and the community. She or he must know how to deal gently with troubled folk, be a non-anxious presence in conflict, respect the traditions of people who fear change while proclaiming and promoting God’s new thing. At least the seminaries I graduated from did not prepare me for any of that. I had to learn it, sometimes the hard way, on the job in congregations and from work in a law firm and presbyteries.

Academic study is important, and in my tradition, essential, but it’s never enough. There’s an old saying that I discounted for a long time but embrace wholeheartedly now: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

As for DIY, nothing we do in life and especially in ministry is ever “do-it-yourself.” We live and serve only by the grace and power of God.

© 2011 Tom Cheatham

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