Please Do Not Go To A Bible College 2

A few years ago, I posted a blog, Please Don’t Go To A Bible College. I wrote the article after teaching at a small Bible college for five years and noticing many students committing themselves to thousands of dollars in student loans to earn a four-year degree, which could only land them a job that

  1. a) had nothing to do with so-called ministry and
  2. b) they could have gotten with their high school degree — “Would you like whipped cream on top?”

At the time, I got a lot of feedback on the post, especially from some of my former students. However, a few months ago I received the following long email from David. A young man I’ve never met. To keep this blog as short as possible, I have only included the Reader’s Digest version of David’s email.

Mr. Afshar,

I’ve read your article on not going to Bible College over a dozen times. I agree with you 100%. You have one of the very, very, very few articles on the internet about this subject and I decided to finally email you asking for two things: 1) advice and 2) you write a follow-up article.

After high school, being terrified to be out of God’s will, rather than joining the military to work on nuclear reactors, (An ASVAB test had highly qualified him for that position.) David, who comes from a Pentecostal background, felt he was called to be a missionary, so he went to a Bible college.

After finishing college, he tried to go to Japan as a missionary, but all his plans failed, so he tried to pursue a Master’s program to, as he put it, “…bring another skill to the table…” It was then that he found out his former Bible college’s accreditation was so poor that the only school that would accept him for graduate work was a seminary.

After the door on Japan closed, he applied all over the country for a youth pastor position while “volunteering everywhere like crazy” trying to build up his resume. But he was turned down everywhere mostly due to being single. He couldn’t find a job even at McDonalds or Starbucks.

Today, at the age of 32, David is back to school again starting from scratch. None of his credits, even English, was transferable. He has three more years to complete his BS. He’s already been awarded the engineering student of the year, been put on the board of directors for a non-profit organization that gives scholarship to qualified students, has an internship at an aerospace company, and is waiting to hear back from NASA regarding a grant for a summer project (According to his last text, he got it).

If it wasn’t for the following, we could all say, “All’s well that ends well.” However, this is not the end of the story. David continued with these sobering words:

Going through all of that has left me in a bad shape. I am cynical about the things of God. I have trouble seeing God as someone who is good and blesses. I constantly struggle with disappointment, disillusionment, anger, and regret. I remember imagescountless sermons on hearing how God will, “open doors” ,”bless my sacrifices”, and etc. My anger is affecting my schoolwork now (My 3.81 GPA will drop down considerably after this semester). I don’t have a dating life because no women in her mid-20s to mid-30s wants to marry a guy who doesn’t have a job and won’t get one for at least three years. I did ALL the things I was told to do and this is where it has left me. I’m ashamed of having gone to a Bible college, and these days I do not tell people.

Because I had many students who went through what Dave is experiencing — and I’m deeply sorry to say that some now consider themselves to be atheists — I wrote another post a few years back to deal exactly with the above issues and questions. Please see, Modernity, Post-Modernity, Metanarrative, And….

In that article I showed how the church, in general, has made God a being who operates like a computer: by correctly using a set of programs and algorithms, God will give you the right answer. And if the answers are not what you expected, it is due to your insufficient input (lack of faith, sin in your life, not reading your Bible enough, not praying hard enough, not being present at every church service, not tithing, and…) and hardly ever preparing us for the reaction of a sovereign God whose answers might often be, “NO.”

Dave ended his email with these questions,

How do I move on? How do I get past the regret and anger? How do I get into a good relationship with God? How do I let go? Do I need to see a therapist and who would I see or how do I find one? How do I heal? How do I deal with being sexually frustrated and not being able to do anything for at least three more years and when it is slim pickings in your 30s?

Could you please write another article in case there is anyone like me, who is going through the same thing?

Since receiving this email, I’ve spent a good hour talking to Dave on the phone. He’s a brilliant and articulate young man. I don’t know how much I was able to help him. That’s why I need you to help me answer the above questions. What would you say to Dave? Please give me some practical advice and not just spiritual clichés.

 

Why So Many “Dones” And “Nones”?

As I came out of the bookstore, I had one thought in mind, “I wish I was dead!” The thought of death was the most soothing thought I had had since I’d started college.

