[dropcap]I[/dropcap] am often asked about the value and experience of seminary education. I greatly enjoyed my pursuit of a Master of Divinity degree. It was a great season of learning in and out of the classroom.
But I did not begin my seminary education until I was in my 30’s. As a matter of fact, I never recommend that anyone pursue seminary education until they have been out of undergraduate school for at least two years. Even a few more years under your belt will not hurt anything. It will actually add to your reservoir of knowledge so that you can ask better questions once you get to seminary. You can always discern who the youngest and least experienced students in the room are by the quality of the questions they ask. Those who arrive a little older know why they are there and what they want to get out of a seminary education.
Some have asked if a seminary degree is still necessary in today’s world.
There are a multitude of resources available to anyone who is a serious student of the Bible without all of the expense.
And besides, we need to take the ministry out of the hands of professionals.
I would actually disagree with the above perspective. Seminaries are still a rich depository of relationships, learning, character growth, and skill development for anyone committed to the ministry or self-leadership. But seminary is not a panacea and it is not for everyone. It takes a certain approach. Here are my tips for a successful seminary experience.
Seminary credentials are still important if you are planning for a lifetime of ministry. This is part of being a professional minister of the gospel. Churches and other ministry organizations expect that you will invest in theological training so that you can equip others to carry out the ministry. This should not nor will not go away.
Seminary is not one long quiet time. One of the great dangers of seminary education is to substitute the class room for your relationship with God. At one level seminary is simply the pursuit of academics to further your ministry opportunities and skills. Seminary can actually serve as a death sentence to intimacy with God. The schedule is full. The studies are intense. The new information can be overwhelming. Create space for devotion. Spend a lot of time in the Psalms. Let them speak to your soul as you nourish your mind. Don’t place God on the operating table. Let Him still be God while you are in seminary.
Go into seminary realizing that you will come out with more questions than answers. Seminary is designed to give you a set of tools and approaches to chase a lifetime of questions. Your journey begins once you are out of school–it does not end when you are handed your degree. You will come out with more questions–better questions–questions that matter. And you will have a cache of resources to pursue the answers.
Go into seminary teachable, but willing to take a stand with an open hand. Some students come into seminary simply bent on validating their preconceived beliefs. Some arrive like a blank slate. Both groups will leave confused. No matter what brand of seminary you choose you will hear competing views on a variety of topics. Be teachable. Learn. Decide to decide on many levels. And then leave with a teachable spirit again. Keep an open hand and choose to be a lifetime learner. God is bigger than you think.
Vigorously pursue community while you are there. Seminary can be an isolating experience. It can also be a time of building rich, honest relationships. You have nothing to prove. And you really don’t need to make all A’s. Make time for people. Make time for other seminary students. You might be amazed at the stories you will hear, the perspectives you will gain, and the lifetime friends you will make. We were meant for community. Take advantage of this unique peer community.
Allow the seminary experience to expand your horizons of ministry possibilities. When I attended seminary I was amazed at all of the ministries in which I was exposed. There were efforts and callings I had never even considered. There were dedicated leaders preparing for social justice ministry, church planting efforts, overseas ministry to the hardest parts of the world, teaching ministries, academic endeavors, and the pastorate. There was a rich tapestry of people and organizations that made my world seem small and God’s world limitless. I began to see my contribution with a new humility and I began to see the body of Christ in all of its fulness.
Make friends with at least one seminary professor. I don’t think I met a single professor who did not care about their students. Some of the most brilliant and godly people I have ever met were some of my teachers. They too had stories of God’s grace in their lives. They were more than willing to help a pilgrim on the way. When we went through a very difficult season with our first born while in seminary, it was the professors who prayed at our daughter’s bedside and delivered whatever we needed to survive. They, along with the rest of the seminary community, demonstrated the body of Christ in tangible ways like I had never experienced before. They are more than academicians. They can become your friends.
Give thanks every day for the opportunity to sit under men and women who have given their lives to study, teach, and shepherd the future leaders of the Church. Seminary is a gift if God is calling you there. Be thankful. A heart of gratitude will take you a long way towards being a good steward of what God entrusts to you during those days. Gratitude will keep you from becoming proud. Gratitude will allow you to continue to relate to those with whom you seek to minister once you are done.
At the end of the day your pursuit of seminary is about pursuing a person, not dogma. It is about Jesus Christ glorified. Study well.
What are your thoughts and experiences?