Realizing Seminary’s Not for You

by on July 2, 2009

paulI think it’s time for me to start the site NotGoingToSeminary.com.

It’s almost been five whole months since my last article was posted on this site. Much has happened. As I recently revealed in a recent post on my personal site, I’m not going back to seminary next year.

I’m a young man. At the time of this writing I am a week or so past my 23rd half-birthday. I have spent every year of my life in school since I was 4. I’ve never had a job with a consistent income. I’ve never made more than $13,000 in a given year. I’m a very, very young man.

I still remember the phone call with my mom almost six months ago where I was asking them to pay my rent again for the umpteenth time (it’s a real word, I promise). She finally said, “Paul, your father and I were going to wait until you were hear to talk to you, but we just can’t do this anymore. We can’t be paying for all this stuff for your brother and you and survive. We need you to work more and take on some of these responsibilities.”

I though she was joking. I thought she was just frustrated then and it would pass and I would just stay in school as I’d always done – as I’d always planned. But she wasn’t. A couple of weeks later I had to face the fact that my plans I’d had since seventh grade had been turned completely upside down. Then the job search began. Long story short, I’ve got a real job now, I’m only going to take one class next semester (a counseling class), and probably won’t ever finish seminary. And I’m really okay with that. I never thought I would be. How did this change happen?

As I was thinking about this this morning, I remembered something one of my old pastors once said concerning the seemingly-never-ending relationship saga of the single twenty-something: “you know, the identity of “the One” is something best discerned through clarity and hindsight rather than ambiguity and attempted foresight.” In other words, it’s better to live your life faithfully, trusting that the person you marry is and has always been “the One”, rather than trying to figure out who that is and then marrying them. The will of God is an ever unfolding present reality unfolding in real-time far more than it is some ethereal “path” we must figure out and make sure we are walking. You may find yourself in seminary one year, and not the next. That is just reality. Prepare your heart to be willing to let go of anything.

So, how do we wade through the murky waters of discerning the call to stay or go? How do you know if this is also the path for you? Ultimately, I can’t give you any 1-2-3’s, I can only tell you what hindsight and clarity have afforded me in respect to this event in my life. After the nail was placed into the coffin of Seminary Year 2, it felt as if scales fell from my eyes and I finally saw how this made total sense and how this was God’s love, mercy, and gift to me. See if any of these ideas resonate, and if so, “examine yourselves” (how do you like that misapplication? Kind of like Hosea in Matthew, huh? Sorry. Different post at a different time.)

Financially

I saw in hindsight that my situation was just not sustainable. This was God’s mercy to me practically. Seeing the trajectory I was on with school, work, expenses, and finances, I don’t know why I was so blind to the fact that I couldn’t go on like this for three more years, over thirty thousand more dollars of debt, and no real work experience (and therefore no marketable skills) to help me get a significant job. Oh wait, my plan had been to go into a five (more) year-long Master’s-Ph.D. program for Psychology, eventually putting me at age 31 with God knows how much debt and never having had a job more prestigious than waiting tables. Maybe some people could make it work. I could not. So ask yourself: Has God clearly granted me the resources necessary to be a good steward of both seminary and life – to do both well and restfully?

Theologically

This was God’s mercy emotionally. I realized (once more only in hindsight) just how frustrated I had been at the theological differences I have with my seminary. I realized the direction the seminary is going in is one that, frankly, I didn’t want to be associated with five years from now. I’ve realized that those things matter, especially if you are going to a confession-run institution. This really helped make the decision emotionally easier for me. I’m really not going to miss the place that much. I will miss the people, the talks, and a few of the professors that are on their way out there, but not the institution. Ask yourself: Is it seminary per se that I am enjoying at this particular institution or just the people, readings, and a few conversations; and if the latter, would you miss the actual classroom environment if you lost that one thing but still had the others? Where do you disagree with your seminary and do these differences cause more friction than growth there?

Intellectually

Thirdly, I saw much of my growth intellectually stunted. Or maybe just humbled. Or maybe I just matured some. I don’t know. This was, therefore, God’s mercy to me intellectually. This aspect just now came to me and I haven’t really thought through it much. All I know is that at the beginning of seminary I was working on three albums of music, two plays, four books or so, and many hopeful journal articles. Now – all those have more or less fallen by the wayside. I was just too mentally exhausted by the absurdly superfluous and too-lengthy ad nauseam Francis Turretin readings and subsequent reading summaries we were forced to do all semester. I used to have big plans and visions for how to reach the world with the kingdom of God and how I could do that with psychology. Seminary was supposed to help fuel and facilitate these things. Some classes did (especially first semester), but then my thinking waned in many areas. Seminary is supposed to stimulate us to think in ways we never have and then apply Biblical understandings to these things. Ask yourself: Is this causing me to branch out and take intellectual challenges? It is bearing intellectual fruit, or is it just constant sowing and planting and tilling with no reaping or return? Is it causing intellectual ruts to form?

