Ahhh, Books!

The single most important factor for me in moving to the Boston area to go to seminary full-time was the prospect of, once again, having nothing else to do but go to school. I had tried every other way I could think of and it simply couldn’t be done. What is that saying? “No one can serve two masters.” In the same way, I couldn’t serve both work and school: I was constantly loving the one and despising the other. I needed a situation where I could confidently focus most of my attention on learning, or focus it on something else.

Actually, focusing on learning has always been much easier for me than focusing on anything else. Even at work, the only time I’ve been able to keep my focus on the task at hand was when it was pressingly urgent that I *learn*, and fast! The minute it was that I could confidently say that I *knew* my job, I could also confidently say that my job had lost all interest for me. In other words, the only way for me to *keep* my job was for me to find ways to make my job utterly *fascinating*, and so I consequently had little time or attention for school. (This also may explain for why I was found at school so frequently staring absently into space.)

Now, here it is. Finally, I am at a school whose sole purpose is to dedicate as much of its resources as possible to the study of the things I’m most likely to sit around thinking about anyway. Sigh…

When I got here, I had myself narrowed down to three possible degree plans: The first one is the standard [Master of Divinity](http://www.gordonconwell.edu/academics/mdiv.php), whose purpose is to prepare a person who intends to be in an official ministry position at a church for any situation he or she might possibly encounter, including: biblical languages, church history, preaching, theology, education, missions, counseling, and evangelism. If you’ve got this degree and somebody at church asks you a question to which you don’t know even a general answer, that guy’s got the same degree you’ve got! The second degree was a dickens for me to find. In Charlotte, the program was called the Masters in Christian Education, but apparently here it’s called the [Master of Arts in Educational Ministries](http://www.gordonconwell.edu/academics/maem.php). It means what it sounds like, and I may have some difficulty explaining why I’ve been leaning toward it.

When I got my English degree, people kept asking me if I wanted to teach, and my answer was always a resonding “no!” But the more I study theology (which is far more fascinating to me than literature), the more astounded I am with how deeply and how broadly people before me have thought about these things and with how much of it I wish I had learned sooner, if I’d had the chance. My year-or-so’s experience teaching youth Sunday school was also an eye opener into “what they’re teaching children in school these days.” It’s not so much that kids aren’t acquiring data the way they ought to (though there’s something in that,) as it is that the worldview you adopt as a child tends to stick with you for the rest of your life. Most of my negative reaction to the idea of teaching was in response to my bad experiences in primary and secondary schools. I’ve been told that when it comes to actually *teaching*, I’m pretty good at it. But more than the actual art of instruction, I think the best help I could provide would be with the big picture part of setting the agenda and seeing it carried through. So, more than teaching, I could see myself as principal of a Christian school, or even (in some dream-composed reality) superintendent of a *network* of Christian schools (oh wouldn’t that be the day!).

The third degree is called the [Master of Theology](http://www.gordonconwell.edu/academics/thm.php). It’s basically a one-year extension to the 3-year MDiv program, which includes a full set of classes focused on a single set of theological concerns. I’ve already got my topic picked out: Theology and Culture, for reasons expressed [here](http://www.neumatikos.org/puretext/2003/04/tongues/), with passion, if little clarity.

The difficult part was that the MDiv program has an option for what’s called the “concentration in education ministry,” which basically involves taking all your electives in a single area, namely, education. I kept running into blurbs recommending students who were planning on taking the MaEM, but who had even the remotest suspicion that they might end up working at a church, to take the MDiv with the Education concentration instead. (Education is a… concentration… oh! excuse me.) But what if you were considering doing both? Answers were not to be found. Everybody I talked to was clear on one thing: if you’re going to be working in a church, you want the MDiv. But nobody had any information about whether a separate degree in Education Ministry would have any added benefit. One piece of helpful information I was able to find out from the admissions department was that if you took two concurrent masters degree programs, you were allowed to apply up to 10 courses toward both degrees.

