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Am I Called?

Lauren Visser —  July 3, 2014 — Leave a comment

Today’s guest post is from Evan Duncan. He is pursuing his MDiv at Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary, and he currently serves as media and communications director at First Baptist Church in Temple, Texas. Originally from Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, he has a passion for using all forms of media to help spread the gospel message across the world. Duncan loves spending time with his wife, Brittany, as well as reading, writing, watching baseball, and trying to be funny on Twitter. For more of Duncan’s work, visit www.evanduncanmedia.com.

I sit next to an accountant, a scientist, and a lawyer as I try my best to translate the fourth chapter of Philippians. I was afraid seminary would just be full of bearded white males right out of college. While we have plenty of those, I didn’t imagine that my classmates would be so diverse and have such fascinating backstories. I didn’t plan on going to seminary until about five months before I started classes, so I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who has struggled navigating through life—or struggles with translating Greek, for that matter.

I was convinced I would be a writer or a professor, so I double majored in journalism and philosophy in college. During my senior year, I was studying all these great thinkers who had dedicated their lives to knowledge, only to have their works coated with dust on the library shelves. I asked myself, “Is this what I’m supposed to do? What I’m meant to do?” I knew it wasn’t. I was leaving college armed with Photoshop skills, a journalism portfolio, and the ability to almost explain Immanuel Kant. I had no idea what was next.

I’ve always imagined “calls to ministry” sounding like God calling to Samuel in Eli’s house in 1 Samuel 3: 8–10:

“And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, LORD, for your servant hears.”’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.”

Perhaps it happens in a vision like with Isaiah, standing before the Lord and a host of partying angels and the called yelling out over the dubstep and through the smoke machine: “Here I am! Send me!”

My call to ministry is much more ordinary than that. Or maybe it isn’t. I realized, as graduation approached, that I couldn’t imagine doing something in life that wasn’t for the kingdom. Even though I had no idea what a post-seminary career would be, I could see how God has used me throughout my life. Whether it was as an interim youth minister while the real leaders were on vacation or shooting and cutting church announcements, I was happiest and most passionate when working in ministry.

I wanted the call to be an audible voice because I wanted security. I wanted to know confidently that God picked me for something and if I just did what he said I would be OK. But God isn’t so concerned with us feeling comfortable.

Oftentimes we talk about calls as if they are the one finite moment in time. I don’t refer to my call in the past tense because the call of Christ is ongoing; it’s fluid. My call has me in seminary today, and may have me packing up everything and dropping out tomorrow.

In the book of John, Jesus calls some disciples and they call their friends. Everyone is unsure of who this Jesus is and what he is doing. The response by the followers is the same each time: “Come and see.”

The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” John 1:37b–39a, 45–46

I sat before my philosophy professor and told him that postgraduate work in philosophy just wasn’t for me. I wanted to follow Christ in local ministry. I wasn’t sure how that would work out professionally. I didn’t know how I could afford seminary, or worse, life with a seminary degree.

Yet here I heard my call. Not in a voice or vision, but in the collection of my life experiences. It came in a chorus of my mentors, family, and friends. I heard it most clearly in prayer and my studies of the Scripture and theology.

The call to ministry isn’t always parting of the clouds. Sometimes it’s as simple as a pull of desire and hope. It was there that I heard my call. I still hear it as I take on a new class or am asked to preach somewhere new. This is the call I hear when someone wants to help someone who has been forgotten, or when someone is curious about who Jesus is.

Think you may be called? Come and see.

My job allows me to chat with distinguished seminary professors every week. During one such conversation, I asked the professor what advice he would give to a young student trying to balance school, work, ministry, and family—i.e., me. His response?

“There’s no such thing as balance.”

He went on to explain that if a student were to balance every demanding area of life, he could only give a modicum of attention to each. For example, when you’re at your day job, do you balance it with family and ministry? Would you, while at your desk, be bouncing your child on your knee and inviting church members over for a spiritual talk or Bible study? No, you’re working. While at work, you work.

