When God called me into the ministry, I knew that the first step would be a strong biblical education. I went to Ouachita Baptist University where I majored in Biblical Studies, then after graduation, I continued my education at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary with an emphasis in biblical studies. Currently, I’m working on a Ph.D. from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in New Testament. So, I’m a strong proponent of theological education.
However, I’ve learned some hard lessons while at seminary. My hope in writing this short piece is to encourage those who are just beginning their undergrad or graduate education can learn from my time in graduate school. I want to share with you three traps to avoid while at seminary.
Trap #1: Protect your academic study of the Bible from taking the place of your personal devotional time.
This is a very easy trap that you can fall into if you are not careful. Many of you are going to be taking Biblical Hebrew, Biblical Greek, Life of Christ, Life and Letters of Paul, Pentateuch, Prophets, OT History, etc. If you are not careful, what can happen is that your academic study in these classes can slowly take the place of our personal devotional time. And you’ll justify the behavior by saying “I’ve spent so much time reading through the Gospels for class, God has taught me so much in this study.”
While this is true, this does not mean that it classifies as our devotional time. When you meet with God, you are allowing God to search your hearts for any sin that you have become entangled in, to encourage, to rebuke, to discipline (2 Timothy 3:16). When your academic study takes the place of your personal devotional time, you can lose your focus on the kingdom of God.
Trap #2: Letting your grades define you, instead of Christ and His work for us.
I’m a recovering perfectionist. I pursue perfection in EVERYTHING I do and I mean everything. This mindset has helped in some ventures but has hindered me in others.
When it came to school, I was going to do everything possible to make the highest grade possible. I’ve come to realize now that this venture was sinful at its core because I honestly felt that if I didn’t achieve this grade, then I wouldn’t be liked by my professors or my friends. But at the time, I consistently pursued excellence.
Now, by no means am I saying do not strive for excellence. In fact, I would argue that the LORD wants our excellence over our laziness (Colossians 3:17). However, when we allow our pursuit of excellence, perfection, drive us, then it ultimately defines us. Our identity is found in Christ and His work on the cross for you.
Trap #3: Serving the church for your own gain.
Seminarian, please, please serve the church. I’ve known some people who only want to serve the church if it benefits them. What do I mean? “If only I’m the pastor, or student pastor, etc.” or “If only I get paid while doing this…” This selfish attitude can ultimately poison your time in seminary and frustrate you when it comes to serving the local body. Seminary is not only a place for you grow in your biblical scholarship but also your love for the church.
Whether you are starting seminary or returning, make it a priority to find a church and plug in! I remember my time in Seminary, I plugged into a church and got involved in their student ministry as a volunteer. I was there on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings doing whatever I could to help in this ministry.
There were a few times when the student pastor let me teach on a Sunday morning or preach on Wednesday night. I was humbled by the opportunity. I didn’t walk into that church demanding to be placed in a ministry position, I found a place to plug in and the LORD rewarded my faithfulness.
Find a church body and ask yourself “Where can I best use my gifts to serve this church?” That might even involve talking with the pastor of that church so that he can help you find that place of service.
These three traps can easily ensnare you. But with godly discipline and awareness, you can avoid those traps. Seminarian, make the most of your time in seminary, study the Word, be defined by Christ, serve His church.