I’m hearing more and more these days of excuses why people can’t live the life of their dreams. “It’s the economy. It’s my wife. It’s my background.” And one of the most expansive excuses I continually hear is, “I don’t have a degree.”
Let me tell you a little story. With a dream and a vision of what that dream looked like, my wife Paula and I moved to Nashville 21 years ago. Our dream was to plant our lives in one place for the rest of our lives, in order to grow really great people through building a church.
What’s so unique about that? There are churches everywhere. Our dream was to build a church for people who didn’t want to go to church. And there are a lot more people who don’t want to go, than go each week. And you can prove that by the statistics. I am absolutely amazed by the number of people who don’t realize that people don’t accidentally not go to church. They do not go for very specific reasons.
So this vision to build a church for people who didn’t want to go to church, for people who had given up on religion but not necessarily on God, was so big and spectacular and the need was so great, it was obvious to me there were more people like me who found religion and church-going boring, binding, and restrictive. And yet when we launched this amazing new church, hardly anyone showed up.
We started with a handful of people who had been here trying to start a little Baptist church. They’d been so discouraged that when they met me, they said, “If you don’t help us we’re going to give up and go back to our inner-city church.”
I realized that these sweet Baptist people probably wouldn’t make the whole journey and I was absolutely right. But I knew they were good people with good hearts and could help us get started. Here’s the challenge. Even with good people to help us, and a great dream, the people didn’t show up by the hundreds and thousands like I had envisioned.
I wondered what was wrong. I realized I had experience, I’d grown churches before. As a matter of fact, every church I had served had done well. I had just come from East Tennessee where I had a great experience with a church called Towering Oaks Baptist Church. But it seemed in this new town, this town of creativity and spontaneity, of energy and enthusiasm, I was like a pariah. You know what my problem was? Well, that’s for another day and another post. But let me tell you what my problem wasn’t. It wasn’t for lack of degrees.
I have degrees. I love my degrees. I spent a lot of money on my degrees. I love the schools I have my degrees from. But the truth of the matter is, no one was impressed with my degrees. No one was impressed with my dissertation because it was on the shelves of a seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. And even if it were bound and distributed no one would read it because it was, after all, an academic work that no one really cared about, except the people who required it to give me, yes, my degree.
Now the story is basically this. The church of our dreams was created and realized; one of the happiest times of my life. But it wasn’t because I had degrees. As a matter of fact, that I had degrees when nothing was happening was more discouraging than if I didn’t have degrees. But I am absolutely sure that if I didn’t have degrees I would have laid the blame of the slow growth of the realization of my dream on the fact that I didn’t have degrees. So you’re screwed either way, right? You either have degrees and nothing happens (which is embarrassing) or you don’t have degrees and nothing happens (which is discouraging).
So let me just set you free. You don’t need to put yourself into mind-numbing debt in order to go get a degree. Do the work. Know what you’re doing, do the work, do it with passion, do it with excellence, do it over time, don’t give up because nothing happens fast. There is no short-cut to any place you want to go and is worth going once you get there. Just do the work. Do the work, do the work, do the work, do the work.