Instead of balance, this professor commends single-minded focus and devotion to each thing in its time. There will be times when you must skip dinner with your family for the sake of work. Or perhaps, for the sake of a final paper, you’ll be unable to take your kid to the park. Devote yourself to the task at hand, prioritizing it above the others. That is the only way to accomplish anything with excellence.

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might . . .” (Eccles. 9:10).

But don’t be mistaken—this philosophy of focus can be taken too far. We need discernment in large measure. You may have a final paper due, but you must carefully discern whether getting an A on that paper is worth missing an important church membership meeting or your kid’s recital. Another professor once told me, “Students need to be willing to say ‘good enough’ at times.” Sometimes a B− is good enough if you need to prioritize something more important.

Of course, this is a challenge because your professors will constantly push you to excel—and so they should! But as an adult with many competing responsibilities, it’s your job to examine your life, weigh your responsibilities, and make your decisions. When do you need to say, “I could spend eight hours on this, but five will have to be good enough”? When do you need to put aside all distraction and dedicate yourself to the task at hand?

So forget the idea of balance. Stop trying to juggle four things at once. Dedicate yourself to what’s in front of you. But know when to say “good enough.”

When I was accepted into seminary, I was filled with wonderful ideas about how soul-enriching my studies would be. After all, I’d be studying the Bible all day and learning about God and his character in every class. How could this not lead to deeper devotion and richer worship? I thought that, perhaps, in the interest of saving some precious time, I could combine my devotional time with my studies. Good idea?

Well, yes and no.

Once I began my studies I quickly realized that while  what I was learning was edifying, it was not enough. I was reading Scripture and studying deep theology and the ways of God, but there’s no denying that it was in large part to pass the test or to ace my final paper. With those sorts of goals in mind, I read and study much differently than I do when I’m simply pouring over the pages of the Bible in my personal devotions. I found that without my devotional time, my spiritual life had something significant missing.

My day job often allows me to interview renowned scholars and seminary professors such as Craig Evans, Doug Moo, Dan Block, Tremper Longman, and more—a privilege for which I am very grateful. One of the questions I always ask the professors is this: “Do you separate your devotions and your study, or do they intertwine?” The scholars almost always answer that they do maintain private devotions, and yet maintain a worshipful approach to study. But their studies often influence what they meditate on devotionally. For instance, Tremper Longman does his personal devotions more frequently in the New Testament, since he is an Old Testament scholar and works in those texts most frequently. In contrast, when Dan Block writes a commentary on a book he lives and breathes that book, both in his professional studies and in his personal devotions.

There are a few things we can learn from this approach:

1. Let your studies inform your devotions

In seminary we are, in a sense, putting tools in our toolbox. We are learning the art and science of biblical interpretation, the nuances of the original languages, the flow of the story of Scripture, and the many melodies that run throughout. These are all tools to be used for enriching not only your current or future ministry, but also your personal time with God and his Word. As you study, allow the things you learn to inform your devotional time, and that time will be the richer for it.

2. Let your devotions fuel your studies

Typically, we go to seminary to equip ourselves for ministry, and as suggested above, we should also be equipping ourselves for our personal relationship with the Lord. If loving and serving God and his church in this way is our reason, then it follows that as we grow closer to God through his word, and as we come to love his Word more and more, we will be all the more motivated to pursue our studies with a renewed vigor. I can speak from experience when I say that, without a strong devotional life fanning the flame of passion for God, seminary studies can become increasingly boring.

3. Let your studies be worshipful

Not only is it important to maintain a separate devotional time, but it is equally important to devote your time spent in study to the Lord. We are not here to simply fill our heads with knowledge and achieve academic excellence! Knowledge is good and important, but if that knowledge does not lead us to better know and love our Savior, what is the point? If you approach your studies with a worshipful attitude, I trust God will bless that time and deepen your love of him through your learning.

