What to ask a seminary rep before you apply

by on January 19, 2010

Today’s guest post is by Dr. Sam Simmons. Dr. Simmons is co-founder and vice president for learning design at Rockbridge Seminary. ┬ęCopyright 2010. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Bob rubbed his tired eyes. For three hours he had been staring at seminary Web sites trying to decide where to apply. He was particularly interested in three seminaries but felt like he needed to probe a little deeper before making his final decision.

Returning to the three Web sites, Bob wrote down the phone numbers, and then pulled out his cell phone to make the calls. While dialing the first number, he slowly closed his phone, realizing he needed time to think more carefully about what questions to ask.

I have listened to questions from prospective seminary applicants like Bob for 25 years. In almost every instance, the most important questions were never asked — questions relating to learning design. A seminary’s learning design is how a seminary intends for you to change as a result of completing an academic program — change in knowledge, understanding, attitudes, and skills.

If I could catch Bob before he makes that first call, here are three questions I would suggest he ask before he settles on where to attend seminary.

How will your seminary help me understand and fulfill God’s call?
A generation ago, students entered seminary with a calling to one of a handful of ministry
multiple ministry roles. Seminary courses were developed accordingly.

Today, seminary students are more likely to view God’s call in terms of Kingdom, journey, and relationship. Rather than entering seminary with a calling to a specific ministry role, they are more likely to be committed to a journey of obedience that could include multiple ministry roles.

Seminaries are beginning to adapt to this new kind of student. Some provide an entry course that helps incoming students clarify God’s call and process how they are designed and shaped uniquely for Kingdom influence. With the average age of incoming seminary students approaching 40 years old, help is often provided so an older student can understand how life experience and secular work skills relate to God’s call.

Without some perspective of calling, a student can be overwhelmed with the vast assortment of programs and courses from which to choose. Charting a course of study is easier when a student has a clearer perspective of God’s call and a sharper focus of where ministry development is needed.

How will your seminary help me be more effective in ministry?

The root of the word “seminary” is “semen” or “seed.” The original idea was that seminary would be a season of planting seed into a young minister’s life — seed that would start bearing fruit after the student left the protective care of seminary life and assumed his first ministry position in the real world. Traditional seminary education was built on the assumption that a student would complete seminary before assuming full-time ministry responsibilities.

Students entering seminary today are more likely to be serving already in a full-time ministry position. Instead of enrolling in seminary for credentialing in order to find a ministry position, they enroll in seminary because they need help in being more effective as a minister.

Increasingly, seminaries are seeking to make theological education more directly relevant to local church ministry. Some are responding by designing curriculum that is competency- guided. Others are building assignments in a way that use a student’s ministry position as the primary platform for learning.

When I graduate, how will I know if your seminary has helped me?
Seminary is more than passing courses and receiving a diploma. It is a learning journey of growth and development. The entrance into seminary represents one point in your journey.

Graduation represents another. In between, seminary study has influenced you. After three or more years of study, you have a right to ask how.

Did seminary study help you grow? Are you better prepared to minister? Did the seminary program influence you in the way it was intended? These questions will be difficult to answer unless a seminary has embedded these evaluation tools into the learning process from start to finish.

  • At the front end, a seminary should help you construct learning objectives based on God’s call and your ministry development requirements.
  • As you take courses, a seminary should help you capture learning snapshots that track your progress.
  • As you near completion of your academic program, a seminary should help youevaluate the degree to which your learning objectives were met .

Perhaps you are considering seminary education. If so, gather and study information on your prospective seminaries prayerfully. And as you do, be sure you ask the most important questions.

About

Dr. Simmons holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham; a Master of Divinity degree and a Doctor of Philosophy degree, both from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Before helping to begin Rockbridge Seminary, he served ten years as Director of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary's Southern California Campus (Orange County) and five years as Director of the Northeast Campus of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary (Albany, NY). He was contributor to the textbook Missiology: An Introduction to the Foundations, History, and Strategies of World Missions, writing the chapter "The Missionary Motivation of God's Salvation."┬Ł His vision for seminary education was published in Strategies for Today's Leader in the article "The Prodigal Seminary Returns to the Church" (Summer 2000). In addition, he has written numerous articles on Christian leadership. Dr. Simmons' vision is to make ministry development relevant and accessible to local church leaders and emerging ministers. This vision grew out of twenty-five years of pastoral and seminary ministry, including over a decade based in Southern California as a member of Saddleback Community Church.

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