I worked four years in a church staff position during and after college before deciding I needed to further my education by going to seminary. Those years were invaluable to my development, because I experienced ministry and discovered what I didn’t know and needed to learn before starting my studies. I wish all incoming students could have ministry experience before attending seminary.
Before I set foot on the campus, I wrote in my journal a list of things I wanted to learn while at seminary. I wish I had kept that list. I don’t remember all the objectives, but one of them was, “Learn how to recruit, train, and supervise volunteers.” I experienced a great deal of frustration in my youth ministry with supervising volunteers much older than me. The volunteers were patient, but I needed help in this area if I were to be an effective minister.
During orientation and my first days at seminary, I took my list of about 15 items and looked at the requirements for my program of study and determined which core courses matched the learning objectives on my list. I then looked at the seminary catalog and the electives I could take and identified courses that would help me accomplish those objectives. For example, there was a course entitled, “Working with Volunteers,” which matched one of my learning objectives. I could then map out my curriculum for the next two years, maximizing my seminary experience.
Each term before registering for classes, I reviewed my list, checked off those that I accomplished, and identified courses that would meet the remaining objectives. On more than one occasion, I added new learning objectives to my growing list.
One of the assignments in the class on volunteers was to write a ten-page term paper. I wrote a 50-page paper on recruiting volunteers. My friends teased me that I had gone overboard, but I told them I wasn’t trying to impress the professor. This paper was for me and I wanted to develop materials that I could take back home and use. Your seminary learning takes on another dimension when you have ownership in the product. Ask your professors if you can negotiate assignments to fulfill your learning objectives. Instead of a paper, maybe you could write a strategic plan, develop a website, or write a sermon series. Suggest projects that meet the course objectives, but also have immediate application in your ministry.
Not all of my learning objectives could be fulfilled through seminary courses. This is where mentoring, internships, and field experiences can round out your seminary experience. Since I was in youth ministry, I looked for a church that was really doing a great job in discipling youth. One of my objectives was to learn how to educate youth about ethical issues, including sex education. I found a youth minister who had developed some materials on sex education in the church and was willing to mentor me. Over the course of my two years in seminary, with the help of this mentor, I created some discipleship materials that I used for years.
- What do you want to learn?
- What skills do you want to possess?
- What competencies will you need to develop in order to be an effective minister?
- What attitudes do you need to change?
- What spiritual disciplines will you need to practice?
Write out a list of your learning objectives to guide your seminary studies. With this intentional learning plan, you will maximize your time at seminary and you’ll not have to write a book entitled, “What I Didn’t Learn in Seminary.”
Daryl Eldridge is President and Co-founder of Rockbridge Seminary.