Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What I am Fighting With (Right Now)

Isn't it amazing how much a little experience will change your perspective and uncover idiocy you previously did not know existed? This summer, I had the pleasure of doing two internships in ministry. I feel like I learned and matured as much as I have since I arrived at Southeastern nearly two years ago.

Don't get me wrong. I was born a student, and I am a lover of books. Seminary has been challenging and fruitful, and I have grown immensely in my walk with Christ. After two years, I still don't get the "cemetery" joke everyone tells. I have studied under some of the greatest modern Christian thinkers since I stepped out onto the Magnolia grove. And yet, there is something unique about being in the "real" world. Interacting with actual people and actual problems is inculcating. It is invigorating to flee the theoretical and potential and wrap-up with the experiential and actual.

Which is more important: Education or Experience? Is education superior or does experience truly conquer? When the classroom and the workplace go head-to-head for 12-rounds, who wins? This is something that has been rattling around between my left and right ear the last two weeks, but it reached an apex as I began classes.

This is an ongoing, old question that has infected the minds of men (from John Dewey to Donald Trump) and seems to have many shades of answers. The marketplace initially favors education, but later seems to favor experience. Even within academia, tenure is quite valuable. Each has its benefits.

I think we have to recognize both experience and education have a measure of value, but it is improbable that the scales are exactly balanced. Doesn't one outweigh the other, even slightly? Education or experience... that is what I am fighting with right now. If you have an opinion on this, please share it with me.


Katie C. said...

I definately think that experience is the best teacher... With the two degrees I have, one in teaching the other in counseling my experiences outside of the classroom were so important...I, like you, love being in the classroom but I truly think that most of what I really know about teaching and counseling did not come from the classroom, but actually working in those settings. My teachers could tell me all about behavior management and effective lesson planning, but until I actually had my own classroom, with my own students did I actually learn how to effectively manage a class or prepare a lesson that was relevant or interesting to my students. In my counseling internship I worked in a drug rehab. It was one of the most eye opening experiences I have ever had. My teachers in grad school were awesome, but all of the teachings they gave me on this counseling theory or that theory did not compare to actually leading a therapy group for recovering addicts...so I guess my opinion is, is that experience is so important...I think that education is a great base, but that experience greatly outweighs education in real importance to me.

Margaret Feinberg said...

I think you were wise to opt for both...they go beautifully hand in hand.

Levon said...

I think a skill set (education) is necessary for any discipline, but without the real world application of the skills (experience), the education is futile. I know of many people with degrees who are working at starbucks because they have no experience in their field. I can't count the number of masters level employees without experience who have done a poor job for us, or on the other hand, the number of less educated people with experience who were excellent employees. I will say, if you have the opportunity to get experience while pursuing your education, take advantage because it will certainly pay off down the road!!

Tyler said...

I would have to agree.

Both are extremely important. You need education in order to gain experience, and you need experience in order to know what to take from education. They work hand in hand. There are, of course, many people who have "made it" in the world without education, but this is few and far between.
I think in today's world, education is a must-have if you are going to gain any sort of respect. However, experience also gains you respect.
Let's say, for example, that you have earned your medical degree and have done your residency in cardiovascular surgery. While you have all of the education necessary in order to operate on my heart, I would feel much more comfortable with a heart surgeon who has had tremendous experience in operating on hearts.
So, I believe they are both important. If you dont have the education, then your experience doesnt matter in a lot of cases - and if you have all the education, but no experience, then it is also pointless.
You must have both.

...and i like the railroad picture better.

Katie C. said...

Since the last guy mentioned your picture change, I wanted to vote and say I looooove this one...

Jonathan Merritt said...


I am starting to really see what experience brings to the table in the real world. I used to think education is paramount, and though I think it still has immense value, I no longer worship at the altar of formal education.



Jonathan Merritt said...

Margaret and Tyler make a good point: BOTH are so very important. A healthy dose of one and the absence of the other will put you in a rough place in this world.

Levon, you really hit a nerve here. I think the importance of this issue really hits home when you graduate from college and run into the 20-something occupation wall. The real world is set up like this:
-You can't get a job without experience
-You can't get experience without a job
This often means... you can't get a job.

Carr Family said...


When a person has more education than experience they become idealistic... Think about the late night dorm chats of very smart students who have the world all figured out.

I started seminary after I had already worked in 3 different churches (I know - that is a separate discussion). When Elmer Towns would begin to tell "another story," the guys who were fresh out of college were agitated that he was not really teaching but wasting time. Those who had been in the real church world were hoping for another story! We understood that he was teaching us things that we would not learn from a book!

In the other direction, when experience is greater than education, we limit ourselves.

You know, the older I get, the more important the word "balance" is to me.

Robert Angison said...

Good questions. At this stage you're more likely to get credibility with education than vice versa. But one cannot deny that down the road there must be balance.

From my experience in a couple of decades of ministry, education is the doorway in and experience is the staying force behind longevity in ministry.

Best thing for me was to get my degrees, find a position, and work my way through reinforcing my classroom theory with workplace experience.

Also, it is a great sign of maturity to be asking these very questions. Keep on in your journey, it's worth it!

you are the church!
Robert Angison