Spiritually

As I said earlier, I am a very young man. We have come full-circle. My immaturity has been revealed to me so forcefully in this season. I am merely a shadow of the man I was six months ago. I am more steeped in pride and arrogance than ever in spite of being more aware of that fact more now than ever. The grace and mercy of our loving Savior has shown me deep fear of man issues I am only now wrestling with. I’m realizing more and more of my life has been built upon the need for affirmation and to be built up by the people I make my idols. Seminary was yet another means by which I was trying to prop myself up. Everything both good and bad that I had ever placed my identity in has been taken from me: being an academic, in grad school, a successful writer, a well-known thinker, a culturally astute and well-informed individual in the midst of people that aren’t. Now I’m just a seminary drop-out who’s a counselor in suburban Philadelphia who can barely write blog post.
And this is God’s mercy to me spiritually. It’s incredible. I have never felt more my need and dependency for the One for Whom my soul was made, and for the first time perhaps, I’m tasting the Christian life of repentance I’ve only heard of all my life. I feel so weak, so inadequate, so frail – and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I am more in love with my Savior, restful in His cross, and joyful in His presence than ever, though it’s not in the cheap light fare sort of way. Ask yourself: Is seminary still beautiful? Am I quicker to repent now than two weeks ago? Is not just the workload, but the actual content, revealing my need for Christ? Could I work just as hard at other more fruitful endeavors, perhaps? Am I crying during church anymore? Do I still pray? Do I see my good and God’s glory in this presently?

And maybe that’s the point of this article. More than giving some principles to determine one’s place in seminary. Maybe it’s to encourage you that wherever God has you, it is to this end: that you might see your need for Him and thereby be shaped into His image and your joy. Take heart in a Sovereign, sanctifying God who loves you and is working all things to your good. His will is first and foremost your sanctification and you reflecting His Image more than it is that you go to seminary.

Hold all things with a very loose hand except for the broken body and blood of your slain and risen Lord – hold that very, very dear. Seminary, or no Seminary.

UPDATE: It has been a few years since writing this post. Now, I’m Going (Back) to Seminary.

Get More Seminary Advice and Resources in your Inbox. Sign Up Today.

* indicates required



About

Frequenting the coffee shops of Philadelphia while employed in social work and finishing up a Masters of Divinity from the Newbigin House of Studies at Western Theological Seminary. He serves Liberti Church as a deacon and seminary intern. Paul blogs at the long way home and tweets as @PaulBurkhart_.

Comments

Those sound like the same excuses the Israelites gave for not being able to enter the Promised Land. When you’re called, you’re called.

As the wife of a 3rd year full-time seminary student with two children, we have seen that God often asks you to do things that make no sense to the watching world so that He can show up & show off His unlimited Jehovah Jireh power.

At the time of this writing, my husband is laid off for the 2nd time in our seminary experience. Truth be told, we did discuss leaving seminary. It only took a moment to re-adjust our eyes of faith & stay put. In the last week alone, God has provided 2 tanks of gas, one-month’s rent, & 4 new tires for our van.

If the fact is that God has not called you to seminary, may God bless you in your future endeavors. If God has called you to seminary, may you not wander for 40 years before realizing it.

Jesus never went to seminary. You also have to wonder whether all the debt that you are accumulating is really honoring to God. There are many ways to grow in the Lord, and you don’t have to go to seminary to do that. I worked with a seminary graduate that was “puffed up” with all her knowledge but was not a person of character. So, seminary has nothing to do with your “call” from God.

