It seems like just yesterday that I was sitting in my first seminary class. I was excited as that first professor walked into the room, wrote his name on the board, and proceeded to hand out the class syllabus. My excitement quickly migrated to being overwhelmed when the paper hit my hand. As I look back now, more than a decade later, I would give that young man five nuggets of advice:
Be Patient: I was eager to learn all that seminary had to offer, but I was also naive. I wasn’t going to become a Greek exegete, homiletics’ expert, or theological scholar overnight. In truth, I wouldn’t after four years of seminary and holding a Masters of Theology (Th.M.) diploma in my hand either, no matter what the piece of paper said. Don’t get overwhelmed. Do what you can without sacrificing your marriage, health, or sanity!
Study for the Long-Run: My friend, you are at the beginning of vocational ministry. What you learn in seminary is only opening the door for a lifetime of study. Seminary is wonderful at disseminating information, but the real gift of seminary is the tools it puts in your hands. It will teach you to think theologically, read voraciously, exegete the original languages, and communicate effectively. Seminary will point you to the right books, authors, and history. You will learn how to study, read, write, teach, counsel, and preach. It is an equipping institution, not a finishing school. Learn how to use the tools of the pastorate, so that you can use and grow in them throughout the life of your ministry.
Don’t Forsake the Church for the Academy: Seminary can be demanding. Add to that the need to provide for your family, and there is little spare time. The seminary student must be engaged in the local church throughout their seminary days. I look back and wish that I had been more involved in the local church. A few lower grades and little more service would have been good for my soul and those who I later had the opportunity to serve.
Find a Professor and Don’t Let Him Go: As a student, I was reluctant to make myself known to my professors. I would sit in their classes but never scheduled office meetings, lunches, or seek advice. I was concerned about being a “fanboy,” and having the wrong motives. Though there is some wisdom in this concern, I erred in not finding a professor and making sure that I learned all I could from him. Find a man of character. A man that you respect. One you can learn from. And make him your new best friend. Glean everything you can from him. It will be helpful in the present and the future when you need someone to call on for advice.
Study Devotionally: I have never understood the logic that pastors need to have separate devotional times from their sermon and teaching preparation. If a pastor’s sermon and teaching preparation are not devotional, affecting his own soul, there is something wrong. The same can be said for the seminary student. You are not at seminary to earn A’s. You are at seminary to be equipped for the pastorate. The best equipping that can happen in your life is growing in knowledge, devotion, and delight in the Lord. As you study, study with an eye towards Him. Do not rise from that desk until your heart is inflamed and stirred by something you have read, studied, or written. The Bible is not a textbook. Your studies are not purely academic. And your education is not essentially a means to employment. Seek the Lord now in your studies. It is a lesson learned well now, for it only gets more difficult with the demands of the pastorate.
Finally, let me just remind you to enjoy this opportunity. I have met men from around the world, who would literally give their right arm to enjoy what you are experiencing. Don’t take it for granted. Enjoy it to the glory of God. It is a gift. A gift to you and to the people you will have the privilege of serving in the near future.