the weblog of Alan Knox

Maturity and Education

Posted by on Mar 12, 2011 in discipleship | 6 comments

Maturity and Education

Two and a half years ago, I wrote a post called “Maturity and Education” as part of a synchroblog on “Maturity in the Light of our Faith.” Unfortunately, many in the church today equate education with spiritual maturity. I see it often in a seminary environment. I know some very mature people who are not formally educated, and I know some very educated immature believers. We must learn to separate them two, especially when it comes to recognizing leaders.


Maturity and Education

This post is part of a monthly synchroblog. The topic of this month’s synchroblog is “Maturity in the Light of our Faith”.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post called “Mutual Hermeneutics“. In that post, I started a discussion about biblical interpretation, and the tendency of modern believers to place the responsibility of interpreting Scripture in the hands of trained professionals. In a follow-up post called “Toward Mutual Hermeneutics“, I made some suggestions that I think would help believers move from a professional-only hermeneutic to mutual hermeneutics.

In the comments of the second post, David from “Love Each Stone” started a good discussion concerning the relationship between education and spiritual maturity. David suggested in one comment that “The contrast and comparison between “mature believers” and those with “training and expertise” is an interesting discussion that would probably be worth a whole separate post”.

A few days later, I found myself consider the topic of maturity again – this time for this synchroblog. Originally, I wanted to write a post on the topic of the role of the church meeting and edification in spiritual maturity. I am very interested in this topic, and I’ll probably write a blog post (or perhaps a series) on this topic later. For now, though, I wanted to continue the discussion on the relationship between training or education and spiritual maturity.

Let me start my stating that I teach in a college part time. When I finish my PhD – hopefully within the next calendar year – I hope to find a job teaching full time. I am not against education. I believe that education can be good, helpful, and important. However, education is not the same as discipleship, nor is education the same as spiritual maturity. And, I think that modernity has equated (or misunderstood) education for spiritual maturity to the detriment of the church.

Let me start by quickly examining a passage of Scripture that is often used to defend the necessity of education:

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV)

I quoted the KJV here because it is the only major English translation to translate the command as “Study” (other early English translations also used “study”: the Bishops Bible of 1595 and Tyndale’s translation of 1534). Yet, that word “Study” has stuck in our (or at least mine and those I’ve talked with) memory and affected the way we understand what Paul said. Now, look at the ESV:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV)

Thus, Paul was not calling Timothy (and others) to study, but to diligence. The difference is in the change of meaning in the word “study”. Similarly, Paul was not telling Timothy to study the Bible in order to be approved, but to do his best (be diligent) in the way he lives according to the gospel. (For “rightly handling” see Prov 11:5 where it is translated “keeps his way”. For “word of truth” = “gospel” for Paul, see Eph 1:13 and Col 1:5.)

So, right away, let’s get this passage out of our system. Paul was not telling Timothy to be educated by studying the Bible. He was telling Timothy to make every effort to live his life according to the gospel. In so doing, Timothy would be like an approved work who has no need to feel ashamed.

But today, we place such an emphasis on education that it has become almost synonymous with spiritual maturity. When someone graduates from Bible school or seminary, they are often hired right away by church organizations, with the assumption that the degree indicates maturity. Since the church does not know the individual personally, they only have the degree and a few hours of acquaintance.

However, while a degree may indicate a certain amount of knowledge – hopefully – the degree does not indicate spiritual maturity. The degree does not indicate that the person demonstrates love toward those who are “unloveable”. It does not indicate that the person knows how to deal with “opponents” with grace, patience, and gentleness. The degree does not tell us that the person is hospitable or willing to share what God has provided. Even passing classes in theology, hermeneutics, New Testament, Old Testament, Hebrew, and Greek does not indicate that a person knows how to interpret the Scriptures, much less live according to them. Graduation does not make a person spiritually mature.

Of course, our church system is based on the assumption that an educated person is spiritually mature. Most church leaders (pastors) would not spend the time getting to know people and letting the people get to know them before they accept a position in a church organization. Similarly, for the most part, the people would not wait to determine a person’s spiritual maturity level before recognizing this person as a leader. We expect our leader’s to be ready-made by Bible colleges and seminaries.