Disclaimer: husband of Christine, full-time seminary student

Jesus did not go to seminary – this is true. This is due to two reasons: 1) there were no seminaries, and 2) He was the omniscient Son of God. Neither of these reasons apply to anyone today, so the statement that “Jesus never went to seminary” is not a good argument against a seminary education. Puffed up knowledge is admittedly a danger in the academically-soaked atmosphere of seminary and one must consistently battle this in order to make one’s biblical studies an arrest of the heart aimed toward Christ-like character as opposed to simply an assent of the mind aimed toward self-serving knowledge. Seminary, then, has a lot to do with one’s “‘call’ from God.” (please note what section this blog falls under on GTS’s website) While it is not necessary that everyone in full-time ministry needs a seminary education, if one is called by God to full-time ministry by way of a seminary education, then nothing should stop one from fulfilling that call.
This was precisely Christine’s point as indicated by her last sentence. Paul’s reasons for leaving seminary seemed more rooted on external pressures than on a deliberate call from God away from seminary. If Paul was never called to seminary or was called by God away from seminary then may the Lord bless Him in whatever He has called Him to, but if he has been and still is called to seminary then to leave based solely on financial, intellectual, or any other external pressures would be to call the long arm of the Lord too short to meet one’s needs. As a seminary student who has left the financially comfortable work world to follow God’s “call” to seminary, I could fill several pages of blog in recounting the Lord’s faithfulness in enabling and providing for those He has called.
Seminary is hard to be sure. Paul’s recounting of seminary pressures are both accurate and felt. The problem is, these difficulties should not be what determines the call; rather the call should be what determines one’s response to such difficulties. The disciples were called to be theologically trained by the Son of God. That training was a financial sacrifice that challenged the disciple’s intellect, character, and belief of God. These men followed their call to the point of martyrdom as they set their face and their faith squarely on the One who called them.
I will again reiterate Christine’s main point. Paul, please continue to seek God’s call for you. If He has not called you to seminary or has called you away from seminary, God bless you. Follow the call and take the gospel of Christ into whatever arena He has called you. If however God HAS called you to seminary and your decision to leave is based on the call of external difficulties, your departure would be similar to the Israelite’s lack of faith in the mighty God who called them for His purpose.
In either case, may the Lord bless you as you continually seek His will for your life.

Disclaimer: I don’t know any of these people.

But it seems to me that discerning God’s call is exactly what Paul has been doing in the process he describes in this post. God uses external circumstances as well as the internal prompting of the spirit to make his call known, and we are foolish if we do not heed that. Of course there may be people in similar external circumstances to Paul whom God is calling to persevere at seminary, but for Paul it seems to me that God has used his circumstances to make it plain that seminary isn’t the right plan at this stage in his life. They don’t read to me like excuses but as very valid reasons.

I have been in theological education for the past seven years and during that time I have considered quitting more than once. The clearest sign for me that this is still what God wants me to be doing has always been the way that he has arranged the practicalities of it for me in such amazing ways – money has come in whenever I have needed it, jobs have worked out perfectly around my schedule, transfers have been easy and so on. That has not been the only factor but it has been an important and tangible one. If those things had not been in place, I might well have concluded that this wasn’t what the Lord wanted after all.

Discerning a call goes both ways – you have to be just as sure that this is what you ought to be persevering in if you decide to stay, as you do if you choose to leave.

Ros lied that she doesn’t know me…her comments should be disqualified.

I KEED I KEED!!

Actually, can’t blame her for claiming not to know me 😉

I agree with Jason. And why the dog on Turretin? I go to WTS and read Turretin, and I am actually surprised on how little is required of us compared to WTS’s curricula of years past. Robert Dick Wilson knew 45 languages, E.J young, 25 …and all WTS students used to have to know Greek, Hebrew and Latin before they even enrolled. All this with out Bible Works! The reading lists were longer and the material was not as easy to access. Bavinck wasn’t even translated yet! I believe Turretin is very helpful…it actually pains me to see seminaries drop the writings, confessions, and faith of our fathers by the wayside as if Christianity stopped after the Apostles and started up again in 2009 with really true and serious and relevant Christians. Therefore, I believe anyone who scoffs Turretin as being superfluously absurd should be admonished for such a naive and unhelpful position. My challenge for you Paul is to reread Turrentin with a humble attitude rather than cast him into the flames of your ‘not relevant enough for my education’ pit.

I have no idea why this is the comment I choose to reply to, as I have very purposely not commented on this post. Perhaps because a reply to this is simple:

I’m referring to the Doctrine of God class taught by Scott Oliphint. My problem is not with Turretin or “old authors”, or even the workload of WTS. And nothing in this article would imply such a thing. My problem was with reading assignments that included reading Bavinck, Cavlin, AND Turretin on the EXACT SAME content. Turretin hardly every said anything that the more just as enjoyable Calvin and Bavinck didn’t say. My problem was the unnecessary repetition. Even Turretin instead of Calvin and Bavinck would have been pleasant. My frustration was not “Turretin-centric”. I’m all about a heavy workload that is actually edifying and facilitates learning. The readings and stringently-graded reading digests did not.

I’m more worried that the first assumption about my frustration with the reading was that Turretin wasn’t “relevant” enough. If you have seen me around campus, do I really come across as that guy? That really concerns me a lot if it’s the case. Please let me know.

And lastly, did no one (particularly Jason) finish reading this article? I thought I had made it clear that this was what God used to show ME that I was not supposed to be in seminary right now. If other people were in the exact same external situations, I do NOT think that this NECESSARILY means people need to drop out. God uses external things to reveal his will and these are the things he used for ME. I wrote about them here to help anyone else wrestling through similar things. That is all. I still think seminary is great, useful, and healthy. Amen. In fact, I’m writing this comment as I sit in on a Gospels class at WTS. It is amazing.

