Classes Worth Taking

The reasons for the value of a class can vary widely. Some factors can be:

  • High-value books as part of assigned reading
  • High-value lectures – good information
  • High-value assignments which help you learn critical skills
  • High-value professors whose teaching, life and/or personal example are impactful

If the 80/20 principle holds true, then the highest value of my 92 hour M. Div would be found in just 18 hours of classes.

For me, those courses were:

Philosophy of Religion 4 hrs
Biblical backgrounds 2 hrs
Church History 6 hrs
Preaching 4 hrs
Preaching lab 2 hrs

Total 18 hrs

For my classes:

Philosophy of Religion – This is the course where I learned how to think. My professor was the reason. I learned from him how to make, analyze and counter arguments. This value came directly from him, in his lectures. The readings and final paper were by comparison not as helpful. Attending class to observe and interact with the professor was all the value of this course.

Biblical Backgrounds – Here the value was not my professor, though he was very capable. The value was in the information he gave, both in lectures and in our assigned readings. Understanding the Bible’s geographical and historical background was of immense value to understanding the message of the Bible.

Church History – The value here was a combination of the professors, who were excellent and energized, and the information they shared. The perspective on the historical development of Christianity helped me sort out my own doctrinal convictions and which ones were most important. This may seem like a strange value of a church history course, and I agree. You’d think doctrinal clarity would come from studying systematic theology; for me, it didn’t. In fact, my systematic theology classes were unfortunately among the weakest I took in my seminary career.

Preaching – Another example of hidden value was my preaching class. The value of this class was in our assignments. In preparing our sermons, we had to write interpretive sentences capturing the main idea of the passage. Writing those sentences (declarative, 18 words or less) was without question the hardest and most valuable skill I learned in my entire seminary career.

Again, this seems strange: you’d think that Biblical Hermeneutics would have been the class for that. For me, it wasn’t. For hermeneutics, I took the same professor I’d had for Philosophy of Religion. Bad idea. He was a terrible hermeneutics professor. I didn’t realize at the time that professors aren’t always good at everything they teach. Value in an instructor depends many times upon the subject.

Preaching Lab – This was another class where the assignments were the key value. We had to preach, but had a 12 minute time limit. Keeping a complete sermon to 12 minutes taught me the skill of deciding what not to say. Let’s be honest: most preachers are criticized for the excessive length of their sermons. In that class, I heard the most lean, focused and powerful sermons, even though we were students. The value was the time limit, which forced us to eliminate all but the most essential material, and focus our preaching like a laser.

So how about you? Of the classes you’ve taken (so far) in seminary, which one or two have had the most value and why?

Next: My Crummiest classes

5 Replies to “Classes Worth Taking”

  1. So far, in my seminary career (about 2/3 toward an M.Div.), it’s hard to pick out the courses with the most leverage as it’s hard to distinguish between those classes with the most lasting traction from those classes that I enjoyed most from those classes that caused me to transform my mind or spirit.

    My theology courses were very engaging and the prof helped us to see the relevance to the issues that we confront on the street-level. We have a “Spiritual Formation” track and those courses were exactly congruent with why I went to seminary: to make me spiritually “fit” for ministry. My Bible courses helped me to dig in to the text and maked my eventual preaching more about ‘preaching the Word’ rather than ‘preaching what I think this text says to me.’ 🙂

    So the 80/20 principle is true for me; it just applies itself differently in different spheres of my life.

  2. Eric,

    I appreciate your pointing out the distinction between class experiences that are practical versus those which are transformative. The truth is that some classes will be way more helpful than others in practical terms. I found that the transformative effect for me was in the entire experience of seminary, both the amazing experiences and the drudgery, too.

    It’s easiest to make the 80/20 determination in retrospect, but I do have some thoughts about how to identify the classes with most value ahead of time.

    I should probably re-emphasize that the purpose of this series of posts is not to come up with ways to blow things off or “Get through seminary the easy way.” Far from it. My fundamental assumption is triage: you can’t do everything well, and some things will have to go, simply because we’re finite creatures. So if we have to cut back at seminary for the sake of our sanity or our marriage, I’m saying that there are ways you can do that without robbing yourself of the greatest value of the experience.

  3. Biggest benefit to me of seminary was not a particular class but the whole lifestyle that prepared me for ministry:
    1. meeting impossible deadlines while every prof thought theirs was the only class I had prepares one for the unreasonable expectations a church will place on you.
    2. managing my meager money to eat, pay for school, keep the heat on (it’s good to be single in seminary) prepares you for the pay scale.
    3. the discipline to juggle school, part-time job, part-time ministry–ministry is multitasking.
    4. learning that some classes benefit just you, not your ministry–cause when you’re in ministry you have to learn to feed yourself and not just study for sermons/lessons. Personal growth will lead to professional growth.

    I think the 80/20 holds up. I’d love to have gone to seminary in an online world (class of 88), boy I’d do a lot of independent study and online courses to get them useless ones out of the way.

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