Train for Godliness at Seminary

1 Timothy 4:7-8 – Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

Why are you at seminary? If you are like most, you will say that you are at seminary in order to receive training for ministry. You are learning. You are working. You are thinking hard. You are doing what is necessary to get out of seminary and into a place of service to the Lord.

As you think of your training, as the semester begins, let me give you this reminder: train for godliness. So many students come to seminary to build knowledge-an act which is certainly necessary. However, many students come to seminary and only build knowledge. It is very tempting to study and theorize about obscure principles while growing more and more conceited. The more you spend time in graduate-level courses pondering the deep things of God, the more tempting it is to think that you are smarter, wiser, and simply better than the average local church member. Beware.

Bodily training is of some good. Doubtless mental training is also of some good. But neither of these two kinds of training is training for godliness. You must learn more than religious theories and theological argument. You must learn to be godly. You must learn not only to define holiness, but to live holiness. You must learn not only to preach sermons, but to love those to whom you preach. You must learn not only to plan programs, but to live out godliness in secret. If your seminary time educates you theoretically but does not aid you in your own personal sanctification, your seminary training does not prep you for ministry.
How can you train for godliness?

  • Read the Bible for growth and not just for class.
  • Spend time with non-seminary, godly men and women in a local church.
  • Seek out someone as a friend at seminary who is deeply devoted to growth in godliness and who is not simply a seminary know-it-all.
  • Live with character at seminary. Do not be dishonest (even on reading reports). Do not break the code of conduct (even if you disagree with its standards). If you won’t live with integrity at school, you will set a pattern of failure for your future ministry.
  • Get connected to a local pastor who is not a seminary prof and who is not starry-eyed about your seminary education. Let him show you what godliness in ministry looks like.
  • (You can probably come up with 50 more.)

Make a commitment to be trained at seminary for godliness, and you will find that you have done something truly worthwhile when you graduate. You must, absolutely must, take advantage of this glorious opportunity to grow in Christ (not simply to grow in your own understanding of how bright you are). Take it from a guy who has spent a few years in local church ministry, you will be glad for what you have learned in seminary; but you will treasure seminary if you are truly trained in godliness.
This is a guest post by Travis Peterson, a pastor in Southern Illinois, a D. Min. candidate in Biblical Counseling at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a blogger.

5 Replies to “Train for Godliness at Seminary”

  1. Great advice, thanks! As I get ready for the fall semester, this is an excellent checklist to help keep the baser instincts in check. It really is all about God, even though we often forget that. Thanks for sharing.

  2. You are right on the money, Travis, especially the warnings against pride. Although may I quibble with wording a bit? You say, “You must learn more than religious theories and theological argument.” Is that really the case or is it that we must not neglect applying the theology learned to our lives?

    I cringe a bit when it seems someone is suggesting our theology is not intimately related to our godliness, as if theological growth and growth in godliness were mutually exclusive. If that was the case, the NT would not be so theological! While we combat theological arrogance, we must also resist the popular notion that theological ignorance equals holiness. The issue for seminarians (and any Christian for that matter) is that theology must be appropriated while it is being learned.

    Again, I really appreciate your post, just some thoughts from a guy who believes that Systematic Theologies should be in the “Christian Living” section.

  3. I have no quibbles with saying that all of our lives must be a living out of our systematic theology. And, if understood in that way, you are certainly at seminary to learn systematics in such a way as to put them into practice. I would say, however, that learning systematics as mere knoledge which puffs up is a great danger, and this is the error I want folks to avoid. So, I understand your cringe, and I think we have a very similar heart for putting our faith into practice.

    Thanks, Steve, fr the thoughtful comment.

  4. William Ames starts his seminal systematic with this profound words: Theology is the doctrine or teaching of living to God. Too many of us stop with the learning about God and never learn to live for God. Seminary students, unfortunately, are often the worst offenders. Instead, seminary should humble us and draw us ever closer to God which, by the way, only serves to humble us all the more.

  5. I was called from a secular job into the ministry at the age of 33. What I lacked in education I made up with the simple basics of theology… “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Caring is the greatest of many things that Jesus Christ did. He enumerated his caring by acts of kindness, love, and mercy. That is what a pastor or seminary major should instill. We can all go to the good book for knowledge, only some will “get it” when it comes to true care. Go and change the world with your love for God and for His people!

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