I like this page. I dropped out of seminary too because they denied my candidacy to the MDiv. I could have gotten the MA but the disappointment of it was just too much and my bitterness took over. I am now in library school and am trying to figure out when or if I will go back and get an MDiv at another institution. I am not sure seminary is healthy frankly…

Not really sure how to feel about Christine’s comment. Sounds like the normal answer someone gives when they don’t agree with someone else’s theology or what God may be doing with an individual. I think the article was well written, and full of the grace and mercy God has provided through Paul’s journey while in seminary up until this point (agreeing with Ros also). Thank you for sharing Paul!

(Full disclosure: Paul & I know each other; my final full year of seminary overlapped with his first.)

Great post, Paul. Please don’t be shaken by “Christine’s” guilt-manipulating comment above. Whatever God’s “call” may be and however much we may or may not be able to truly know it for specific ventures in life, I’m not sure. But I do get pretty pissed at the “just trust God” crowd. You shared very honestly about all the factors leading up to your decision and how you see them as actually mercies from God, and you get back “you’re a sinful Israelite.” Yeesh.

I think the truth is probably closer to your experience. Whatever guidance there is from God doesn’t come like some hand-delivered telegram that sets your life course once-and-for-all unalterably. Rather, we are on a “walk” with God (Psalm 1); it is a “way,” a journey, and we often don’t see the guiding signposts until we’re actually moving.

I can definitely sympathize with some of this, but it sounds like you hit it right on the mark with your self-analysis: immaturity. At 23 you’re young, but supporting yourself really came as a surprise to you? You hadn’t planned how you would pay rent for the upcoming year? That’s just bad stewardship, not endearing quirkiness. This probably won’t sink in till much later, but MAN UP. That’s totally fine if seminary’s not right for you, especially one you have theological differences with (which, by the way, is a sad commentary on yourself, not WTS; anyone who is blind to their biblically-centered direction doesn’t belong there in the first place).

I’m so ridiculously sick of seeing this site turned into a big Seminary Complaint Department. Since when did training for ministry not require significant sacrifice financially, emotionally, personally? No, I’m not talking about some minor hurdles, but actual sacrifice. If you’re not called, Paul, then that’s that, but for those who are it’s time you take up the cross with those who have gone before you and push through these few years for the sake of the person in your pew 20 years from now who comes to Christ because of the Holy Spirit using your diligence.

I get it – misery loves company, and there is certainly room to air out the struggles that come with training for ministry. But don’t think training for ministry happens just in the classroom or even just on campus. Your life is in training because your life needs to be prepared to be taken over by your eventual ministry. Phone calls with parents, disagreements with other students and professors, loneliness while buried in books are ALL part of your training, not a hindrance to it. Expect it and pray that it will make you even more like the Christ you know and are learning more about.

I didn’t realize we’d become a “Seminary Complaint Department.” Sounds like you’ve got some fire in your heart about manning up to the challenge of seminary. We’re always open to contributions if you ever want to write some helpful posts instead of just blasting a guy for sharing the journey he’s been through.

hey paul. I normally refrain from posting on blogs (other than the poor excuse for my own), but after reading some of the responses, i thought i’d chime in with some encouragement.

In the 1 year that I’ve known you, i’ve found you to be an intelligent and thoughtful person. and as far as i can tell, your posts tend to be pretty inline with that description.

This particular post is not the ranting of an immature person who flakes out because he’s too immature to figure out his own calling. (i think Colin was a bit hard on you there). Instead, it looks more like the post of a young man who tried to look around at his life, accurately assess the situation and deal with it accordingly. These tend to be marks of maturity. I wish more young people would try doing this more often.

I really feel you on the self inventory thing. I sometimes wonder, myself, how much better I am character-wise after cramming all this stuff into my head. Seminary (,particularly the scholarship heavy ones,)is not for everyone. and even tho this is not WTS’s fault per se (it would be nice if they worked harder to address this), the principle still stands.

If there is anything i can do to help, please let me know. maybe we can still help you actually finish. Let’s see what happens there.

and if i may address your audience for a sec, the situation at WTS is a different case altogether than what is going on with Paul (and a whole bunch of other ppl as well). I think we all understand that the one (the WTS thing) affects the other (Paul’s decision) and is fair game for discussion…but it might be better if we could refrain from making ad hominem attacks because we don’t like someone’s assessment of the WTS situation.

(is it really true that anyone who is disturbed by the seminary’s new direction is blind to what a Biblically centered direction is?)

Disclaimer: I know Mark T.

Great thinking above. Great acknowledgement of idolotry and sin etc. I suppose if I had to pick my response to the paraphrased options that people have given you above based on your post:

1.) Forget what lies behind (re: sin, decisions, etc.) and press on toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus

or

2.) You’re a faithless dumbass.

