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.
I’ve spent my fair share of time inside classrooms and libraries over the past eight years while working on two degrees. I understand the stress of studying for a Hebrew exam and cramming for a church history quiz. Doing all of this while working a job, serving in a church, and trying to be a good husband and father can be downright exhausting. Before I go further let me say – brother and sister, stay the course. Don’t give up. Keep pressing into Christ. Your theological education is important.
There are several temptations one can fall into as a seminarian or Bible college student. Growing in your faith is exciting but also challenging. The temptation of pride can creep up unaware in a small group study. There is the temptation to boast to your pastor that you learned how to parse Ephesians 1:3-14 while he doesn’t have the time to do that kind of exegetical work. There might be the temptation to remove yourself from the rhythms of the local church because it is “too far gone” from the pattern of the New Testament church. Listen I’ve been there. I’ve wrestled with the temptations of entitlement, pride, and the desire for something “more.”
But equally important as overcoming the temptations found in theological education is simply recognizing how you can contribute to your education experience. Learning in the classroom is important. But how can you maximize your experience? Here are six practical ways to contribute to your theological education.
Be Patient in Your Local Church
Now this implies that you are currently attending a church. If you are not, you are wasting your time in seminary. Please for the sake of Christ’s church, go find something else to do. If you’re training for ministry but not actively involved in ministry you are wasting your time. But if you are attending a church my encouragement is to be patient.
Cultivate this virtue, as it will serve you in the future. You are training in seminary to serve the church. It may not be God’s timing for you to pastor or preach just yet. Don’t rush into the pastorate to quickly. Your time will come when God decides to use you. It may take years for God to open that door. Be patient and learn. Sit under good preaching and love your faith family. This will help you grow not only as a theological student but more importantly as a Christian. The local church is the means of discipleship. Don’t trade the sanctuary just for a classroom.
Have Respect for Your Professors
Once again you don’t know as much as you think you do. Neither do I, I know that for a fact. God has placed you in seminary or Bible College to learn from men and women who have been trained to teach you. So, by all means, be respectful to them.
Spend time with them, ask questions, and allow them to speak into your life. Practically – listen when they talk, turn off your phone in class, do your homework, turn it in on time, show up on time and let them know if you are missing class. Honor them for taking the time to teach you. Be teachable.
Learn to Disagree
While completing my undergraduate degree I had a professor that I disagreed with on a few theological points. I would spend hours in his office discussing and debating the points. We finally came to the conclusion that we would have to agree to disagree. However, from that point, I took my other classes theology classes with him. Though I disagreed with him, God used the time I spent with him to shape my life and challenge my thinking.
Finding someone you disagree with will contribute to your overall education. Be around people who are pursuing truth who many think differently than you. Find the courage to step out of your “tribe.” Pick up a book that goes against your theological paradigm. It will teach you to think.
Serve with Humility
The time has come and God has opened up the door for you to serve. Be humble and repent of any pride. If God has opened up the door for you to preach or teach my encouragement is to keep it simple and speak in love. Don’t overwhelm the congregation with your seminary knowledge of hitpalepl verbs and Bultmann’s view of demythologization.
Be humble and love them. Remember you are serving His church filled with people who are hurting and need hope. The greatest blessing of attending Bible College for me was something that took place outside the classroom – I was called to pastor a church.
For about a year as I was finishing my studies, God was calling me to pastor but the door remained closed. After I graduated with my B.A. and started my M.A., God opened the door to pastor a small rural church in East Texas. I completed my M.A. in May and I am still serving the same church. It is a humbling experience to serve God’s church. Each day God is teaching me to serve with humility. My education has trained me to pastor. But pastor with humility. Don’t take it for granted – be humble. God can call someone else to replace you.
Build Lasting Friendships and Networks
I attended a Bible College in downtown Dallas, Texas. Much of my time as a student was spent on the road driving an hour both ways from my house to the College. That changed when I became an employee there. Nearly all my time was spent at the College. It was then when I learned to value of friendships and networks.
It was in the coffee shop at the college talking about hermeneutics where I met my best friend. I was walking in the hallway where I bumped into my now pastoral mentor. It was in a classroom where I sensed God calling me to pastor as I listened to a professor discussing the importance of the local church. That man would serve on my ordination committee. Don’t attend seminary or Bible College alone. Do seminary life together. Grow friendships and connect with people. Create memories and include others.
Remember the Fruit of Your Study
Attending a seminary or Bible College is more than just getting a degree. It is primarily about two key realities: cultivating virtue and shaping your worldview. Like a liberal arts degree, a seminary/Bible college degree is primarily about the cultivation of virtue.
The classes will teach you how to think and live. The courses are set up to train you to cultivate discipline and critical thinking skills. The degree intends to make you a better human being. Also, the degree intends to shape your worldview, one that will be distinctively Christian.
This gives you the ability to engage in conversations ranging from politics, culture, and literature. Because of your training, you should leave the classroom a better human being who can think critically and engage in conversations. Don’t forget this. Remember as you study for your philosophy exam or write a paper on Ancient Near Eastern religions, this is shaping you. It is conforming you to be a better person and ultimately a better Christian.
Keep pursuing your education. It is tough right now but trust me once you leave the classroom things will get tougher. Enjoy your time and learn as much as you can. You won’t regret it.