March 4, 2019—An acquaintance of mine recently completed his first semester of a PhD program. He’s a second career seminarian, with a strong track record of success in his careers. He shared feelings of insecurity and self-doubt as he observed his struggles with classroom discussions and after getting back his first academic paper (“Not an A,” he admitted). He asked, “Is this a normal feeling? Am I really that behind educationally and need to catch up somehow? Can I really do this?”
This was my response:
“Sounds pretty normal to me, R____. You are engaging in an enterprise that is challenging you. Therefore, it’s not surprising that you are becoming aware of the lacuna in your knowledge and experience. But that awareness is the first step.
Whenever be begin an enterprise like the one you’re engaged in, we all enter as “novice.” Some are more “novice” than others, but you’re all at the same level–believe me. Your job, if you chose to accept it, is to to the hard, disciplined work to move from novice to expert. When you get to the expert stage, they’ll give you a diploma that says so.
I’m going to take a risk here and predict that by the middle of your second year you’ll be able to discern that all those peers who now seem to know so much about what they talk about are really just full of hot air. They likely “know” stuff, but don’t know what it means, what to think about it, how to integrate it, how to use it, how to discern what’s important from what is not important, and whatever they know is merely something that somebody ELSE has said. In other words, they may “know” some stuff, but they’re not “educated” yet. That’s what your goal is: to cultivate understanding, not merely to know stuff.
Yes, what you describe is one aspect of it. It is a form of apprenticeship in the academic dimensions of the field. Later, depending on the context, you’ll continue the apprenticeship in other pragmatic dimensions of your field and if you’re lucky, you’ll also experience some mentoring along the way (NOTE: apprenticeship and mentoring are not the same thing).
In that context, here’s a truth that often is lost on the young: in order to be educated, you need to not only be familiar with Tradition (capital T, the tradition of your field), but also develop an appreciation for it and give it its rightful recognition. This is true even of iconoclasts and visionaries. You cannot be educated while remaining ignorant of the past at the same time. You cannot be educated fueled by your own hubris. Therefore, education means studying and appreciating the past, and, incorporating its wisdom as is appropriate.
Other aspects of acquiring “education” includes developing a framework for conceptualizing. Some call this a “world view” some call is a “philosophy.” In our Leadership in Ministry workshops, we call it a “theory of practice.” This is what gives you the ability for discernment–how to distinguish a good idea from a bad, or a worthy idea from one you can dismiss. Observing and emulating people who are in your field is also a part of the “education” process (modeling). Who are the best people in your field? How do they live? Communicate? What are they engaged in? What circles do they travel? How to they go about their work? Who were their mentors and models?
Hang in there, this is just the beginning of this leg of the journey.”
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.