One of the things I hated when I was a kid in school was to be treated as if the serious and sincere questions that I had were merely attempts to bait and annoy my teachers. I ran into this all the time. I could flood you with examples, but one particularly comes to mind: fifth grade. We’re learning about fractions and surface area. Again. One of the persistent questions I always had was why it is that, when you have a square that is one inch on a side, you say the area is 1 square inch, but when you have a square that is *half* an inch on a side, you say that it is one quarter inch squared. Shouldn’t it be a square half inch? Now, I understood the math that ½ x ½ = ¼, and I could plainly see that a square that was half an inch on a side was exactly one fourth as big as a square that was one inch on a side. But that still didn’t fix the fact that a square that is half an inch on a side can’t be a quarter inch square, because *each side is half an inch, and not a quarter inch!* I mean, a centimeter is a little less than half an inch, and you don’t call a square that is 1 cm on a side a square half-centimeter, do you?

So, after my teacher had finished the lesson, and while everyone else was quietly doing their figures, I went up to her desk and presented her my problem. She quickly pulled out a piece of paper and began demonstrating to me how a half-inch square was exactly one fourth the size of a full-inch square, which I already knew. So I told her I understood that part and tried again to explain to her my problem. After about three attempts I discovered the answer: sit down and quit trying to annoy the teacher. You would not believe how many questions can be answered in the same way. It appears that a near limitless supply of inquisitive minds can be shunted aside by an admonition that students should never inconvenience teachers. (The answer, by the way, was that I was asking a semantic question and not a geometric question. The problem is that you don’t usually measure in half-inches. If you *do* measure in half-inches, then a square that is half an inch on a side *is* a half-inch square, and a square that is an inch on a side is *4* half-inches squared. But as long as we’re measuring in inches instead of in half-inches, then a square that is half an inch on a side is ¼ of a square inch. Of course, I figured this out on my own, sometime after I learned the word “semantic.”)

I tell you that story to explain to you why I had this… feeling when I went to our group advising session debating whether to get the Masters in Education as well as the MDiv. We sat down; we introduced ourselves for an hour; our advisor gave us a speech on some general rules for figuring out our degree plans. I heard her present the same information about how you should generally get the MDiv with the education concentration instead of the MaEM degree if we were going to be working at a church (education is a… concentra… sorry). I heard other students ask intricate questions about the inner workings of prerequisites and ballanced workloads. And then I asked my question: would there be any particular advantage to getting the Masters in Education in addition to an MDiv?

Stone. Wall.

“Who told you to do that?” I was asked.
“Nobody,” I said. “That’s why I’m asking”
“Is that one of the programs?”
“Well, there is an MDiv program, and there is a Masters in Education Ministry, and I wanted to know if there was an advantage to getting both.”
“Normally, students who are going to be working in ministry get an MDiv with a concentration in education.”
“I know. But I wanted to know if there would be any particular advantage to getting two separate degrees.”
“Normally, students get an MDiv with a concentration in education.”

What does normal have to do with me? I thought. But experience has taught me that when a teacher repeats the exact same answer even when you rephrase the question, that means the real answser is “sit down and quit trying to annoy the teacher.”

Sigh. Did you know that a half-inch, squared, is not necessarily the same thing as a square half inch?

I went home, and the one thing on my mind was that I had to find out if I really needed two degrees or one before I finished registering for my classes. So I went searching online. I wanted to see what kind of education requirements there were for, say, principals of Christian schools.

There are none.

More precisely, there is no central repository of job openings for principals. Most christian schools hire exclusively through their denominations and by word of mouth. There weren’t even any recommendations about what christian schools should look for. Now, for a position at a public school, they clearly delineate: Masters in Education and at least 2 years teaching experience. But again, there’s no specification about whether a MDiv with an education concentration will suffice. I did find out about a position that some churches have, called “Director, Christian Education,” which could signify anything from youth leader, to day care administrator, to sunday school director. But it sounded interesting.