In my never ending quest to provide information that will help you decide on the right seminary for you, I occasionally find other people who have weighed in on the subject. Today I came across an older post by Mark Dever at togetherforthegospel.org.

In his post, Mark explains five factors to consider when choosing a seminary. They are:

  1. Confession of Faith – “…Look to be trained at an institution which seems to be committed to a right understanding of God’s Word…
  2. Quality of Education – “…While there is no precise way to measure such quality, factors which indicate it are the school’s faculty, the required curriculum and the library facilities…
  3. Cost – “…The calling that you are following doesn’t usually pay the kind of salaries doctors, businessmen or lawyers may receive. It is part of your being a good steward to consider the cost of the education you are pursuing…
  4. Church – “…you must also consider if there is a good church nearby that could be a place of ministry and spiritual encouragement and direction while you are in the seminary…
  5. Connection for Life – “…consider what connections for the rest of life you might make by attending this seminary or that theological college…

His points are good and certainly ones that I agree with. His points about indebtedness and the fact that pastors aren’t making the same kind of money that MBA’s will be making after they graduate is a really great and something that we’ll discuss in the near future.

By far our most popular post over time has been our Seminary Scholarship post. The problem with this post is how narrow it is, and without great amounts of effort and time it would never be very inclusive. Not to mention how dated it has become.

So, we decided it might be best to let our readers build the listing. Please email GoingtoSeminary@Logos.com with any scholarship submissions. As new submissions come in they will be added to the list.

Of course we can’t verify all the details of each scholarship submission, that part will be up to you if you decide to apply for a specific scholarship listed here. We hope this list helps make seminary available to more people all over the globe.


The Baptist Foundation of Alabama
Description of scholarship: Decisions will be made regarding scholarship awards and letters will go out the first part of July. Please do not email or call regarding the status until after that point. We appreciate your interest in the scholarships awarded through The Baptist Foundation of Alabama.
url: http://tbfa.org/2012-Scholarship.html

Logos Bible Software
Description of scholarship: Now there is a scholarship that is open to everyone and doesn’t take a week’s worth of late nights to apply for. At SeminaryScholarship.com all you have to do is watch a demonstration of Logos Bible Software and fill out a brief application. Once your application is submitted you will be entered to win a $1,000.00 scholarship AND a digital theological library that, in print, would cost over $6,100.00!
url: http://www.seminaryscholarship.com/

The Arkansas Baptist Foundation

Description of scholarship: Eight scholarships currently available.
url: http://www.abf.org/individuals_scholarships.htm

The Baptist Communicators Association
Description of scholarship: In order to encourage the growth and professional development of college, university, and seminary students in the field of Baptist communications, the Baptist Communicators Association will award one $1,000 scholarship to an undergraduate student, one $1,000 scholarship to an undergraduate of minority ethnic or international origin, and one $500 scholarship to a graduate student.
url: http://www.baptistcommunicators.org/about/scholarship.cfm

Acton Institute
Description of scholarship: Calihan Academic Fellowships: Scholarships and research grants of up to $3,000 for graduate students and seminarians studying themes promoted by the Acton Institute.
url: http://www.acton.org/programs/students/calihan_academic_scholarship.php

Mississippi Baptist Foundation
Description of scholarship: Mississippi Baptist Foundation- Scholarship Ministry: Due to the generosity of many faithful Christian stewards, the Foundation has the privilege of providing needs-based supplemental financial assistance to Mississippi students who are pursuing a degree at a Mississippi Baptist college or a Southern Baptist seminary. Most of these endowed scholarship accounts offer specific eligibility guidelines for awarding a scholarship grant.
url: http://www.msbaptistfoundation.org/templates/cusmbf/details.asp?id=23841&PID=79554

Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary
Description of scholarship: Golden Gate Seminary gladly cooperates with Southern Baptist partners throughout our nation to assist students in ministry preparation. Many SBC state conventions, foundations, associations, agencies and individual churches support students directly through scholarships, grants or loans. Most of these “external” organizations govern their own procedures and systems, and quite often post different application deadlines.
url: http://www.ggbts.edu/financialaid/BaptistAidSources.aspx