The year was 1971 and after two semesters of college, it was obvious that getting a degree in civil engineering, something that had brought me to the US, was not going to be that easy.

In two semesters, I’d gotten nothing but lousy grades, which had made me quite ashamed of being the failure that I’d become. But even more painful was letting down my parents, who had made a great sacrifice to get their oldest to America. So, not being able to live up to a standard that my Iranian culture had set before me, my next step was committing suicide. But that day, as I came out of the school’s bookstore something happened that gave me a glimmer of hope.

As I stepped out the door, with the weight of the whole world on my shoulders and my head bowed down, the guy coming towards me was dancing and scat singing. As he got next to me, he looked me in the eyes and asked, “How are you?”

imageedit_2_2122402828Never being one who hides his emotions, but at the same time not expecting anything, I said, “I’m not doing well.”

What happened next, as simple as it might sound to some of my readers, was something that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.

The man stopped dead in his track and asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?” A stranger, a man I didn’t know stopped and offered to help me. I needed that so much. I deeply wanted to know that someone cared about this worthless failure of a man.

I don’t remember what happened next. I might have said, “No, thanks! And went on my way” But I still remember that act of kindness, and try to implement it in my Christian walk whenever I can.

————————————————————————

I’m invited to fill in for my friend who is an adjunct professor at a Bible college. As it is my habit, I show up early. Because it was lunchtime, I sit on the retaining wall next to the entrance to the refectory (Whatever happened to the dining hall?). I want to see how the students react towards a stranger who is much older than they are and seems not to belong to their school.

As these Bible college students, our future Christian leaders, begin to pass by me, I stare at them in hope of,

  1. Out of respect for an elder, they would greet me, and
  2. At least by smiling at me, acknowledge me as a man who is made in the image of the God that they would be studying right after lunch.

Out of about 100 students who pass me by, only a few of them acknowledge my being and give me a hurried glance. That breaks my heart. Don’t they realize that I might desperately be in need of a smile, a “how are you?” an affirmation that I am still a human being made in the image of God?

‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑

A day doesn’t go by that I don’t come across of an article about the “Dones” (The believers who’ve left the church) and the “Nones” (The nominal Christians who’ve left the church), lamenting the fact that church attendance is drastically dropping in the US.

Many of these articles sound like Chicken Little running around and screaming, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling. People are leaving the church. What can we do to bring them back? Maybe if the church offers better programs, then people will stay and the ’Dones’ will come back and the “Nones’ will be attracted to the church.” But very few talk about why these people have left and why the Millennials are not going to church.

The issue isn’t having better programs. The issue isn’t having strobe lights and fog machines or having the music so loud that you need to hand out earplugs to the parishioners as they enter the sanctuary on Sunday mornings. I personally have no problems with any of that. But that will not solve some of the much deeper issues the church needs to face and resolve.

To think that better programs will solve the crisis the church is facing is like the old joke about a man who had 3 ugly daughters (Upon reading the word “ugly”, I wonder how many of my young readers needed to retreat to their safe spaces while clinging to their teddy bears?). One day as he’s walking on the beach, the man comes across a bottle and when he opens it a genie pops out.

“For freeing me from this prison, I’ll grant you a wish. What is it that you want?” said the genie.

Showing genie a map, the man said, “ I love Hawaii, but it’s quite expensive to travel there several times a year. I want a bridge over the ocean that will directly connect LA to Hawaii.”

The genie looked at the map and said, “I’m just a genie, not God. What you’re asking is out of my hands. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“Yes! I wish for my daughters to be married. Can you find them husbands?” pleaded the man.

“Do you have a picture of them?”

So, the man excitedly pulled a photo out of his wallet and showed it to the genie upon looking at it, the genie said, “Let me see the map again!”

There’s a broken bridge between the church and the people. Until we rebuild that bridge; until we learn to smile at the old man sitting on the retaining wall rather than being too busy parsing Hebrew and Greek words for our next Sunday sermon on how to love people, until we learn our neighbor’s name who’s lived next to us for several years, until we acknowledge the fact that we’re all made in the image of God and should be treated as such, and until the church learns to love for no reason, but to obey Christ’s commandment, she will continue to be as unattractive as the above three daughters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please Don’t Go To A Bible College!

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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.