Your seminary isn’t responsible for your education. You are.
In the past week, I’ve had the chance to visit with a few current and just-graduated seminarians, and some of their observations have been strikingly similar:
- The seminary environment is too academic.
- The assigned readings are too long, and not really related to the subject matter.
- If I do everything they ask me to, I won’t have a life at all.
- How can I learn to pastor from profs who’ve never pastored?
Most seminaries are built on an academic model, focused on seeing that you master a theological knowledge base in an insulated environment removed from the real world of ministry.
One recent graduate remarked, “It’s one thing to talk in class about the practice of church discipline, it’s another thing to do it sitting down and looking them in the eye.” The disconnect he saw and lamented was that the ones teaching church discipline in class had never had to actually do it.
Which leads me to emphasize again: Seminary does not prepare you for ministry. Not by itself. The traditional seminary environment can only provide one (albeit very important) piece of the total picture of your ministry preparation. Seminary grants to you a theological knowledge base, and provides a credential supporting your desire and calling to serve in ministry.
The rest is up to you.
You must take responsibility for your own ministry preparation.
- You will need real world experience in ministry-so go get some.
- You will need a mentor in your field-so go find one.
- You will need to be with people outside the Christian bubble-so go make some new friends.
If you immerse yourself in the seminary environment in the way students are tacitly encouraged to-reading every book, completing every assignment, and focusing on the subject matter presented in class-two things will happen. First, you will have spent two to four years isolated from the world, and will be unaccustomed to living with the real, lost people in the world to whom we have been sent. Second, it is highly likely that you will emerge as a theological egghead, with lots of knowledge but not much love.
Another student I spoke with, no doubt in the middle of mid-term madness, was aghast at how excessively his professors overburdened him with readings, papers and assignments. “No one could do all this and have a real life,” he complained.
Answer: so don’t do it all, and go have a real life. You must set your own life agenda… just like you must when you’re in a church. If you allow the institution to dictate your life, well, then that’s what you’ll get.
A few questions:
- Are you fully plugged into the life of a local church?
- Do you know your pastors well, and do they know you?
- Are you serving at your church?
- Have you sought out someone more experienced in ministry for mentoring?
- What exposure do you have to people who are far from God? Unless you plan to stay buried, irrelevant in the Christian ghetto, you need to make being with lost friends part of the fabric of your life.
- When’s the last time you ignored an assignment in order to do something more important?
My parting suggestion:
- Sit down with a blank sheet of paper, and design for yourself, from scratch, a ministry preparation program. What do you need to know? What do you need to be able to do? What kind of experience will you need? How can you get it?
- Then compare your program to what you’re doing now: your ministry assignments, relationship, and degree program. Show this comparison to someone who’s been out of seminary and in ministry for several years, and get their input.
- Adjust your life accordingly.