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Particularly around larger seminaries, you’ll find what I call the “seminary church.” It’s almost always a large church. Often it’s close to the campus. Many professors and students attend it. The culture and theology of the seminary often bleeds over into the church. For seminary students, it’s a comfy place to be.
There were a few churches like this at my seminary. One of them had so many seminary students that-get this-they had multiple Sunday school classes just for seminary students. I can’t imagine a greater waste. Groups of twelve to twenty men and women preparing for ministry… sitting in another class on Sunday morning, expecting someone from that church to lead and teach them. Unbelievable.
Don’t you dare do that. God did not call you to ministry so you can sit on your behind and be served. Every seminary student should be serving on Sunday morning. There are dozens of churches in driving distance that need leaders desperately. Go there, take responsibility and serve.
Some of you will be full-time or part-time pastors or staff ministers, serving in the real world as you’re studying at seminary. This is difficult. You’ll be underpaid and overworked… but it is probably the best ministry preparation you can find.
But even if that’s not you, find a church where you can have responsibility for leading some ministry: youth, children, senior adults, discipleship. Teach Sunday school. Lead outreach. Coordinate Children’s Church. Preach at a nursing home. Help your pastor with sermon research or hospital visitation.
A few suggestions:
Pray for God’s leadership. This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to skip. God uses our current task to prepare us for our next assignment, so choose prayerfully.
Ask around. Some students may be serving in a less-known church with plenty of needs. Seminary placement offices often have information about local churches with full- or part-time ministry positions.
Don’t be picky. We all know churches aren’t perfect, so don’t expect it. The preaching may be average, the music may be crummy, and the people may be weird. Get used to it.
Look for a pastor to learn from. If you’re not pastoring a church yourself, then look carefully at the pastor when you consider a church. He won’t be good at everything-no pastor is-but he will have some strengths you can learn from.
Find a church quickly. Don’t spend months and months in the search. Consider three or four, then decide, join, and settle in. I’d suggest that you join a church by mid-term of your first semester.
Volunteer. Go straight to your pastor and find out where and how you can serve, and get right to it.
Support your pastor. You’ll probably find things about your pastor’s leadership you disagree with. As a general rule, you should support him, unless his theology is clearly heretical, in which case you should leave. Don’t murmur against him or join an insurrection. It won’t be long before you’re the flawed leader who needs support.
Plan to stay. Church hopping, by leaders and members, is epidemic. It’s a sign of immaturity. Staying in one place will teach you lessons that hopping around can’t: loving people, managing conflict, navigating church politics, and leading change. Join a church and stay there.
About the AuthorMark Warnock is the founder and General Editor of Seminary Survival Guide.com. He serves as Associate Pastor of First Baptist Church of Columbia, Illinois, and is a Ph.D student in Christian Philosophy at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is working with Ed Eubanks on a book on how to survive seminary.
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