Education and Anabaptist Women: Objections, Considerations, and Advice
While higher education is becoming more common among Anabaptist women, many people, including myself, still have questions. Is college worth the investment? What if I get married and don’t use my degree? Should Anabaptist women even think about careers?
In my first article, I told my story and explained some of the benefits I have gained from pursuing higher education. I believe that my college experience has been beneficial to me in many ways. However, valid objections and questions must be thoughtfully considered.
When considering higher education, one premise often lies at the heart of questions: is college worth the investment if it is not used toward a specific career? Some would argue no. What is the point of studying liberal arts if you will become “just” a blue-collar worker? Should I deepen my passion for history if I don’t become a history teacher? What’s the point of studying English for four years if you never become an author?
If college is not intrinsically valuable, we need to ensure our degrees will be useful before we spend years studying. If I want to study my interests, then I should have a job lined up before I even begin studying. However, if we live our lives like this, we will always be waiting for the right time—for the time when we finally have everything planned out.
Maybe God wants to lead us to the opportunities right now, even when we are not certain how and when we will incorporate them into our lives. I do believe college—and education in general—is intrinsically valuable because of the discipline it brings, how it expands our worldviews, what we learn about God and people, and how it enriches our personal lives.
However, we do not want to misuse our education, either.
College and Marriage
Women often have a lingering question when considering college: is it worth it even though I may get married someday? We value motherhood and have seen the problems that can arise when people pursue a full-time career while raising children. However, there are benefits for a mom with letters behind her name. Yes, she may not follow her career path, but she will be able to teach her children what she knows. Teaching children is a crucial part of being a mother, and the knowledge imparted to our offspring will help mold them as they grow up. Higher education does not demean motherhood—on the contrary, it can enhance both motherhood and our personal lives.
But, one argues, what about the years spent studying and the cost? Is it worth the time and money? Higher education is an investment of our time and financial resources. And, as Wall Street will testify, not all investments are wise. However, we must realize preparation for anything will cost us something. Jesus spent thirty of His thirty-three years preparing for ministry. Moses spent years in the desert taking care of animals before confronting Pharaoh. How can we say a few years of our lives would be wasted if we pursued higher education? Very few of us will further God’s kingdom without some type of specific preparation or training. This will not necessarily be college, but if God is calling us to that, we should not shy away from it simply because of the sacrifice involved.
A Word of Caution
We must also realize and avoid the trap of pride. The apostle Paul, an educated leader of the Pharisees before he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, realized that knowledge is not everything. 1 Corinthians 8:1&2 states, “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know…” (NKJV). Even though we may use our degrees to better serve others, our knowledge without the love of Christ will bring us absolutely nowhere. As a friend of mine mentioned, our pursuit of knowledge should humble us as we realize more and more all we do not know. She stated, “My education has helped me understand that I need other people’s knowledge, wisdom, and input in my life.” If we start to belittle others because of their lack of education, we have wasted ours.
Thoughts from Others
Over the last several months, I dialogued with several Anabaptist women who have completed college. Their degrees range from an associate to a master’s, and their current occupations stretch from teachers to mothers.
One mentioned how her master’s degree, which she is using to teach, brought a specific purpose to her life. Her area of ministry was relating to her students, and her degree enabled her to do that well. Yes, it was an investment, and she did have to continue to pay it off years later. But the joy and purpose she found in that was worth the sacrifice.
Another, a mother to two, has a bachelor’s degree in environmental biology, an unusual degree for an Anabaptist mother. Yet, even though she did not pursue a career in that field, she values that education. Studying nature taught her more about God and how we see Him in His creation. Her college courses also sharpened her skills in certain areas, pottery being one. While not a degree in creativity, per se, her time in college has enabled her to use her creative skills to learn more about God and bring glory to Him.
Yet another friend continues to use her associate degree in writing. As a word of advice, she mentions that we should not make assumptions about our future when considering college. For example, we should not not go to college simply because of the fact that we might get married. But we also should not go because we think we will not get married or do not want to get married.
This brings me to a final and crucial point: higher education, as with anything else we do in life, should be held with surrendered hands. Some of us may love studying and have plans to go straight into college from high school. Yet others of us may want nothing more than to be a mom to eight kids. Whatever our dreams concerning higher education, we need to pursue them within the will of God. We need to approach every consequent decision asking God what he wants us to do. And if the time comes to give up our dreams, then we followers of Jesus are called to do so.
A Word of Advice
If you are thinking about going to college, don’t dismiss it as a crazy thought. But go prepared. Too often people rush into college not knowing exactly what they want to study or do with their degree. It is wise to consider how God might want you to use your degree. In my life, I saw the opportunities in missions to use a BA. A friend of mine wanted to study counseling in order to better minister to hurting people. Still others pursue college because they want to better understand their interests.
I strongly suggest building a solid Biblical foundation in your life before pursuing a secular education such as college. Going to Bible school, taking theology courses, and intentionally studying your beliefs are excellent ways to prepare yourself for college. As I mentioned in my first article, going to college brings a plethora of opportunities for ministry. But if we are not spiritually prepared, we will find it difficult to engage well with those around us.
If you are considering college, I suggest dialoguing about it with mentors, friends, parents, and pastors. Is this a good use of your time and resources right now? What are some opportunities that come with college? Are you prepared for college? If not, how can you better prepare?
May God guide you as you consider the opportunities He has for you!
My thanks to Margaret Slabaugh, Heather Lehman, Camille Zimmerman, Alyssa Rhodes, and my family and friends at Life in Christ Mennonite Church for dialoguing with me and contributing their ideas!