Considering Seminary When Others Do Not

by on July 5, 2008

So you think God wants you to go to seminary … now what?

How do you know you are meant to head to seminary? Especially when some in your life think it would be a waste of time and resources? So, just how does one proceed to investigate, select and make preparations towards seminary, especially when not many in one’s personal sphere have gone that route?

Perhaps you are like me and Christ rescued you while in college. Or perhaps you grew up in the church, trusted in Jesus at a young age, but only in the last few years began to get “serious” about knowing, loving and enjoy God. It takes a unique person to thrive in seminary. Certainly the rigorous theological training is not meant for all. Yet, if you are on this site you probably are pretty serious about seminary.

(Specifically I have in mind those who come from a church or family background where the influential people in your life do not think highly of a seminary education. My wife and I came from a very healthy and vibrant Bible-saturated church tradition, but one that views seminary as essentially a “cemetery.” Our personal experience has been the exact opposite. While we remain close with many of the leaders of that church movement, we knew that heading to seminary might have closed the door to serving there. We were and remain that convinced of God’s call for us.)

Consider all aspects

Both the good and the bad. Jesus commanded that we truly “count the cost” before following Him (Luke 14:28), and this must certainly include life-shaping decisions like heading to seminary. What are your motivations to attend seminary? What school(s) are you considering? Do you know anyone who has gone or is going there? Are they more mature, godly, worshipful, and joyful as a result? What are the theological bent of the schools you are considering? What are their positions on the exclusivity of Christ, the Gospel, biblical authority and inerrancy? As for the “bad”: What will school cost? How far is it from home? Is there a healthy church in the community? Is it too soon to go, or shall you wait another year? (If married: be sure your spouse is on the same page. Whatever you choose, as long as you are of one-mind, you will do well.) Lay everything out on the table and make an informed, honest and wise choice. And while the gravity of the decision may overwhelm you, know that God is sovereign and He delights in the deliberate thinking and humility of His children. By all means make the process towards seminary one of prayer and worship (1 Peter 5:5-6).

Consider others who have gone before

Do you know a pastor or mentor who navigated through seminary? Any men and women you hope to be like? Much of mentoring is informal, yet can become more intentional, as you ask. Paul wrote to imitate him as he imitated Christ (1 Cor. 11:1); thus following in the steps of others, while being our own unique person, is part of this Christian life. Have you considered asking others to help you make this decision in community (and not on an island)?

Invest in the meantime

Not financially specifically, but relationally, in people. As Jake pointed out recently, this vital aspect of life is key while in seminary. It is also important before (and after) seminary. The academy is aimed at serving the local church, and well, if you aren’t investing in people now you likely will not later.

A few practical considerations

  • Clean your room. A wise pastor noted how his Dad reminded him about discerning God’s will of when and where to go in His will, “Johnny, be faithful in cleaning your room, and God will open the door to the room next to it.” Sound advice on excelling from the heart.
  • Take your time. There is perhaps a fine line here, as all schools have deadlines. Yet know that if God wills it for you to start in Winter or Spring instead of Fall it will be alright. Wherever you are, be all there. (In our case, we arrived on campus (at a different school than we first planned) two years after dreaming about heading to seminary.)
  • Do the necessary paperwork. Be on top of school applications and deadlines, and especially the financial aid documents with FAFSA. Relates more to organization than to be being in hurry.
  • Get out of debt; at least as much as possible.
  • Talk about it. Are there legitimate reasons why some resist you going to seminary? Specifically, are they against a certain seminary? Can you interview anyone who has “successfully” completed seminary? How about those who are students now?
  • Live with an open hand. Praying, not begging. All of life is preparation and the end goal is to know God (John 17:3), even more than fulfilling a lifelong dream.
  • Be ready. This relates to consumerism, debt and unnecessary ties to our world.
  • Love the Church. The Church is Christ’s chosen Bride, and with her He had determined to share the glorious truth of His Gospel of grace. God will not do it without the church and He purposes that you see yourself wrapped up in the story of others, broken and in need of the Gospel (me and you too!)
  • Interview others. Worth mentioning twice, especially because even a campus visit and the best publications cannot convey the value of a seminary education. (Note that any of the writers on this site are more than willing to discuss personal considerations and our own journey. Let us know how we can help – the Forum is a good place for discussions.)

Comments

Well I’m glad I am not the only one in this boat!