Saints Don’t Wear Tights

Nick Ng —  February 28, 2013

When we hear the word “sainthood,” we are likely to associate it with the longstanding tradition of acknowledging those who have demonstrated a remarkable degree of spirituality. It may also remind us of beautiful, ancient artwork illustrating Church fathers (with awesome-looking beards) and mothers (with awesome lack thereof). The past figures inspire living Christians to imitate their traits, whether their examples be generosity, prayer life, or humility.

Heroes & Saints

Heroes & Saints

My appreciation for them grew after taking a course in ancient Christianity, covering the development of the church’s institution, doctrines, and saints. While reading and listening to lectures about saints, I was impressed by the lives they led. What theology geeks do not get a kick out of fierce debates? Brilliant words were exchanged. Beside controversial issues, some accounts tell of saints sacrificing their inherited wealth to the poor. Others record prayers that shame our shallow minds. Altogether, they transform our moral imagination, deepening the hunger for authentic spirituality.

Meanwhile, in that course, I playfully envisioned the saints as something akin to superheroes; instead of tights, though, they wore rags or vestments. They rescued Christianity from faulty theologies devised by troublemakers. Pelagius got a beat-down by Super Augustine. Arians got cornered by the Nicene Avengers. The toying of my imagination was harmless and fun; however, heroic as the saints may have been, the professor reminded students that they were also flawed.Being in seminary, especially in history and systematic theology classes, has forced me to take a sober look at religious figures, both past and contemporary. With their warts and all.

A little later, I read an interview with Samuel Wells, a Christian thinker, in which he notes a sharp distinction between a hero and a saint.

The hero is in many ways still the model we look up to in contemporary society . . . We all feel it’s our job in our generation to make the story come out right, which means stories are told with heroes at the centre of them . . . for if the hero failed, all would be lost. By contrast, a saint can fail in a way that the hero can’t, because the failure of a saint reveals the forgiveness and the new possibilities made in God, and the saint is just a small character in a story that’s always fundamentally about God. So the saint’s story is a very different story from the hero’s story . . .

Lance Armstrong, the famed cyclist and advocate for the “LiveStrong” campaign, is a recent example of a fallen icon. Oscar Pistorius, an Olympic sprinter known for his prosthetic legs, is possibly another. The public elevated them to a status worthy of awe (it must be their tights), only then to witness their downward spiral. A situation like this brings shock, disappointment, and mockery. Demonization may follow. While it is possible for them to regain their status by overcoming disfavor, they will still be at the mercy of public narration. And the cycle continues.

Saint Jerome by Caravaggio

Saint Jerome by Caravaggio

For saints, on the other hand, it takes a different path; instead of public narration, they are at the mercy of redemptive narration. The latter refuses to allow blemishes to be defined and determined by the public, but rather by God. For heroes, their strength, prestige, and wisdom overshadow or mask the mistakes. A “sweep under the rug,” as one would phrase. For saints, their warts are not something to flee from, but a reason to confront them with forgiveness and restoration, which then empower saints to thrive in their weakness. Instead of being in tights that supposedly disguise them as heroes, saints are clothed in the robe of righteousness gifted by the crucified Son, whom the world has deemed unfashionable to be their hero.

In seminary, we yearn to be like saints not because of their heroism (they conflict with each other), but because of their willingness to be small, ordinary characters in the grand story. Moreover, their willingness to depend on God, which manifests himself in the community of faith. Samuel Wells observes that whenever the New Testament speaks of a “saint” (64 times), it is always in plural. Seminary is a time and place where we learn dependence together, exposing our vulnerability and egoism. And that makes all the difference in how we approach life both inside and outside of classrooms.

Guest post by David Davidson, communications editor for the marketing department at Logos Bible Software.

