Archives For Tips and Advice

Seminary Schedule

This post was written by Jake of cafe de soiree. Jake attends Reformed Theological Seminary and, among other claims to fame, made this Going to Seminary commercial!

I took a year off after college before I started seminary, and so I thought I was ready for it. Within two weeks, I was wondering what I had gotten myself in to. Seminary consisted of the same sorts of assignments as college—papers tests, reading—but I was not at all prepared for just how much of it there would be.

I soon realized that I needed a system or a routine to make it all work. It takes a careful juggling act to get it all right. A friend of mine shared his system with me, which I implemented with good results. Here’s what I do. I try to get up between 5-5:30am each morning, and first spend some time reading my Bible and beginning the day with prayer (this is essential). My earliest class is at 8am, and so I know I can get in about a solid hour of reading or studying before I need to get ready to go. My wife usually sleeps until 7:30 or 8 anyway, and so I get some very quiet, undisturbed, and productive time.

What I do throughout each day varies depending on when classes are, but the key is to not waste time. In college I majored in wasting time, and I always had to cram for things at the last minute, which meant 4am nights fueled by the strongest coffee I could get my hands on. Unfortunately I’ve had to fall back on those methods once or twice here in seminary, but I try hard to avoid them. There is plenty of time for me to get things done during the day. My wife works a steady day job, so I am home alone. I turn on some quiet classical music, and set out a pile of books in front of me. If I need a change of scenery, I opt for going to Panera Bread (free coffee refills!) or the seminary library.

Properly using your time should allow you to free up your evenings, for the most part. If you are married, this is key. You need time with your spouse. If I make full use of the schedule I have developed, I am able to quit working at dinner time, and keep the evening free for spending time with my wife. We are usually in bed by 10, and as a result, getting up at 5 or 5:30 is not an issue. That gives me plenty of sleep.

Full time seminary studies require discipline. It is not just something you can coast through. The demands are much higher. But a working schedule can help you keep it all in check. Prioritizing and developing a solid routine are important. Make sure you buy yourself a day planner of some sort, and map things out. There will be a learning curve, but you will start to figure out how long it takes to read certain things, how much time you should allot for papers, and when you should schedule the most intense things.

And I put it in parentheses above, but here I mention it explicitly: rooting your day in prayer is essential. No schedule will work properly or be effective unless it is hemmed in by prayer.

Woodcut Seminary

This post was written by Jon of Live.Work.Play. Jon is married to Grete and is a small group guy. He’s currently in Chi-town during Fuller Theological Seminary quarter break. (Hey Jon, grab a slice of this while you’re up there!)

I’ve decided that woodworking and ministry have a lot in common.

I’m serious.

Here’s the deal. My uncle is one of those jack-of-all-traits types. He decided to pick up wood carving a few years back. Now he carves everything from those wooden ducks that look just like the real thing to wooden chests and wooden bowls. You name it, and I’ll bet he could make it. But what’s interesting to me is how he got into the woodworking hobby. He didn’t go take a class or buy a book. Instead, he invested in some great tools, found some people who knew what they were doing that he could learn from, and spent a lot of time practicing.

I’m always surprised when I talk with seminary students who are frustrated with the education they’re receiving. I’ve attended two very different seminaries so far, and the complainers existed both places. So I’m guessing this is a universal thing.

Most of the time they don’t feel like their education is fully preparing them for ministry. They may say it’s too theoretical. It’s not practical enough.

But honestly, I think they’re expecting too much.

When my uncle set out to learn woodcarving, he did three things — he grabbed the right tools, he found some good mentors, and he began to practice. Seminary is an important part of ministry preparation for many people. But it’s not the entirety of ministry preparation.

Here’s what I think: Seminary can do a great job filling your toolbox, but it’s up to you to find mentors and to dive into ministry.

I definitely don’t have this thing figured out, but there’s one thing I do know. Some of the most valuable experiences I’ve had so far in seminary have been because I’m working in ministry while attending school. It’s caused more stress. It’s meant less time on a few papers. But there’s something about learning about the doctrine of the Trinity one hour and then sitting in a small groups planning meeting with a tennis coach, a pharmacist, and a retired teacher the next that puts things into perspective.

I guess what I’m learning is that sometimes we expect too much from one piece of our lives. Seminary isn’t a machine that spits out perfect ministers. It’s one part of our pursuit to know and follow God. In the end, it’s up to each student to take the box of tools we’re gathering in classes, find some great mentors who can walk through this thing with us, and dive into the messiness that is ministry.

Time and Seminary

This post was written by Chad of Outside is Better. Chad attends Asbury Theological Seminary and works 3 jobs… that’s right… THREE!

