Are some preachers too educated?

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Jeremy Sarber

On day two of #100DaysToOffload, I’m thinking back to the strangest criticism I’ve ever received as a minister.

Years ago, a fellow pastor formally uninvited me from speaking at an annual conference to which I was never formally invited. I preached at the same conference the year before, so perhaps he was merely doing his due diligence, thinking I may presumptuously return expecting an opportunity to speak with or without an invitation. Regardless, I’m still confounded by his explicit reason for uninviting me.

For the first and only time in my life, someone accused me of sounding too educated” when I preach. Allow me to pause here. Those who know me best will want an opportunity to laugh at the notion.

I suppose this pastor would argue, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise (1Co 1:27). If by some delusional stretch of the imagination I come across as too intellectual or educated” when I preach, maybe he has a case. Perhaps I wouldn’t qualify as what is foolish. Therefore, one may reason, I wouldn’t be qualified to preach.

Then again, wasn’t the apostle Paul incredibly intelligent and well-educated? Arguably, no author of Scripture was more articulate, theologically precise, or systematic than Paul. While I believe an uneducated man can be as capable as any preacher with a doctorate, criticizing and rejecting educated ministers is a step too far in my opinion. Criticizing me for being too educated” is several steps further into the absurd.

A loud voice and memorable anecdotes do not compensate for a lack of biblical exegesis. Failing to study and teach the historical, cultural, and grammatical contexts of a passage should not be worn as a badge of honor. Ignoring church history and the edifying treasures left behind by those godly brethren who came before us doesn’t make one more spiritual.

Brothers, thoroughly understanding and carefully, exhaustively teaching the Bible is our divine calling and responsibility for which we will give an account to God (Heb 13:17). We’re not striving to show off our intellect from the pulpit, of course, but God gifted each one of us with a degree of intelligence. Why wouldn’t we use it when studying and declaring his word?

I didn’t attend seminary. I didn’t even make it to college. I’m neither ashamed nor proud of these facts. I don’t think less of those without a formal education, and I’m not particularly impressed by those with eighteen letters after their name. Even so, I have always tried to study deeper and comprehend more. I listen to and critique every sermon I preach with the hope of improving my delivery the next time. If my efforts cause me to sound too educated” to be a gospel minister, I can hardly apologize.

I’ll leave God to judge my sincerity just as I’ll leave him to judge another’s criticism.

Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to fight about words. This is useless and leads to the ruin of those who listen. Be diligent to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:14, 15)

Further discussion

Joshua Winslett on May 20th, 2020:

Someone once told me that I was using big words. My response was, no, I am using the correct words. With that said, I do remember my audience and adjust when needed.

Jeremy Sarber on May 20th, 2020:

All things to all men— I agree with that.

Joshua Winslett on May 20th, 2020:

Another funny comment, I can tell you get in the pulpit and really try to teach.” Well, yeah. Ha. That one was said in sincerity and as a compliment. So I just took it how he actually meant it in spite of how he said it. Comments about preaching are always fun.

Jeremy Sarber on May 20th, 2020:

One of my favorites is, I really love your teaching, but I’ll admit I miss preaching sometimes.”

Tom De Lasa on May 21st, 2020:

To paraphrase a comment by Sinclair Ferguson There is a big difference between a well nourished congregation and a well instructed congregation”.

Jeremy Sarber on May 21st, 2020:

I agree with Brother Ferguson.