Knox Theological Seminary, with Logos Bible Software, offers three world-class graduate programs that let you study what you love without giving up your job and church.

Knox’s Master of Arts (Biblical & Theological Studies) prepares you for lifelong ministry, church leadership, and Bible study. Not only will you learn sound theology, church history, ethics, and more; you’ll learn to explain and defend your faith. And you’ll do it using Logos largest, smartest library—Portfolio.

The Master of Arts (Christian & Classical Studies) teaches you how the West thinks, and why. You’ll study under Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Luther, Dostoyevsky, and others, all in a Christian cultural context. Using Logos’ massive Platinum library, you’ll work from your home, office, or favorite coffee shop.

The Doctor of Ministry accommodates your fulltime ministry schedule. You’ll find scriptural answers to modern problems, understand them, and communicate them in powerful ways. You’ll attend up to four onsite classes a year in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. The rest of your studies you’ll do on your own schedule, using Logos Portfolio library.

And through March 1, you can enter to study free with a comprehensive scholarship. The $25,000 Billy Graham Scholarship covers your MA (Biblical & Theological Studies), the $18,000 Francis Schaeffer Scholarship covers your MA (Christian & Classical Studies), and the $18,000 Leith Anderson Scholarship covers your DMin.

Enter to win today!

TheSecondTemple. . . And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.

(Ezra 3:11b–13 ESV)

. . . the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping . . .

As I read these verses yesterday, I realized, once again, the selfishness that had crept within my soul and held me back from the freedom Christ has given me. I look at my life as the most blessed of all men, to be a pastor and seminarian at the same time—and yet I often feel it to be a burden. I know you do as well, dear seminary student, pastor, lay-leader, and fellow heir of the faith found in Jesus Christ alone.

I became burdened as I realized that I spend my moments between the elder and the youth in these verses. I spend days grateful for the family God has given me, the blessings of our life, a warm house, food to eat and ministry to keep my hands occupied and my heart full.

I spend moments as the elder, weeping over what others have had in ministry and life. Looking at those who speak more eloquently, read more fluently, and enunciate more proficiently than I ever will and wonder what God could do with me. In that same blasphemous breath, I wonder why not me. Why am I not the more fruitful speaker, the more powerful proclaimer, the more artistic shaper of words to form a convicting message, to bring others to repentance? (I hope you see the bad theology in those thoughts.)

So I resolve to read more books, study more blogs, practice more in front of a mirror, dig deeper into the graves of the dead, try to breathe the life of Spurgeon, Ryle, Moody & Watson into my bones and the echoes of their voices into my cracked lips.

All the while, I forget that God has laid a foundation before me. God has done what I could never do in justifying me through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (Rom. 4:25). I forget that I am empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak God’s Word to lost and dying men. I forget that my job is not to be as beautiful, more beautiful, less beautiful, more pious, more read, or more anything, but to become less and less as I learn to make Christ more and more in my life (John 3:25–30) . . .

It is with this conviction and reality that I enter the new year. Understanding that God is God and I am His child by His grace in need of His forgiveness for my selfishness every day (II Cor. 5:21).

I started 2012 with a Spurgeon-like resolve to read one book per week. In 2013, I start the year with the conviction to read one book, more beneficially, more fruitfully, and more prayerfully than I ever have before. That is the lexicon of life, the dictionary of direction, the manifestation of the oracles of God before my eyes for this time, His Living Word, that lies before me every day on my desk.

I pray that I will learn to lean and rely more upon Him and less upon me in 2013.

More of God’s strength, less of mine, more of God’s love, less of my bitterness and fear, more of God’s peace, less of my constant running after myself, more trust in God, and less of an illusion of authority over my own life . . .

More of God’s Word in my heart, my mouth, my mind, my desires, and less of my thoughts, my words, my decisions in the ministry God has given and laid before me.

