Dear Seminary Student,

The year leading up to our move to Louisville to attend The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary my wife and I committed to a very frugal lifestyle of beans and rice in order to save as much money as possible for the northward transition from our home west of Atlanta.

Upon arriving on the seminary campus, I was thrilled to be in the midst of an atmosphere of academics, and a love for the gospel that permeated the campus. I was likewise overwhelmed to be surrounded by history, professors (and history professors), fellow students, and preachers of the Word. It was real, and in many ways, it wasn’t. It certainly wasn’t a dream, or was it? To be clear, it was a dream come true, and it was a reality, but in so many ways—it wasn’t real.

After arriving on campus in January, I filled out a short, concise résumé in the ministry referral office in order to hopefully do some supply preaching on occasion. I started work at UPS (yes, the dreaded 4 am shift) and seminary life abruptly began with class schedules, syllabi, and a mountain of reading. However, by the first Sunday in May, things drastically changed for me. I was called to pastor a small church 50 miles south of campus in the middle of a farming community.

What I learned over the next four years taught me much about life, seminary, and ministry. When I was asked to write this article, I thought about what I would say to someone attending seminary, and I thought about how to encourage and challenge at the same time.

  • Do not trade the local church for the seminary community. Both are important, but the church is more important.
  • If you’ve joined a “cool” seminary church full of seminary students and professors and you aren’t finding opportunities to serve, you might want to consider joining another church.
  • Remember, it’s possible to fall into sinful traps while attending seminary. Be on guard.
  • Don’t avoid the scary professor because you want to protect your GPA. Challenge yourself often and learn as much as you can.
  • Read the Bible and memorize the Scriptures apart from your seminary assignments.
  • Build real relationships among the student body and among the professors that will most likely last a lifetime.
  • Don’t believe everything you read in a book or hear in the classroom until you can verify it through the lens of Scripture.
  • Attend chapel. Don’t skip it. If you can be there, do it. You will be challenged and shaped by the sermons you hear in the chapel each week, and it’s more than academics.
  • Put as much effort into your education as possible—that’s why you’re attending seminary. If you’re merely looking for a diploma to add to your résumé and to hang on your wall, you’ve missed the purpose of seminary.
  • Start building your theological library now—not after graduation. Physical books matter, so don’t throw them away.

The final thing I would encourage you to remember is that your time on the seminary campus is short and limited. It will pass quickly, and then real life will hit you in the face. You see, seminary is real, and if you’re fortunate to attend on campus, you know it has a real address, a real campus, with real classrooms, and living professors. However, in many ways, it isn’t real.

You will graduate one day and go out to serve in the local church and will often find that the people you’re called to love and serve don’t always share the same excitement for the gospel as you do. Your church campus will likely not have the same atmosphere as the seminary campus.

The buzz of gospel centrality and academics that you enjoy on the seminary campus will in all likelihood be traded for something much different. Your church facility will likely look much different than the seminary campus. Ministry is hard, and it requires real dedication from faithful men and women who are willing to give their lives for the sake of your people’s joy of faith. Are you up to the challenge? Will you fulfill your calling?

Philippians 1:21-26, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.”

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