I’d like to propose a fundamental question about your experience at seminary. Why are you at seminary? What do you hope to get out of it? Are you there to earn a degree so that you can get hired to do ministry full-time? Are you there just because you want a structured place to study deeply? Why are you spending all this time and money?
I ask this because, as I look around some local seminaries, I wonder what some folks are doing there. My seminary had an affiliation with a local church, and I had a lot of classmates who were there because they wanted to learn more about the Lord. In other words, they saw seminary as a really intense Sunday school class. That’s a noble goal (the most noble, in fact), but does it require seminary?
I went to seminary because I knew that I needed credentials if I wanted to get a job. I was planning a career change, and I hoped to get a full-time job at a church. I have since become a bivocational church-planting pastor with two other men. This experience taught me that going to seminary just to get a piece of paper was the wrong reason. It has to go deeper than that, although getting that piece of paper does mean that you can finish what you started.
Seminary is a time of deep learning. You should be challenged and stretched to think about things that you may never have considered. You should particularly be forced to interact with folks who hold differing opinions from your own so that you can truly understand their positions and your own more deeply. You should be challenged to write papers that will force you to think clearly about a particular topic and go more deeply than you otherwise would.
As you start this school year, please think about why you are there. It’s possible that you can get what you’re looking for from your local church and save a lot of money. After all, the mission Jesus gave to the church in Matthew 28:19–20 is to make disciples. I hope that your church is primarily focused on that mission. I know some very godly and wise men and women who do not have a piece of paper, and I know some fools who do. The piece of paper is not so important as what is in the heart.
I do not regret the time I spent in seminary at all. If you plan to be in any kind of leadership role, it’s good for you to be familiar with everything you will learn there. However, please be sure that it’s the best use of your time and money. And please focus on what you are learning about the Lord—and not on getting that piece of paper.