Please join with me. Join me in seeking the righteousness that comes from God (Phil. 3:9), rather than from ourselves (Isa. 64:6). No more looking to the past or to the popular or asking, “why not me?” Join me in understanding that our cornerstone is seated at the right hand of God in heaven, and we are part of His Family (Eph. 2:11–22).

Join me in laying ourselves and our selfishness aside in 2013 to begin to have a grateful heart for the work God has laid before us. There is much work to do, far too much for each of us individually and too much for anyone to do anything without the strength from God within (Phil. 4:13) . . .

The context of Philippians 4:13 gives us a picture of the elders from Ezra in the midst of knowing what could be and yet rejoicing as the youth. Paul is writing from a prison, waiting to see if he would die for this faith (Phil. 1:21), and yet he uses the word rejoice more than anywhere else in the New Testament (proportionately).

What a great picture for pastors, students, lay-leaders, young wives and mothers who support and love these men, and young husbands who support their wives. We may not have the temple before us, but we have the Holy Spirit within us. No matter what you face in 2013, let’s follow Paul’s example in rejoicing in the Lord for all He has done, is doing, and will do within and through our hands. Amen!

Community, culture and the churchI hope it doesn’t seem off-point for a post on this site to step away, briefly, from the normal discussions of seminary life, training, and experiences. Since seminary students are trained by schools, churches, and life experiences, I believe a nod at community and culture will not be too far removed from the spirit of this blog and its readers.

When I felt and answered God’s call on my life, I had no idea where He would place me. I simply acknowledged His calling, accepted it, and surrendered to Him my willing spirit to walk through whatever doors He might choose to open for me. To date, those doors have primarily led to working with students and their parents.

Now, say what you will about student ministry and all the stereotypes that get attached to it. For the sake of this post and discussion, I would simply suggest that no other role in the church outside of age-level ministry (preschool, children, and students) has the unique advantage of being involved with multiple generations at one time. We work with children, their parents, and their grandparents. In other words, we interact with the previous generation, the current generation, and what we at my church call the New Generation on a daily basis.

This vantage point alone, though it’s advantageous most of the time, does not position a churchman to adequately recognize all that is happening at any given moment across those multiple generations. In fact, by the time someone recognizes and writes about a generational shift, the next phase of that shift (or a new one altogether) has already begun. Having stated that, I would like to speak to three of the areas of change I’m experiencing personally, and recognize that the shift has already happened—and that my reactions to it are coming a bit late in the game.

 

COMMUNITY

People in aging generations might not agree with a statement declaring that the new generation is more focused on community than their generation was, but they would be incorrect. The appearance, I’m sure, would not suggest it, as the new generation appears to be a generation enamored of screens, thumb-driven keyboards, and pinch-to-zoom technology. What gets missed in that sweeping judgment is that those screens are gateways into lives and relationships that are not limited by geography and long-distance phone charges. Rather, substantive and caring relationships are happening for young people through handheld and desktop portals that reach broader and deeper than ever before in human history.

What does this reach yield? Empowerment of a generation whose culture is different than those past.

 

CULTURE

So what is it that this new generation values in its broad community? Exactly that: community. We are so blessed to see a generation emerging that cares very little about issues that defined the worldview of their parents and grandparents. For example:

1: Color/race

2: Sexual orientation

3: Religion

All of these seem so critical to aging generations that many times the issues take precedence over the actual people who hold opposing viewpoints. In other words, the worldview regarding these and other “issues” is so important that it can be difficult to realize that there is a living being with feelings on the other side. That is at best unfortunate, and at worst un-Christlike.

The culture of today celebrates individuality and its place in community. Community gives permission and acceptance, no matter one’s age, race, color, creed, nationality, faith, status, and so on. It offers safety in being oneself rather than conforming to what others think. Couple this accepting attitude with technology that allows more information to be accessed from the palm of our hands than parents and grandparents ever had with the latest edition of World Book—now this community has a vehicle to take it beyond the four walls of the home, classroom, or church. It also equips the individual with answers that might conflict with the home, classroom, or church, yet feel more credible, since community offers acceptance and affirmation to the individual rather than judgment.