I’ll pick #1. But I don’t really know you. Maybe both apply;o) …

Dear Paul,

Although our paths never crossed at WTS, this post makes me wish that we had been in class together (disclosure: I teach full-time at PBU, and am a visiting prof at WTS, one course per semester); we could have had some good conversations.

I’m glad that Mark posted a link to this on FaceBook; I’m glad that I read it.

I especially appreciate the question about what it is that one particularly enjoys, since good books and conversations with friends about “the important things” ought to be the norm for growing Christians.

A seminary (or school of any kind) can make these more available, and be a genuine “seed-bed” for personal reflection and growth in a way that is not really possible when we are embedded in the work-eat-pay bills-sleep world; hence “school” from Greek scholia (“leisure”). On the other hand, seminary can also cripple our spiritual and intellectual development, especially when it is more concerned with getting its point across than with helping us grow into who (and what) we have been created to be (I say this without reference to any particular school).

And, despite the first post (above), the sovereign Lord does use our circumstances to cause us to pause and reflect, to measure, weigh, and evaluate, and even to decide that we are not (or are no longer) on the path that will best lead us to love Him with our whole being and our neighbours as ourselves.

Best wishes for your continued life in Christ; may His good work in you continue all your days, and may we yet have opportunity to rejoice together in that unfailing goodness.

Blessings.

Fred Putnam

I would like to recind my comment, as Fred Putnam’s was much more helpful and gracious, etc. My comment doesn’t offer help or grace.

And my disclaimer that I know Mark Traphagen … doesn’t really say anything good or bad does it?

Paul,

Glad to hear things are making sense to you. I feel you bro. I don’t imagine you’ll regret your decision. Your thoughts and experience are shared by many, and I don’t think anyone is well-served by dismissing them as some sort of ‘cop-out’. Seminary is a hard place for many, and while some of those problems have to do with us, faithfulness demands that we also ask difficult questions of the seminary experience itself. How well is it suited to equipping and stirring us to follow Christ? Where are its weak spots, and how could the stewards of the church creatively work to improve that experience? Difficult questions, made more difficult by the uncharted economic waters we are all facing. I know too many students who desire to serve the church who are barely hanging on financially. How can we address these issues? Thanks for sharing your story.

Peace to you friend,

David Smith

Paul,

I definitely feel where you’re coming from. I am a seminary student who is working 45-50 hours per week while going to seminary at Fuller full time. Its hard. But I want to encourage you that there is no shame in leaving seminary, none at all. The kingdom of God and we as the church benefit far more from you being in a spiritually healthy place and in a Good relationship with the Lord than we do from having you be able to conjugate another few verbs in greek. If seminary is so poisonous to your own relationship with God, by all means, get out.

I want to encourage you to not to worry about money though. If you’re main reason for leaving is financial, both immediate and future (lack of job skills) I want to encourage you to spend more time considering this change. God has a way of providing, especially financially for students.

Overall, I do understand and wish you nothing but the best.

The LORD bless you and keep you;
The LORD make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.

Paul,

Thanks for tagging me on Facebook with this post. You know that I almost never post to online discussions, but I’m going to make an exception this time because of the conversation that your post has generated.

You and I have had some good conversations this past year as we have both faced the trials of our first year of seminary, and I personally have benefitted from watching you live by faith as you have dealt with questions of calling, direction, and what to do next. This post is really you. It’s honest. It’s transparent. It’s thoughtful. And I will step out on a limb here and say that it is also a helpful picture of what it might look like for some seminary students to live by faith.

With due respect to the “Christines” and “Colins” out there, I say these things as one who has every intention of finishing my seminary education. I am becoming more and more convinced that God is calling me to a pastoral role in the church, and others (my wife, pastors, trusted friends) also affirm this calling. Thus, for me, living by faith probably looks like finishing seminary and enduring whatever trials may arise during the process, and as “Colin” said earlier, these trials are all part of the training that we receive in seminary. For me, to walk away from seminary right now would be to go against my sense of calling, my gut, my desires, and the advice of my community. Likewise, for others who find themselves in similar situations, we might need to endure the financial strain, loneliness, theological disagreements, late nights, periods of spiritual drought, etc. as part and parcel of our seminary training – not to be derailed by them but to persevere through them in faith and humble reliance upon God for his grace and strength.

