According to dictionary.com, the word “prestige” means “reputation or influence arising from success, achievement, rank, or other favorable attributes; distinction or reputation attaching to a person or thing and thus possessing a cachet for others or for the public.”
Growing up in Mississippi, it was prestigious to go to Ole Miss, for those of us who were Ole Miss fans. Mississippi State was considered an agricultural school. Thus, you had a rivalry based on perceptions, propaganda, and pettiness. The reality was that both schools had their good qualities. While Ole Miss excelled in football, for years Mississippi State excelled in baseball. Does being good at one sport over another make you a better school when it comes to getting an education or a job after college? I doubt it.
If I had not gone into the ministry, I would have gone to Ole Miss. I love Ole Miss, but in 2009 it’s considered the # 3 party school in America. Would I send my kids to Ole Miss today? Not hardly. That would be like throwing them to the lions. I love Ole Miss, but it’s not where I would want to spend my educational budget when I am called to be a steward of what God has given me.
For my parents, it would have never been on their radar for me to consider Mississippi State. That was the “other” school, the less prestigious school. God forbid that I would have lowered myself to go to a school where they ring cow bells at the games.
If I had gone to Ole Miss, had I not had a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ my freshman year in college, I would be a far different person than I am today. When I got saved I had several choices for schools. My parents had no preferences because we knew so little about any of them.
I went to Mississippi College. At the time, my other options were William Carey College, another Baptist school not considered as strong as MC, or Mobile College, a new school just across the state line.
Now I serve on the Board of Regents at the University of Mobile (Mobile College), and both my daughters graduated from UM. They both received a great education on a great campus with a fantastic administration. Today I feel more connected with the University of Mobile than I ever have with Mississippi College.
While my alma mater usually only contacts me for money and directory updates, I’ve been asked numerous times to speak at the University of Mobile. It seems all the money my parents spent on my education at MC doesn’t amount to tater water today.
The same goes with seminary. When I went to Midwestern Seminary, people thought I was crazy. My family thought I was crazy. My friends thought I was nuts. I turned down a full scholarship to go to New Orleans Seminary just 90 miles from home to go to a smaller, less prestigious school 18 hours from home.
If I hadn’t made that decision, I would have probably never met folks like Ron Dunn, Manley Beasley, Charlie Draper, Miss Bertha Smith, and others. My life and ministry were impacted by choosing the lesser known and certainly less prestigious school. The facilities at Midwestern left much to be desired when compared to Southern and New Orleans (the two schools being pushed at that time). But the fellowship, friendships, and spiritual impact changed my life. I believe it was a divine appointment to go where most thought I shouldn’t go.
Today we often hear talk about certain educational institutions that are prestigious. Usually they are referring to the Ivy League schools. Whether reality or reputation, these schools claim to give one a “higher education” than other schools. They are always ranked at the top in the world in academics.
Is it not these schools that have also produced men who have become members of Congress who, as Ivy League lawyers, have almost bankrupted this nation? Aren’t they the ones we were supposed to trust with our retirement? It makes you wonder what is really prestigious.
I would consider integrity of higher value than the ranking of the school I attended. Maybe we should note those institutions that teach moral values, integrity, character, decency, and other traits that must accompany an education. Surely a more educated crook only knows more elaborate ways of ripping you off and hiding behind some law that protects the perpetrator rather than the victim.
The truth is, where you go to school makes little difference in what you become. It’s who you are that makes the difference. How many athletes have gone to prestigious schools believing that it would give them a greater chance to play at a higher level, only to blow out their knee their freshman year and never return to form? Or to go to some high profile program and find that a Walter Payton out of Jackson State or a Steve McNair out of Alcorn or a Terry Bradshaw out of some small college in Louisiana become the stars. Meanwhile, they are back at the car wash wondering what went wrong.
If parents pick a school because they think it will be more prestigious, it becomes more about what the parents want others to think about them than what their kids need. They want their kids to “have the best” education, clothes, and cars, but they don’t invest in giving their kids the best church experience. They make excuses when it comes to camps, Disciple Now, and a host of other opportunities to give their kids a leg up on the competition.
Keeping up with the Joneses will drive you crazy. There will always be someone who has more money and more clout than you. Trying to keep up an image will weather your face and wear out your body. It can also lead you to spend money on things that don’t matter and miss an opportunity to invest in eternal things that will matter.
As my old mentor, Vance Havner said, “You don’t have to chase key men when you know the One who holds the keys.” By the way, he wrote 39 books and spoke 48 weeks out of the year around the country. He was one of the top five most demanded conference speakers in America, and he was a college dropout at the end of his sophomore year. So much for choosing the right school to get ahead!
I know guys who have PhDs, who wouldn’t be asked to lead in silent prayer. They can’t preach their way out of a paper bag. They’ve got degrees, but they don’t have any power or unction from the Holy Spirit. The church is dying by degrees. What we need is men who don’t care about what diploma hangs on their wall, men who have God in their hearts, Jesus on their lips, the Word in their hands, and the Spirit working through them.
One reason I support Jay Strack and Student Leadership University is because it helps students get a 10-20 year jump on their peers. They learn how to be Christians first and leaders second. It’s about discipline, focus, and priorities. Jay will tell you that he used to recommend that kids go to a Christian school and then tackle an Ivy League school to make the impact. Now he says to put your kids in a Christian school and then a Christian college and then, only then, put your kids in one of those “prestigious” schools for their masters work. Why? We are in a battle, and we need the grounding of a solid Christian worldview to face the onslaught of the enemy.
People who once joked about Liberty University now recognize it as the Notre Dame of the evangelical world. People laughed at Jerry Falwell for his conservative school, thinking it was watered-down education. In reality he had a vision to build a school that would produce some of the greatest minds of the 20th and 21st centuries. Only those who know right and wrong and have solid moorings are going to be able to lead this nation through the troubled seas that lie ahead.
People thought Pat Robertson was just a hokey preacher who had a TV ministry when he started Regent University. Now Regent has one of the finest law schools in the nation. The law students there learn to argue based on historical truth, not political correctness. They know that the laws make the land. They understand why a historical basis for making judgments is crucial. Only that kind of thinking will save us from a court system that makes up the law and legislates from the bench.
When I was growing up businessmen often chose a church based on the prestige of the church. They asked themselves, “Which church would help my business the most?” Often in the South that meant choosing the First Baptist Church in the county seat, not because of theology or style, but because it was the place to make the most connections.
The only thing that sort of thinking creates is a “good ole boy” system where the community players try to run the church. The church suddenly stops being about Christ and starts being about “the boys and their business.” This mindset was the beginning of the “What’s in it for me?” church mentality. Kids who grew up seeing their parents use the church to help themselves have now become adults who use the church and anyone else to advance their personal (and fleshly) agendas. No wonder we can’t have revival.
The choices you make, determine the roads you take. My choices affect my life. My decisions will follow me all the days of my life. The question I must ask is simple: Am I making a decision based on how I can be a better me or based on how I can glorify God in my life?