I did find one interesting thing in my search, though: [Emmanuel Christian School](http://www.emmanuelenid.org/school/index.htm). Wow. Time was when you moved away from a town as a nine year old, you never heard anything from that place again. Emmanuel Christian School is my fondest memory of what a school is supposed to be (with the possible exception of homeschooling, which fits in a different category). It was very small, and only went through grade school, but the academics were excellent, and I don’t think I got away with *anything*. I couldn’t remember anyone’s names from there, except one: Mr. Mac, the headmaster, whom my mom really admired and who happened to still be working there. I sent him an email avising of my thoughts on calling and asking advice. He’s since sent a reply.

Having given up on internet advice, I decided to take out my Masters in Education Ministry degree plan and knock out 10 courses and see what I had left. It turns out that if you don’t count the lost electives in getting two masters, there are seven classes in the education ministry degree that aren’t covered by classes already in the MDiv program. The MDiv is a three year program, while the MaEM is a two year program. The MDiv includes six electives, which would all be education classes with the conentration (education is a… *cough* ‘scuse me). So basically, there’s no discernable advantage to getting two separate degrees. Solves that problem.

Thursday last, I signed up for classes. With 30 classes to complete in 3 years, I need to take about 4 classes each semester, and two in the summer, so I signed up for Greek I, Church History I, Systematic Theology I, and Intro to Education Ministry. (Did I mention that my degree plan is pretty hard-coded?)

Now it’s the end of Sunday. My first class is tomorrow at 1:15. I arranged for almost all of my classes to be in the afternoon and evening because all of Valerie’s classes are so late. At the end of this, I’d like for us to still recognise each other. All day today, and I expect the same for tomorrow morning, I’ve had nothing better to do than flip through textbooks and read ahead. Since I have no program for getting through them yet, I’ve been reading one chapter of each, and then rotating to the next. Oh my this is nice…

Ahhh books!

11 thoughts on “Ahhh, Books!”

  1. Yes he did. Said he was just thinking of me because he was looking at a picture Da had done of his daughter.

    The cool part is that on the school website, they’ve got a running banner of old school pictures, and I could swear that some of them are from when we were there. I recognized Shane and Nathan, and I think, *maybe* ces and me.

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  2. I was just trying out Google Blog Search and your post came up (searched “Christian arts”). I liked your post…keep thinking out of the box. I took exegesis and homiletics under Haddon many moons ago when he was president at Denver Seminary (M.Div.). Great man of God, and pretty good preacher, too. Just an encouragement to think out of the box about education. Although we have homeschooled for 18+ years, and written books on the topic, I frankly find the term “homeschool” outmoded and even counterproductive. We’re really talking about home-based alternative methods of living and learning that start with the notion that education does not happen only in a formal classroom. My wife went to Oxbridge in England this summer (CS Lewis Institute triennial conclave at Oxford and Cambridge) and came back convinced that the future of Christianity is in the hearts and hands of parents who are willing to resist the encroachment of culture into Christian experience, and raise what I call “para-culture” kids who offer a different view of life to the prevailing culture. The most effective way to do that is through some kind of home-centered learning that is discipleship based. All that to say, keep your options and mind open. God’s grace to you as you start your seminary experience. Wish I could do it all over again (especially in Boston!).

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  3. Thanks for the encouragement! Fortunately, I’m one of those people who frequently get tripped up in life because they never saw any box. Although, “the box” has frequently been mistaken for a Mack truck.

    I’ve read some very encouraging reports about Christian communities that have created some very integrated “homeschool” options for their children: working piecemeal with local christian schools and universities to provide just the right mix of homebound instruction and specialized training. I’d like to be in a position that I could facilitate all of that, all while raising my own family properly as well. We’ll see how much we can pull off!

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  4. You’re right, after a generation of distrust and suspicion between public/private schools and homeschools, there are finally some new “hybrid” models that are beginning to emerge, better homeschool co-op models, and even some pure-play internet models (www.learningbygrace.org) that all look promising. We created a more “alt-ed” discipleship-based, home-centered education model that emphasizes reading many good books (real, living books), having lots of discussions (very verbal home), and getting involved in real life learning opportunities. We rarely used “textbooks” but made sure our kids knew the basics. We’ve graduated two and two more are coming up the pike. The future educational landscape will need Christian educators with your insight who can envision how all the models can help build the body of Christ. Blessings to you in your seminary adventure.

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