Avoid the “Seminary Church”

• July 17, 2008 • Comments (5)

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.

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Category: Ministry

About the Author

Mark 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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Comments (5)

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  1. tlange says:

    I am at what would be considered a “seminary church”. There is a false assumption that because our church is considered a large church that there is no room for people to serve. There is plenty of room for others to serve!

    Personally, I have been here for 6 years and see no reason to leave. I think that there are definite advantages of being in a “seminary church”.

    As for me, I stay busy with the following responsibilities:

    - ABF assistant teacher
    - Nursery worker- 2 yr olds
    - Usher (every other month in PM service, fill in as needed)
    - Chairman of Missions Committee
    - AV (Powerpoint operator)
    - anything else that needs to be done…

  2. Mark says:

    I appreciate your feedback…and I would not suggest that you leave your church. You’re clearly plugged in and serving, which was my main point–and having been there six years, you’re clearly not hopping around. If you’ve prayed about it and God has led you to that fellowship (as opposed to going there because it’s the path of least resistance, which I have seen…), then I commend you. I served at a large church during seminary, although it was about a 25 minute drive, and there were only a few seminarians there.

    If I knew you better, however, I might probe just a bit further:

    Is this level of service challenging enough for you?
    Are your places of service preparing you for the ministry you’re preparing for?
    Are you being stretched?
    What are you learning as you serve?
    Could someone who is not preparing for ministry serve in these capacities just as well as you are?

    The level of need tends to increase when you look at churches that are smaller or farther from campus. I just think the opportunities in those places are too often overlooked.

  3. Rachel says:

    Wonderful post! I’ve had many friends who I’ve attended seminary with that would church hop each week and never find a place to join–the entire 2-3 years they are working on their degree. And while seminary students can serve at large churches, rather than being a place of service, those “seminary churches” tend to be places where students can blend in and not take on ministry responsbilities.

    All believers, especially those called to ministry, need to be sure to be thoroughly plugged in to a local body of Christ.

  4. Jason says:

    I hope this post is read by everyone who is either attending seminary or preparing to go. I spent 4 years in a small church five minutes from the seminary I graduated from and I can think of no better ministry preparation. My wife and I looked around and went to several “seminary churches” and did not feel a peace about being there. For the next 4 years we served with three other seminary couples learning from laypeople and discipling believers as best we could. I agree with your harsh words for the “seminary church” and I wish that the seminary leadership would do more to encourage students to find somewhere to serve and practice what we are being taught.

  5. Nathan says:

    I whole-heartedly agree with most of the suggestions on looking for a church. I think, however, that not being picky, yet looking for a good pastor as well as finding a church quickly are all contradictory.

    My advice would be ask around A LOT to find a good pastor, who is somewhat undiscovered by seminarians. If you are not serving as pastor, it is imperative that you get a pastor who is a humble man of God and who is willing to spend some time with you personally. This TAKES TIME. And it requires you to be picky.

    I would say that above all else, a solid pastor is most important. Even if the church is a ‘project’ church that has little to offer you and needs a lot of help, but has a great pastor is worth you going there the whole time you’re in seminary. Don’t be like me and get burned by all three pastors that you worked under (paid and volunteer). I did not take time to get to know those men and I regret it now.

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