But, Paul, what it looks like for you to live faithfully might be very different than what it looks like for me, and I think you show this well in your post. You have made your decision in faith and in community, prayerfully and patiently. You have invited others to help you walk through this difficult decision. You have not abandoned your calling in fear or cowardice; rather you have been continually discerning God’s calling through the eyes of humility and faith that he gives you as you keep putting one foot in front of the other in the way that makes the most sense in light of all God’s promises and provision, together with the guidance of others whom you wisely trust. You may be a very young man, but in your post above (as well as in your life) you exhibit wisdom and maturity that should not be overlooked or unappreciated – especially not abrasively in a public forum by those who pretend to speak boldly but lack the courage to attach their surname to their statements. Please don’t be discouraged by them. If that’s too subtle to be helpful, “Colin” (whoever you are), I’m rebuking you publicly. Though I agree that we must not be whiners at seminary, your totalizing remarks are altogether unhelpful… but we forgive you, as does our extremely patient Savior. That’s an observation, not an absolution, by the way.

One must not assume that every seminarian comes with a loud-and-clear calling to pulpit ministry and that everyone who leaves after a year or two is turning away from God and his mission. Surely, we must encourage one another in difficult times (and I am thankful to have had Paul as an encourager with me this past year) and we must not lose heart in the midst of trials, but that’s not necessarily what is going on every time someone leaves seminary for the reasons Paul mentioned above. We should be careful in throwing around blanket statements that assume too much and tear people down unjustly. The mission of God in this world is one that employs every vocation, not just pastoral ministry, and most vocations do not require a seminary education. We must allow for seminary students to realize that seminary training and pastoral ministry might not be God’s calling on their lives.

I am grateful to have gone through a year of seminary with you, Paul, and selfishly, I am sad that you won’t be back. However, if one year of seminary is what God has used in your life to lead you deeper into the vocation to which he has called you (a vocation that perhaps does not require any more seminary training), then I’m thankful for that.

Once again, one door closes, and another door opens. Our sovereign God is behind it all, working all of those things to serve his one great purpose of uniting all things to himself in Christ. And we get to be a part of it… whatever part that might be.

Keep it real, Paul.

Cheers,

Chris Currie, blog novice

Excellent post, Paul. Thank you for baring your heart here for others to be enriched and challenged.

@Christine, I don’t agree with your comments on “calling” as I think that language short-changes the legitimate uses of calling in the Scriptures.

We are called to redemption in Christ, and called to be servants and stewards in this life. We are called to suffer (Phil. 1:29), as well as to trust in Christ and await the full revelation of His glory.

Let’s be careful of those types of statements. Does God have a specific will? Yes. Are we called to seek Him? Yes. Is being frustrated and confused part of God’s plan for our sanctification and preparation for service? I think so.

Your husband has a great privilege to be at seminary, and it sounds like you are trusting God to provide and persevere through many trials to continue on that truck. By contrast, perhaps some are only “called” to seminary for a season. The goal is more than complete the coursework, it is to grow so deep in Christ we become the kind of people He can trust with others’ deep issues.

“Thus, for me, living by faith probably looks like finishing seminary and enduring whatever trials may arise during the process, and as “Colin” said earlier, these trials are all part of the training that we receive in seminary. For me, to walk away from seminary right now would be to go against my sense of calling, my gut, my desires, and the advice of my community. Likewise, for others who find themselves in similar situations, we might need to endure the financial strain, loneliness, theological disagreements, late nights, periods of spiritual drought, etc. as part and parcel of our seminary training ‑ not to be derailed by them but to persevere through them in faith and humble reliance upon God for his grace and strength.”

thats exactly it. These things don’t mean you shouldn’t be in seminary- its ultimately about your calling. Seminary is necessary for some, and not for others.

I’m too slow to keep up with all these comments…I’m still stuck back at the top with the comment saying that there was no seminary training back in Jesus’ day. My inquisitive mind is still trying to figure out how all those Pharisees and Rabbi’s learned so much and were deemed qualified?
There must have been some seriously good homeschooling going on.

Paul,

I am 39 yrs old and am a first year seminary student. My wife and I began our marriage 11 years ago and were in a different place financially than we were in our early 20’s. Now, the burden we face with my seminary studies is not one of finances but one of time management. Without rehashing the points of view already expressed here, it is sufficient to simply say that seminary is challenging and requires sacrifices on many fronts.

Thank you for having the courage to strip away the layers and honestly share your thoughts and experiences. Opening oneself up to critics is difficult but the growth, both spiritual and personal, is invaluable!

Follow the Lord’s direction. Perhaps seminary is not where you are called or perhaps WTS is not where you should be. Or perhaps, you are called to be a seminarian but now is not that time. Your journey will be filled with ups and downs that will cause you to question. Be not afraid to follow where god leads! I sincerely hope and pray that you will continue to share your journey!

Laus Deo!

Paul! Maturity, bro. Sovereignty and providence, bro. Proverbs 16:1,3,9,33.