Its time to move beyond the assumption that education equals spiritual maturity. It may mean that the system has to change – so be it. The church needs leaders who are spiritually mature more than they need educated leaders. Again, I’m not disparaging education. Instead, I’m simply pointing out that we need spiritually mature pastors more than we need educated pastors.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 3-12-2011

    Great post. I just wanted to mention that σπουδάζω can mean “study” – it’s listed as the quaternary meaning in LSJ and is used by Philostratus in this way.

  2. 3-12-2011

    Alan, I think most people have moved past the point that “education does not equal spiritual maturity.” The real challenge is then for those who know this to not ostracize those who have benefited from formal education and have experienced Christ there.

    I think that’s what most people take away from much of this sort of message. They jump out of one ditch into another. “Yeah (they say), we don’t need educated leaders, my opinions are as good as anyone else’s.” And I think that is also a recipe for disaster.

    I would personally like to hear some of those authors spittin’ out books every month (especially those house church, organic, missional folks, etc.) to talk about that. I think you intended to say that in this post, but unfortunately people aren’t hearing that much.

    Leaders should be both… educated and spiritually mature. I don’t think it’s an either this or that. I don’t even know how it’s possible to have a spiritually mature believer who is unlearned and refuses any form of education.

    I hope we can encourage believers to see that the full package is what Christ wants from all of us, and stop using Scripture to support education or our ignorance as spiritual maturity.

  3. 3-12-2011


    David said, “I don’t even know how it’s possible to have a spiritually mature believer who is unlearned and refuses any form of education.”

    Forty years ago, I was in the fortunate place of being a member of a church which was blessed by a very humble old farmer. He was a deacon. When called upon he could run rings around most professional preachers in that the spiritual meal he served up, was of far more benefit to the spiritual growth of the church than that produced by most professionals.

    Having been formally educated, now in my naive old age, I have come to the point of believing that true education comes after the formal years, and continues on.

    Ultimately, that is what Dave Black was speaking of the other day, when he said,”Although I am a classroom teacher by profession and have been at it for some 34 years, I assure you, everything of significance you will ever learn you will learn from experience, not in a classroom.”
    The crucible of life is realistic, nontechnical (usually), and free from perfectionistic demands. Essentially, Christianity is a Way of life. Biblical principles work. If they didn’t, I would never waste your time or mine by writing this blog. Life is a place for biblical truth to be fleshed out, regardless of our educational status or attainments.”

    I have seen far too many congregations ruined by uneducated, “educated” men, if you understand what I mean.

  4. 3-12-2011


    Can you send me the passage in Philostratus?


    I’m glad to hear that you don’t meet people who associate formal education with spiritual maturity. I still meet them very regularly. Perhaps its because of my context. I do not think that leaders have to be formally educated (i.e., they do not have to attend college/university/seminary). I do believe they should be educated, but only in the sense of the education that comes from experience and life.

    Aussie John,

    Yes, that post by Dave Black was excellent, especially coming from someone who teaches in a seminary.


  5. 3-16-2011

    Alan, I agree with you. I’m not sure you or John understood me. :-)

    What do you mean by “experience and life”? Does that mean NO education (self or formal)?
    I’m especially interested to hear more of what you mean here. How does your words jive with your PhD studies? Can we not affirm spiritual leaders without crapping on education?

    Yes, I’m in a different context, mostly. (I’m an academic who has met in an “organic” church since 2006.) Still, I think the equating of seminary education with spiritual maturity has been on the decline for some time now, even in the organized church circles.

    John, I disagree with Dave Black’s comments. I would never say “everything” of significance happens in only one way or form. I agree that experience and praxis is critical to the success of learning. But that learning often begins in the classroom (teacher-disciple relationship) and is fleshed out later. I would include this portion of learning as “life and experience” as well as what the Lord might speak to me on a tractor in the fields.

  6. 3-17-2011


    When I use the term “education” in this post and in these comments, I’m talking about formal education in a classroom for the purpose of receiving some type of degree or certificate. I do not think that education is bad. In fact, it can be very beneficial. However, that type of education is not necessary for spiritual maturity, nor does that type of education indicate that a person is spiritually mature. I hope that makes more sense.