You totally described us. We too go to an awesome Bible-teaching, Christ-centered, thriving church. We have ministered there for many years. When I finally decided to answer God’s call to the ministry, one thing that was and is on my heart is a great desire to prepare for this privileged and important mission. When I mentioned to some of the most influential people in my life our desire to go to seminary, I got the “oh, your going to cemetery.” Some proceeded to give me examples of how some have gone with great passion for Christ to seminary only to return dry and passionless. I am blessed to hear that it has been different for you and your wife.

I thank God that my Pastor, however, has been very supportive. I agree with your comment though that going to seminary may close doors to serving in this movement. However, we sense God leading us and see Him opening doors. We’ll continue to walk through them and see what He will do!

Thank you for this post and your courageous step!

Jose,

Glad to be an encouragement. Today Ryan notes that when considering 60+/- years of vocation ministry in the future, 3-4 years for immersed training today is short in comparison.

Continuing to serve the local church is key while in seminary. I too have friends who grew loveless, but seminary and the profs were not the cause. Rather, it was the pride of the heart and not applying the hands and heart to what the mind was being nourished with.

Prayerfully make plans and the Lord God Almighty will direct your steps.

Thanks so much for this website and the abundance of resources you’ve provided. I am considering seminary as I have already entered ministry, and I will be wrapping up my undergrad degree in the Spring.
I have been talking to some friends and leaders I know that have been through or are currently attending seminary (though they are few), trying to find out if its for me and discern God’s voice in this decision.
Can anyone post some possible questions that I could ask these seminary grads and attendees in an interview?

I am interested in hearing some opinions for my situation. I felt a call to ministry in 1996. I ran from it. VERY LONG STORY… but suffice it to say that I figured out that if you try to become the next RJ Letourneau with an improper attitude and understanding about God and money… you WILL be miserable!

Well that was a long story in very short order, but ultimately my wife and I sold everything… moved 500 miles away… found a great church… and one day while sitting in a service… I felt like God was asking me to get prepared.

I told my wife and she didn’t really know what to say, but I sort of got the feeling that she was listening, but not really hearing what I was saying. I went to a pastor in the church and he referred me to another one and then finally to another one until I ended up paired up with the College Ministries pastor (who moved less than a year later) and I began teaching College and Singles Sunday School classes. (still do)

My concern is that I know for a fact that God spoke to my heart that day. I know I have a nearly insatiable desire to attend seminary to get prepared for … (I don’t know yet). I just wonder why God isn’t helping my wife to see what I see. She says that she doesn’t feel that God is leading her in that direction. What a dilemma that is! I love my wife tremendously and respect her, but she is the type of person that draws much of her personal security from a settled home, jobs, etc… I am worried that she is just letting me flirt with the idea but that she has no real intention of supporting this effort.

It has been nearly 2 years now in this limbo… I still teach the same class, but have a desire to be better prepared for vocational ministry.

If you have no advice… that is fine. I understand, but would you please pray for me and my wife? My desire for vocational ministry is second only to my desire to follow God in His Will for my life as child of His, a husband and father… I just feel like I am in a room looking for something that I know is right under my nose, but for the life of me I can’t seem to locate it… (maybe a bad analogy, but I hope you understand what I mean.)

In His Grip,
Andy

@Andy–a short reply will certainly not suffice to give you any substantial advice; however, I will give it a shot.

First–Do not make a move without your wife’s support. It is apparent that you have not done that yet, but I do not want to assume.

Second–I would ask her why was she willing to sell everything and move 500 miles away just to find a good church and is now hesitant to follow in ministry. I do not mean to be blunt, but there seems to be an inconsistency.

Third–Do not fail with your family. This is a fine line that every minister has to walk. If you fail with your family, then you really do not have a ministry.

Fourth–If God has truly called you to ministry, then He will work on your wife as well. Continue to pray to Him for this. I can personally attest to this. My wife was not really willing to move so I could attend seminary. I was resigned to doing extension courses and on-line courses mixed with a few J-terms. However, one evening my wife came to me and said we needed to move so I could attend seminary. I asked her what the change was and she said that God had impressed it upon her in her quiet time. Be patient, brother. If He has called you, He will provide the means.

With all that said, my advice would be to look into various seminaries and see what they have in the way of extension courses and Internet courses. You can begin working on your degree from where you are right now. Check out the Distance Education tab above here at GtS for some additional tips.

We will be praying for you.

Feel free to contact me personally at tdelaney017@yahoo.com.