 

THE CHURCH

This area is the most relevant for the seminarian. The world is different. Sure, there are the same evils that have existed since Cain killed his brother. In fact, anyone would say that the depravity of man is as strong as it has ever been. Its reach, though, is further, thanks to modern technology.

The church can respond to this in one of two ways. First, we can retreat. We can barricade ourselves safely in walled homes, schools, and our own “communities” for the sake of maintaining and living what we know to be true. We can huddle and pray for people to change their ways and to be transformed by the Gospel.

Or, we can do what Christ did and engage the current community and culture. We can huddle and pray for people to change their ways and to be transformed by the Gospel . . . AND we can take the message of Christ, which is the same yesterday, today, and forever, into the current culture with a love that shows just how much He has forgiven our trespasses. We can be less known for our politics and make Him known through our implicit trust in His Kingdom. We can be less known for our traditions and make Him known by laying down our pride. We can be less known for our judgment of others and make Him known by sharing the mercies He has poured out over us. We can be less known for how we squabble with each other and make Him known by how we unconditionally love each other.

Some might think that there is just not enough room in God’s design for all three of these to coexist. What I see daily, however, is two of the three are being heard by the New Generation, and one is being tolerated or simply ignored.

GoingtoSeminary_Man-Reading-BibleIf somebody asked you to sum up your seminary experience, what would you say? Two years ago I left behind my successful career in IT (Information Technology) to attend seminary. It was a great experience—but that’s not to say it was perfect. But I learned a priceless lesson.

Like every seminarian, I quickly discovered that my expectations of seminary being a cross between a non-stop worship experience and a little bit of heaven were, well, a tad misinformed. If you’re considering seminary, somewhere in your heart right now you think that is exactly what it will be. I’m sorry, but it won’t be.

Seminary can be a very positive experience, but it’s not a trip to theological Disney World. In fact, you may not even finish your degree. In my case, after two years I ran out of money and the Lord provided for me to return to IT support and lay leadership at church. It was hard at first, but there’s no question that I’m better for the experience and I love what I do.

So what did I learn?

Well, before I answer that, let me suggest a few probing questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you love the church members where you’re at in seminary, or do you see them and the church as a means to an end? (You are going to church, right? Don’t laugh–some who go to seminary because they feel called to church ministry don’t go while in school!)
  • Are you single? If so, are you pure in your singleness? Purity, of course, is not just a single person’s charge, but there’s a reason Paul warned Timothy to “flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace” (2 Tim 2:22). Purity matters.
  • Married guys–are you more loving? Are you leading your family well? Married gals–are you taking care of your family well? Has your love for, and communication with, each other gotten better or worse since starting seminary? If worse, God has not called you to seminary.
  • Are you a better neighbor? If you’re not loving your neighbor now, why do you think you will later?
  • Are you punctual? You can’t expect to be allowed to be late when conducting a wedding or funeral. You’re not a child anymore, it’s time to be on time. I would add here that having a daily routine for prayer and Bible study are nonnegotiables.
  • Which do you prefer, the seminary “bubble” or the dynamic life of the real world? Seminary may seem idyllic, but we’re not truly Home yet. If you don’t like the world now, you won’t like ministering to it later.

Seminary is not about books and papers. Those are the last things it is about, but the things most students focus on the most. It’s not about amassing a data bank of ideas and opinions about God and the Scriptures. It’s not facts and figures, it’s fruit. It’s not names and dates, it’s commitment and holiness. Seminary is only part of the bigger picture: Life. And life is about being forged into a tool for service for the Master’s use, however He sees fit and running well until He calls you and me home.

Seminary is a wonderful opportunity God gives to some. If He has given you the opportunity, even if only for a season, take it seriously but also enjoy it as the gift it is. My professors and classmates taught me more than I can ever tell. But what I learned above all else is that what you learn isn’t nearly as important as who you become.