Brian the Prostitute
Don’t be a ‘grade whore’, Brian. This was how I was admonished this past Monday. It was good for me to hear.
I have several motivations for doing well in school:
1. I think it is a moral issue – pastors must be competent if they are to be faithful to their calling. Competency alone does not make a pastor, but it is required of a pastor–a pastor must be a master of Scripture and prayer.
2. I am extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to receive formal seminary training. I must take every opportunity to do well for those who do not have the opportunity that I have.
3. Members of our church tend to be well-educated. Their pastor should be as well.
4. Pride. Seminary is not like a regular graduate school. The intention is not to draw the brightest minds (necessarily), but to equip those who are called. Although it is not easy, I admit it … I don’t want to feel dumb.
5. Pride. I am doing so well already. I feel pressure (from who??) to keep it up. I admit it … I want to believe that I am really that smart.
6. I have a scholarship to maintain.
So what do I in order to do well? I sleep with my … (screeeech) … you didn’t think that I’d … you are disgusting … I sleep with my mind fixed upon my studies. Sheesh.
But what does it mean to be a grade whore? I guess I can be a kiss up and always try to impress the professors with random comments and many visits to office hours. Or I can give gifts to the professors and offer to treat them to coffee often. Or, I can perform for the grade and not for the learning.
That last one is a tricky one. Even my professors admit it. One says often (with a big smile), “You must learn for God, but I still have to give you a grade. Sorry.”
Why am I writing about grades now? Ironically, I never cared about grades before, when it seemed everyone else did. Now I care, when it appears that no one else cares (and considers them more trivial now than ever! Some have even scoffed … everyone gets A’s in grad school. Talk about feeling trivialized.). I really don’t know why I am writing about grades. Maybe because for the first time since elementary school (when I was afraid of getting in trouble with the parentals), I actually think about grades!
In closing, I realize this: simply because I do well in a class does not mean that I have learned much. The real challenge for me is to learn. The moral task of the pastor in seminary is not to get the grades–that is an indicator–but rather to be trained. Especially when crunch time comes, it is easy to pull out stuff from my bag o’ cool ideas in order to oooh and awwwe my professors. (And you can’t b.s. in seminary … that’s just wrong.) The challenge for me is to resist the temptation to simply recycle my ideas from paper to paper, class to class, or to disregard ideas that are not compatible with mine (which are clearly superior to that of my accomplished Ph.D. profs), but to be humble … humble enough to learn and be challenged beyond my present status–even (or especially?) at the expense of grades and always at the expense of pride.