Ever since I have entered into ministry I have been a Sabbath geek. Some accuse me of just making sure I “get a day off”, but to me the idea of Sabbath is so much more than that. Spend some time in Hebrews 4 reading about rest and think about how that may affect our view of heaven. Sabbath isn’t just a time of laying around, and not doing anything. But it is the kind of rest that rejuvenates our being. Last week I spent a rainy Friday sloughing around the Abbey of Gethsemani (home to Thomas Merton), and while I am sure I lost weight, I know that my soul rested in God that day.

Sabbath is our time to put ourselves back into God’s time and rhythm. That’s why we should treat it as holy.

If you are a seminary student, you will also know how important your time is. I work three jobs and keep a full load in school (and unlike college, I do good). Sabbath rest is something we need to learn to fight for. If you are feeling burned out in school, let that serve as a warning that you can get burned out in ministry.

Time management is also something I geek about. I work in media, doing freelance and working for the seminary I attend. I also serve on a team that plans all of our chapel services at Asbury Theological. Besides those two jobs, I work as a youth minister at a small church. I can’t afford to forget things, so I had to get organized. The biggest thing was time management, because I am so good at doing nothing I could win contests. One day I added up everything I need to do each week and to my surprise found out that I still had almost 35 “surplus” hours each week. This was after adding work, school, homework, and a full 24 hours off for Sabbath.

So I got good at time management. What this allowed me to do was to set time aside each day for “mini” Sabbath, and full day each week, and some extra time to just spend with the wife. I try to get away for longer that a day every 6 weeks or so, and I am planning to start taking a week-long retreat each year as well. This time alone allows us to get ourselves back into this idea of rest as a deep, personal time with God. I don’t just go through a devotion in this time, but I try to really stop and “be still and know”.

So when I need to go for broke I do it. The thing about Sabbath is, you need to work as hard as possible for six days a week in order to full appreciate this time. I have learned by sticking to my own personal method of organization (a modified version of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”) I can be responsible with my time in order to do the best job at everything I do and to also devote time to Sabbath and not worry about things hanging over my head.

Some times the best thing I have to say is, “Hey, you should really go listen to someone besides me.” Such is the case today.

On Monday I read a post by Matt Schmucker at the 9Marks blog on things that a pastoral candidate should ask of a church before taking the position. I know that we are hitting midterms and, for some of you, this is your last semester and you are already looking for a pastoral position. I think that if you are going to be taking a position in a church that is already established then Matt’s post will be extremely helpful for you.

Here’s a teaser:

If this is the flock God is calling you to shepherd, ignorance is not your friend….

1. Statement of Faith. Is it available, used, and understood? Can I affirm each section? Does the congregation live this out? Is it an adequate statement about Scripture, God, and salvation? Does it require anything that the Bible does not require of being a Christian, i.e. abstinence?

4. Budget. Does a budget exist (you’d be surprised!)? How is it formed? Does the congregation vote to accept the budget? A church’s budget will tell you a lot about the vision and priorities (i.e. heart) of a church.

11. Membership. How many members are in the church? How many attend? Do they have an inactive list? What’s their understanding of membership? Do they live close to each other and to the church building?

15. Ambitions. Ask this question: If you could be like any church in America, which would it be?

18. Living as a pastor. Maybe you don’t take these issues on in the first interview, but eventually they need to be addressed:

(ohhhh… I left you hanging there… click the article to find out the rest)

Through one of the numerous blogs I track on google reader I picked up on a pretty amazing post by Timmy Brister about sharing his story on the graveyard shift. It is pretty amazing. I’ve worked in a warehouse before and I could see and hear everything he described. Timmy is a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a husband, a father, and works 3rd shift for UPS. Now, go check out the story.

Vintage Hypocrite

Ryan Burns —  February 28, 2008

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.
James 5:16a

Well… I feel dirty just saying it… I took my laptop to class today.

Despite my outspoken advocacy of Vintage Notes, I broke down and took the mac to campus. Now, before you break out the stones and begin tossing them at me, allow me to give my reasoning:

  1. Access to the Greek and Hebrew – I’m currently taking a class on the book of Hebrews and the professor often encourages us to look at the Greek… I haven’t taken Greek yet, so looking at it does nothing for me. However, having the computer there allows me to pull of the original language and look at it and better understand what is going on… well, a little bit at least.
  2. I’m a tree hugging hippie – Well, not really… but two of my professors offer their lecture outlines online and I hate wasting the paper to take them to class to write notes on them… especially when I plan on taking them home and entering them into the computer. It just doesn’t make sense.

Now, let me make a couple observations as one who was a pure Vintage Note taker until today.

