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

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.