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Pastor Matt Chandler on Going Back to School at The Wheaton Grad School

At 45, Matt Chandler enrolled in the graduate program at Wheaton College. I asked him why.
Pastor Matt Chandler on Going Back to School at The Wheaton Grad School
Image: via Wheaton College/thevillagechurch.net

Matt Chandler and I are both in class right now— finishing up his first week in our graduate program. Last night, I talked to Matt about why he decided to go back to school.

Now, I should note that our program is not a residential program, and Matt is not leaving his church. Our students fly in and out for week-long classes, along with some online classes, and often in academic cohorts that stay together over the course of a degree.

If you are considering going back to school, I also asked Christine Caine similar questions, as she is also a current grad student at Wheaton. You can find our conversation here.

We are glad to have Matt studying in our School of Ministry, Mission, and Leadership.

Ed: You are here with me at your first class in the Wheaton College Graduate School. So, what's the deal? You're 45-years-old and you’ve gone all of this way without having a Master’s degree, so why go back to school?

Matt: I've committed myself to being a lifelong learner, and so whether that's books or seminars or schooling, it’s always been my hope that no matter how old I get, I continue to learn and grow in my understanding. I just thought it was time to go back to school. The tools I got in my undergrad have enabled me to get to a certain depth of thinking and interacting. And so, I began to feel, probably a year ago, a bit flat on how I was able to dig and think.

Part of that is that I'm in a specific tribe. The danger of just being stuck in that space is that you don't get to learn the good that's out there that maybe your tribe is not familiar with or has never taken the time to consider. So, for me, if I can develop tools that enable me to continue to learn and grow into my 50s and 60s, I want to do that.

I'm in a space at The Village where the leadership pieces are in place. This is kind of a golden era for us. We’re quite busy but, there is also the space for me to say, “OK, how do I want to continue to develop as a man of God?”

Then I heard about this program and thought that it fits well with what I want to do, and the spaces where I want to grow.

I don’t feel like I need to read Jonathan Edwards again. I feel like I can talk ecclesiology at length with anybody. But there are some things about program that were super interesting to me, things that I felt weaker in.

Ed: Wheaton is an evangelical, non-denominational school. Here, you'll learn from Arminians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Pentecostals—all scholars in the evangelical stream. Is that a plus or a minus?

Matt: I think it's a massive plus. To me, that was one of the things that was most exciting about this. For 20 years I have devoured just about everything I could in my stream. And whether I agree with everything or don't agree with anything, I can talk about I. I can critique it, apply it, take it apart, and put it back together. Now I get to interact with different ideas than my predominant stream, and that's a plus.

Ed: You haven't been to college for 25 years or so. How are you facing the challenges that come with re-entering academia?

Matt: I’m facing them slowly. The thing about this program in particular is that we're all adult learners. I mean, there's nobody that's 22-years-old. We're all in our 30s, 40s, up to 60s.

I'm not 23. I haven't written a paper that's not a sermon note manuscript in 20-something years. I need a place that's going to be gracious as we try to grow in that.

If you're expecting me to write like a 22-year-old who understands new writing-styles and just spent four years writing in “Turabian format,” then that would be harder for me to get around. But the fact that we're all adult learners, and we're graciously trying to figure it out together, is a huge plus.

Ed: I love to read, and one of the things that was very valuable to me during my time of my graduate degrees was that I was forced to read books I wouldn’t normally read. You're going to read things that are maybe structured in ways that are not typical of the books you would naturally graze. You're going to be in new fields. How does that feel for you?

Matt: I don't know how it could be anything but a positive. I am very confident in where I land in the closed hand of theology, and even in most of the major areas of the open hand of theology. I welcome the challenge to press up against what I've given the last 20 years to consider, critique, and figure out how to apply to my life and the lives of people in my life.

To be pushed and pulled at 45, after 20 years of giving myself to learning, gets me really excited. I'm actually eager to hear what’s out there and to see what good is in there that I might be able to consider. It might further and form what I already believe even as I look at it from a different perspective.

Ed: Any last thoughts?

Matt: We have a tendency, if we're not careful, to get stuck—to stop learning or feel like we've arrived in learning. I think that if you look at it historically, the men and women who lead well to the end are men and women who have been committed to being challenged, to having their ideas critiqued, to not resting on "I figured this out once and for all," but have continually sharpened what they know.

I think if you've got the ability and the bandwidth to do something like this, with the support of your church, you should just do it.

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