  1. Temptation – I never knew how INCREDIBLY tempting it was to get online, check email, set system preferences, organize my folders, download notes for other classes, set new wallpaper image, etc, while in class. It drive me crazy when I see people doing it, and yet, today I had to concentrate not to do it. It was a challenge to say the least! I think I did a good job for the most part, but I don’t know… it is HARD to not do anything but take notes and use my bible software.
  2. Repentance – Paper is better! Seriously, I really do think it is better. I found myself getting a bit lazy when I had the professors notes sitting right in front of me… essentially all the important stuff was already there. So, I just sat and listened (trying not to go online). Conversely, when all I have is my notepad in front of me I am forced to think about what is said and what I need to remember. Also, I really do like being able to write all over the page and draw lines, arrows, circles, and other visual clues to my notes… but that might just be me.

Conclusion – I’ll probably continue to take my computer and use it as a support tool, however, I intend to keep Vintage Notes as my primary approach to note taking.

Whew… I feel better now that I’ve got that off my chest.

I don’t know what the deal is, but I’ve been reading a lot of research about seminary lately. This latest reading was a dissertation by Charles R. DeGroat who teaches at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS). The work (made available here) looks into expectation versus reality among male graduates of seminary who entered the ministry.

In the work, DeGroat focuses on 7 graduates of RTS who, after graduation, went into parish ministry. The purpose of the study was to examine the relationship between expectations formed in seminary and the relationship to the reality experienced within the pastorate. For those of us who are M.Div students or those consider the pastorate after seminary, I would HIGHLY recommend reading the dissertation. Specifically, since I know you’re busy and probably aren’t looking to add another 156 pages to your reading list, I would recommend that you focus on the meaning units expressed by the 7 participants and DeGroat’s textural and structural descriptions (p.40-123).

In this section you can hear the thoughts of men (read the limitations section for why the study only included men) who have been in our shoes (as seminarians) and have since gone on to experience the reality of what we seek (the pastorate… and yes, I know that we’re not all going into the pastorate, I’m just talking to those who are.). In studying what these men share I believe that we have the opportunity to see the weaknesses in our seminary experience and, on our own initiative, take steps necessary to ensure that we will be better prepared to serve those to whom God will call us.

As a word of warning, don’t discount the study by saying, “oh, well my seminary is not like that one.” The reality is that no seminary truly provides a holistic preparation for ministry. Hearing the experience of these pastors will help you to see where their seminary failed to prepare them and will allow you to examine your experience more critically… hopefully resulting in a more successful seminary experience for you.

For those too lazy to download and read for your self (shame on you) here are just a FEW quotes from these pastors that I found enlightening as a seminarian and future pastor:

  • I had to do a funeral three weeks into my first gig in ministry and I didn’t have freaking clue what to do.
  • I wish I learned more about a number of practical ministry things – Weddings. Pastoral counseling. A dude’s kid was molested at one point, and I thought “some good my class notes are for this.” I mean, are you getting the disconnect?
  • I expected that I’d grow spiritually in seminary. I didn’t. And then, I expected that I’d grow spiritually after seminary. And that happened a little. But it mostly didn’t happen. Because the busyness just doesn’t stop. You move from the busyness of papers and essays and exams to the busyness of getting a job to the busyness of preparing for ordination to the busyness of phone calls and hospital visits and teachings and kids being born and interviews with guys like you.
  • If I could say one thing to the seminary, I’d say it’s no use graduating pastors who know how to pass an exam but are spiritually dead.
  • And now I’m realizing that, as I reflect on my seminary experience, is that it was just too much information to absorb and process. So, you scramble to perform to pass tests, and to get credentialed, and to become a preacher. My seminary experience became a means to an end.
  • Nothing in seminary helped with the relational difficulties I’d experience in ministry. The bulk of it I gained in my first ministry position. I saw the level of pain, level of fragmentation, level of brokenness in people’s lives.
  • I didn’t realize how much emotionally energy this (ministry) would require. It’s gigantic.
  • Seminary provided important information for theological and ecclesiastical exams, but not for ministering to broken people.
  • I spend far more time, for good or bad, worrying over how to deal with conflict, or help marriages on the brink of disaster or the best way to accommodate more people, or how to get a group of men who are all older than I, and whom I fear a bit, to get on the same page about something, all relational sorts of things than I do about the exegesis of particular passages of scripture.
  • It is awfully tempting to give one’s time and energy to the things that make it look like you are on the job. I don’t believe I had a good sense of just how much this would be a temptation.

OK everyone, time to help someone out. I was contacted by Dan and Chris who are missionaries in Poland. They have 2 daughters and are considering going to seminary. Below is a letter explaining their situation and they have asked for our help. So, please take a moment to read it and leave a comment for them. Thanks!