Whatever you do, do it in faith and it is not sin. Romans 14:23

Seminary or no, abide in Christ and glorify Him thereby. Colossians 3:17

Appreciate you, bro! Love you!

Thanks for sharing and being honest.

Paul, really sorry that I responded so late, but I just wanted to give in my two cents. First off, I just wanted to thank you for being so open and honest, and making yourself vulnerable. In the few months or so that I’ve known you, you definitely don’t seem like the type of guy who acts upon impulse, but a guy who thinks things over methodically, and carefully before coming to a decision – which is how I am, so maybe that’s why this article struck a chord in me as well. It’s as if I am looking at my own journey through seminary.

I 100% agree with Ros that external circumstances come into play when discerning a calling, especially the availability of money. Even if you don’t think that you’re called to be at seminary at this moment and have to postpone your seminary education until a later time, I definitely see it as a win-win for you and for others.

You had a year’s worth of training from one of the best seminaries in the world, and I know the content of the readings were amazing – I know since I had a few classes with you. I know those reasings and assignments only helped you in your view of God and the applicability and the practicality of the gospel. I also feel that some people tend to stay in seminary not because God really called them, but because they just wanted to themselves even though God may be calling them to some other ministry or area. It’s easy to get caught up with thinking that once you’re in seminary, you HAVE to graduate or finish and if you don’t, you’re unfaithful or you’re not a “good” Christian. But I think your experience will definitely come in handy for the future because I know other people will be in similar situations. Anyways, my two cents is more like two dollars at this point, so I’m gonna stop. I still see you on campus, so I guess I’ll see you around!

I appreciate your post and the honest assessment you gave to your situation. The initial response (or irritation) I had in my mind was that discerning “God’s will” to be in seminary or not is difficult for many people, and everyone’s situation is different. For some, this can be discouraging to read when what they need to do is fight through to the end.

I think many people struggle with fighting a puffed-up attitude, struggle with financial decisions, and pray over spending years earning a degree that is respected within ministry, but not as much outside the Church. If you don’t struggle with those things, maybe you weren’t “called” to seminary.

In my life, I never could have been mentally prepared for seminary when I was your age. I had too much to deal with first, and 15 years to add after completing my undergraduate degree before I would finally decide to enter seminary work. Now, at the age of 38 (practically retirement age to the 20-something’s), after living my career for self, I struggle with how God will use someone that possibly won’t be out of seminary before close to the age of 50.

I am happy you made the decision you feel God called you to make, that is what is important. It also doesn’t mean he didn’t call you into seminary work to begin with, and then back out again, that is between you and Him, and I can do nothing but respect that decision.

For those in seminary, the financial burden weighs heavy on everyone, the time constraints, and all the other issues that come with being in seminary, they are sacrifices that can’t be readily dismissed, and seminary certainly serves a purpose in ministry. The scholarly work that people like Augustine, Luther, Wesley, Calvin, Edwards, and all the others did is invaluable to all believers, and none of it was without sacrifice. The Church needs qualified, and seminary educated leaders. Not for everything, but the Church needs these people, just as the people you will counsel will need you.

It is not an issue of whether or not to be in seminary, what is at issue is are you, as an individual, trying to follow God’s call for your life, in seminary, or out in some other field. It is easy to put down seminary work (not that that is what you did), it is hard to do the work.

If you truly discern God’s call to go in seminary and you don’t, or to leave and you don’t, both are wrong in God’s eyes. Great post, thanks for sharing your heart with the rest of the world, I wish you all the best. Scott

Paul,
I have been and am in a very similar position to your own. I’m 26, attended seminary for two years and then realized that this was no longer God’s will for my life. I was one year away from getting my masters and God was telling me no more. My financials were hard, but God was taking care of us just fine…money was coming in, from strange places, when we needed it. However, it was heavy on my heart that seminary was over for me. The difficult circumstances I could bear, the loss of joy and trouble in my spirit I could not. And so after much counsel and prayer, I let go of my degree.

I battled the feeling of shame when telling others, as I had always been just the opposite of a quitter. I battled the feeling of shame from myself, because the “high-achiever” I had always been would never do something like this. However, the feeling of relief I received was God’s blessing that I was making the right decision. The circumstances that followed worked out very well as far as finding a job, place to live, etc.

I left seminary 4 months ago, moved to a rural area, have a steady job, and a baby on the way. I do not know what is coming next, but I still know God has called me to ministry. He is teaching me still and training me in ways that I’m sure I will only be able to see in hindsight. Ever since I was called, I assumed I’d graduate from seminary and lead a church immediately after (was I even right to try and plan it that way in my head?). Now, I’m walking by faith that God is leading me still. It’s not easy b/c I do not know my direction, but I follow the Shepherd. I try to be prepared for anything He may bring my way.

