The most important benefit of seminary might be the people you meet, not the things you learn.
Imagine yourself in a new student orientation meeting with dozens or hundreds of other fellow students. Sitting around you are the people who will be leading God’s church in your generation. A few are clowns. Others will wash out and not continue in ministry. But some of your fellow students will become highly influential leaders in the church and the Kingdom all over the world.
Some will become pastors of large and influential churches. Some will become professors or even presidents of seminaries. Some will pioneer new missions and movements in places all around the world.
Imagine yourself sitting in the first week of classes one semester. Your professors, who are paid to teach you and give you some of their attention, might be among the top ten scholars in the world in their particular fields of study.
You really need to get to know these people, for two reasons. First of all, they are just amazing and fascinating. People at seminary have to pass two important qualifications to even be there: they have to love God and they have to be academically competent. This means, on the whole, that your fellow students will be both spiritually and intellectually strong. Who wouldn’t want friends like that?
Second, though this might seem crassly pragmatic, in the world of ministry it is as true as it is in business or in Hollywood: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Most ministry positions are filled through relational networks. A strong network of personal connection increases both your own prospects in ministry, and also the value you will bring to any church or organization you serve.
Meet 100 people. During your first semester, introduce yourself around a lot. Make it a priority. See someone you don’t know, smile, extend your hand, and introduce yourself. You will not become fast friends with all of them, but with a few, you might. Meet fellow students, who in a few short years will disperse to places of influence all over the world. Meet professors, remembering that it is their job to give you some of their attention. Don’t neglect the networking opportunities in your local church, either. Knowing ordinary, non-seminary people can be a resource for your sanity and your family, and can help connect you to reliable people when you need, for instance, insurance or car repairs.
Take initiative. Someone has to be the first to talk; might as well be you. If you take the passive route, and wait for friends to drift your way, you might find yourself lonely. Be the leader and take the first step. Introduce yourself. Offer to buy coffee. Drop by on your professors early in the semester during office hours, and ask one or two good questions—they will remember.
Add value. As you meet people, discover ways you can serve or help them. Two of the biggest things you can offer are resources and relationships. What have you seen or read that could help them? Who do you know that they need to know?
Leverage social media. As you meet people, connect with them on social media. This gives both of you mutual access to each other. You can stay aware of what’s happening with them, and they with you. Pay attention, and look for strategic ways and times to be helpful.
Express care. In the days before social media, I noticed that an acquaintance of mine in a philosophy class did not show up for our midterm exam. I got his number from another student and called to see if he was ok. Turns out he had been in an auto accident and simultaneously discovered he was diabetic. He was blown away at my small expression of care. That moment of care blossomed into a friendship where we spent many hours together talking philosophy and religion. We took a trip to Ireland together, and I was in his wedding. Even small expressions of care are rare enough that they stand out.
Be generous. One of my professors had to drive to another city for a meeting after our class, but was exhausted from travel and illness. I volunteered to drive him up and back so he could snooze in the car. He gratefully accepted my offer, and I got several hours of uninterrupted time with him. He later served on my dissertation committee.
Connect even if you’re an online student. It takes a bit more effort, but even distance or online students can connect with people. Use the bulletin board or chat features of your school’s learning software. Send an introductory email to fellow students, and offer to swap notes, or host a group video chat to help everyone connect.
Forming new friendships isn’t on the curriculum for seminary, but it ought to be. Don’t miss the opportunity to form relationships; it’s more important than you think.
This is a draft of a chapter from the forthcoming book, The Complete Seminary Survival Guide, by Mark Warnock and Tyler Wright.