Dan (my husband) talked about going to seminary back in the States a few months ago. It was suggested that we also look in Europe and see what we find here. We have everything to set up house here, etc. We found a listing of accredited Seminaries at EEAA. Through there, we found Tyndale University. For an MDiv, it costs about 3700 Euro (about $5000) per year. We went last week to visit it, talk about living expenses, and see about the programs. The program appears to be very good, and they accepted and scholarshipped him about 50%. The living expenses are fairly high, probably about the same as Chicago or LA. Our outstanding problem at this time is our daughters, aged 13 and 15. Amsterdam has some Dutch schools which teach in English but for the two of them to attend, it costs about 12,000 Euro ($19,000) per year. We thought about taking out student loans to cover their tuition and I will work to cover most of our living expenses. We possibly could continue their education with the online school we have been using, but hope that if this option is available to them, that it would make it easier for them to transition into college. (So, we would have 2 years of education expense for Brittney and 4 for Melanie) They will continue giving us some form of assistance, possibly through the Dutch government or through the school itself, but first we would have to pay the first half.

If you have any ideas/suggestions about attending seminary overseas, scholarships, loans, etc., we would welcome any help or advice, good or bad. Some people might be interested in this university as well, since it is fully accredited and somewhat cheaper, especially if it is a couple (and can possibly stomach dorm life) or for single people.

Ok everyone… thoughts?

Setting Goals in Seminary

Ryan Burns —  February 20, 2008

So, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to this semester and trying to determine how I will know if the semester is a success. Is it a successful semester if I get straight A’s? Is the number of pages I read this semester a measure of success? Is going to class every day an indicator of a good semester?

Well, I’m still working on this list. However, I think this is a really good idea… to sit down and determine what “success” looks like for you this semester. Then, when the semester is over, you can pull out the list and have a good evaluation tool. Also, I think it would be good to review the list from time to time during the semester… to remind you of what is really important and what you are really trying to acomplish.

So, with that said I’ll share some of the items that I’m thinking of putting on my list. PLEASE, feel free to share the items that make your list. (Is there anyone who already does something like this? If so, is it helpful?)

Oh, and I decided to add some general categories for the evaluation questions to fall within.

Questions to determine if this semester in seminary was a success(rough draft):

FAMILY:

  • Does Just a Gal feel loved, appreciated, and that you devoted enough time and energy to her and the kids?
  • Were you home for dinner most nights?
  • Did you pray and read scripture with the family?
  • Did you consistently pray for your family?
  • Are you paying the bills?

SCHOOL

  • Are you more in love with Jesus because of your studies?
  • Did you read, with reasonable care, most of your assigned reading?
  • Did you maintain a “C” or better in all your classes?
  • Do you better understand Genesis – Joshua, its storyline, and its implications on the rest of scripture?
  • Do you have a functional grasp of the Hebrew language?
  • Do you better understand the book of Hebrews, with specific emphasis on texts that previously confused you?
  • Have you been able to transfer what you’ve learned in Hermeneutics into something that is more than mere head knowledge?
  • Have you been able to think more clearly about educational ministry within the church?

WORK

  • Have you given excellent service to all your clients by providing clear and timely communication?
  • Have you met all your promised completion dates?
  • Have you found at least 4 sponsors for Going to Seminary?
  • Have you wisely spent your open work hours developing and creating your affiliate marketing sites?

CHURCH

  • Are you serving the local church?
  • Are you involved in a small group and developing meaningful relationships with people?
  • Are you praying for those who don’t know Jesus?

HEALTH

  • Does Just a Gal still find you sexy?
  • Do you eat 3 meals on most days?
  • Have you increased your fruit consumption?
  • Do you get adequate sleep every night?
  • Are you dealing with your stress in a healthy way (or building it up until you blow up)?

SPIRITUAL

  • Do love Jesus more and more?
  • Are you consistent in your devotions (or are you skipping them to write blog posts like this one)?
  • Are you consistently praying?
  • Is your walk with Jesus a treasure and delight?

OK, so there is my rough draft. Please feel free to let me know what you think and/or what is (would be) on your list. I really think something like this is good to help remind you of what you value and what is important. Without it I might just end up trying to get straight “A’s” at the expense of all the other items. However, it is the entire list that defines a successful seminary semester.

Seminary Bibliography Made Easy

Ryan Burns —  February 14, 2008

heart Happy Valentines Day. I got you a gift… but truth be told, it is a re-gift. But I still think you’ll love it.

I give FULL credit to Chad over at Outside is Better for this wonderful re-gift. Be sure to visit his blog and thank him for making all our lives easier.

Open the wrapper and what do you see:

Zotero [zoh-TAIR-oh] is a free, easy-to-use Firefox extension to help you collect, manage, and cite your research sources. It lives right where you do your work — in the web browser itself.

This is a plugin that even Vintage Notes fan can love! Check it out… You bibliography will never be the same again!