The purpose of this series is to help students whether they are preparing for, attending, or have graduated from seminary to grow in the God’s grace. To read the rest of the articles in this series click here.
Dear (son) Seminarian,
Twenty years ago this Spring, I sat in a seminary chapel as both a seminary student and an expectant father. We already had a daughter, but as the chapel speaker shared with us men challenging our sons to consider vocational ministry, I prayed and told God that if He would give me a son, I would do what I could to point him towards ministry. A few months later, my first son was born. I am thankful for the grace in his life (as well as my second son, born two years later) that God is pointing them to use their lives to serve God. So, as I write this brief piece of unsolicited advice, I invite you to read it as a father talking to a son, a son that is nearing the end of college and preparing for seminary.
My son, when you embark on your career in seminary, a few things come to mind; lessons learned the hard way and even lessons learned the easy way.
Avoid debt as much as possible even if it means you go slower than most. This is the biggest lesson I learned before seminary from a missionary friend and our pastor.
The ministry to which you aspire will be a rewarding one, but it will not be a lucrative one. While the cost seems high, the price will include ministry limitations following your degree while you pay off loans. For some, it will mean having to work a non-ministry job for a time, while for others it will remove the flexibility of accepting a lower paying ministry role. So, if you can avoid debt, the ministry doors can open more widely to you.
Connect with a Local Church
Connect in with a local church where you can serve, preferably as a lay person. While much of your learning in seminary will come through classes, a wealth of education is also available to you through the various relationships that can come through purposeful, intentional involvement in a local church.
I say preferably as a lay person because there is value in seeing life from the other side of the pulpit before you get to stand behind the holy desk. You may not remember everything you learn in class. You also may not be able to recall all the dealings of church business when you were just one of the members. Through these experiences, you will know what it is like to walk in the shoes of those you seek to shepherd, which will help you more than you can realize.
If you have the chance (or if it is required), take the Greek & Hebrew classes seriously. There are some who will tell you that you cannot do ministry without them. Then there are some who will tell you that you will be fine.
The best illustration my seminary professor gave me is that it is like the difference between fresh or frozen strawberries. Frozen strawberries are good, but they are no comparison to fresh strawberries. Being able to at least interact with the original languages will help you in ministry. While you can do further reading on topics of theology, it is significantly more challenging to learn languages while in ministry. So, put in the work now and enjoy the fresh strawberries both now and later.
It’s Okay to Not Know What’s Next
Resist the temptation to always have an answer for the “what are you doing next” question that comes up almost as soon as you tell someone you are going to seminary. If God has made it clear to you and others have confirmed it, then feel free to answer the question. However, if you are like me, and you are really not sure exactly where this is going to lead, don’t be afraid to simply state that and walk by faith knowing that God has a plan.
Abraham was called by God to leave all that he knew, to love, and follow God to a place that He would show him. He did not have an answer and did not try to answer it. He simply followed God’s leading wherever God led. You can do the same because you are following the same God. It is ok, in fact, it is sometimes better, to not have all the answers ahead of time. Faith is not faith if we know where the end of the road is.
Pursue Relationships with Your Professors Outside of the Classroom
Now, I know many who will enter seminary will do so in an online format and so the idea of stopping by the office of a professor may not apply in all cases. However, for those who do go on campus and even for those who do online, look for ways that you can build relationships with your professors. I did not do this as well as I would have liked, but I do still maintain some contact with some of my professors, whether by email or other means and they have helped mentor me beyond what I was able to get in the classroom.
The classic example of this is to hear from the students of Howard Hendricks and how great an impact he had on his students, much of which seemed to happen in lunchrooms, coffee shops, and walks around campus. Do what you can to build those relationships and God will use them in your life for years to come.
While there is more that could be said (and will be in this series by other “seminary fathers”), my hope and prayer is that you will find that God uses your time in school and your time at school to be profitable in preparing you to be a workman who does not need to be ashamed.