As you said, “the will of God is an ever unfolding present reality.” God often raises men for a season for a particular work and then seasons change. He does different things with different people in different times and in different ways.
May God lead and direct your life and may you have the faith to follow.

Thanks so much for writing this! I’ve been struggling with some of these exact same things. I still don’t know what I’m going to do, but it was refreshing to realize I’m not tied down to seminary against my will.

How much of this is God’s will, or the world capturing you. If you’re called-you’re called. I have struggled and struggled with this same situation. It’s not easy. It’s the hardest decision in my life, but I’m called. Are you called, or are you not? Forget the world and it’s mundane useless cycle. If your heart is wild-free it. Do what you were called to do. The finances will be there. The support will be there. Don’t stop. Don’t kid yourself and make yourself feel right about your decision by saying God has a different path for you. The God I read about is all about the difficult road. The narrow one. That’s the road I need to get back on. This post has helped a lot. Thanks

J-Rat –

Was Abraham called to kill Isaac? Yes. He went forward with that plan until God “called” otherwise. Would he have been disobedient to continue with the original “calling” of killing Isaac after God said “stop”?

In the church today we have a very strange and anemic doctrine of “calling” that I don’t believe is biblical. We also have a very gnostic tendency of idealizing the spiritual at the detriment of the material. This is one reason why many of the commenters of this post can’t seem to understand why or how God would ever call someone AWAY from a seminary. The pulpit and its preparation has been placed on a pedestal it was never meant to be on.

Completely in line with Abraham, I obeyed God’s call until he called me elsewhere, and then I responded appropriately and, as time has shown me, obediently. Sometimes the finances aren’t there. Sometimes people don’t get healed. Sometimes God changes things. Sometimes THAT is the more “difficult road”. For me, with my story, leaving seminary was FAR more difficult, uncertain, and requiring of more faith than if I had stayed.

I will equally give you the advice to not question where God has brought you. As I said, after Pentecost, after the Holy Spirit indwelt believers, the “will of God” is no longer some invisible path that we have to find and “get back on” if we “get off”. The “will of God”, for the rest of the New Testament always refers to an INTERNAL reality that GOD has promised to accomplish in you. The burden to accomplish the “will of God” in the NT is ultimately on GOD. He doesn’t require us to have to follow these weird abstractions and intuitions to “figure out” some ethereal reality. He just says “Follow me. Trust me. Believe in me. And just live.” We are in His hands and He has appointed our time and places. Let us not think more of ourselves than we ought and think we can “mess this thing up”. He loves us too much to let that happen.

Live to the glory of God wherever you are. The most extensive treatment of an idea of “calling” that Scripture gives us is in 1 Cor 7, and Paul’s main admonition is that wherever you are NOW is where you’re called. Stay there and glorify God in it. He will change the external circumstance if He desires. For me, that change of circumstance looked like the story above. Remember, the “will of God” is “something best discerned through clarity and hindsight rather than ambiguity and attempted foresight.” Rely not on subjective feelings and hopes unattained. Trust your savior that has accomplished objective goals on your behalf and has led you to wherever you are NOW.

To live is Christ. For the Christian, there’s no other reality we know. I hope this was more helpful.

Well said, Paul. (Again.) That paragraph on 1 Cor. 7 is especially helpful and pointed. It’s obvious for you that the call to follow Christ, wherever, through whatever circumstances, trumps the subjective need to have it all figured out and act like we do. Nor to feel like one has to prove one’s self to others. Simple and complex all at once.

Paul, that reply was so good I think you should make it a main post so more people will see it.

Wow, this post is still generating comments. I really wanted to comment on it when it first came out but just didn’t have the time to do so. Haven’t had to now either, because most of everything I would’ve said is here.

For the record, I’m with you Paul.

And I agree with Mark, that you should rework this a bit and turn it into another post. You’re absolutely right that we’ve lost sight of what calling really is all about.

Paul,

Thank you. I have just submitted my application to Reformed Theological Seminary and am undergoing an “internal review.”

Your post, the comments left to it, have all been great insight into how to approach this process.

Thank you ever so much.

Your Brother in Jesus,
-Randall Potter

I know this will not sit well with alot of people posting here, but seminary is not necessary for ministry. In fact, it may even be more of a hindrance than a help.

Jesus didn’t go to seminary, but not because He was the omniscient Son of God as someone put it. The word says He was a man like us in all ways but sin. He emptied Himself of His diety to become a man. All that He did on earth, He did as a man empowered by the Holy Spirit, and He expects us to do the same. Nowhere in scripture are we told that a college-level education is a prerequisite for ministry.

Scripture tells us that Peter and John were “unschooled, ordinary men” – look what God did through them. Where did we ever get the idea that we have to go to school to be qualified to teach, preach or minister?