Shortly before I started this series, Kevin DeYoung posted 7 questions you should ask yourself before you pick a seminary:
- What do I want to do with a seminary degree?
- Is the seminary fully committed to the authority of the Bible at every level of the institution?
- Have you thought about the tradition you want to be a part of?
- What is the community like?
- Who will be teaching you?
- What courses will you be required to take?
- What are their graduates like?
I think these are very useful questions, but the first question deserves more time and attention than the latter six. They all deserve some thought, and as part of this on-going series, I think I’ll take a stab at answering each in turn. However, I’m going to group them like this:
- Should I go to seminary? (1 above)
- Where should I go to seminary? (2, 4, 7)
- What should I learn in seminary? (3, 5, 6)
You could make the case that the latter two questions really could even be combined. But, for space, I think it’s worth separating where you should go (focusing on type of school and overall logistics) from what you should learn (considerations of tradition, class, and profs). Before getting to that, let’s consider why you might want to go in the first place.
Having worked with college students for a few years now, I’ve started to see what I call “The Word of Life Effect.” Word of Life is a small Bible Institute with a main campus in Schroon Lake, New York, and an extension campus in Hudson, Florida (basically redneck north Tampa). I went to the Florida campus for what was my freshman year of college. It was there that my affections for pursuing God through studying the Bible was awakened. I also was affirmed in the gift of teaching by one of the professors there who suggested that I consider pursuing seminary. I had never thought of that, or teaching before, although at this point I had been teaching private music lessons for several years.
Now, the awakening of the affections and the beginning to take your own faith seriously is what I call “The Word of Life Effect” mainly because it happened to so many people I went to school with. The effect is that in taking your faith seriously, you immediately sense that you should be in full-time ministry. Often, you want to go big or go home, and so if you’re at Word of Life, you’ll strongly consider wanting to be a missionary to some Third World country. If you’re here and say went to Passion or something similar and that ended up being the spark that set ablaze the kindling in your soul, the same effect can happen.
Because this often happens around college age and when major life decisions are still in flux, it can easily be misinterpreted. By starting to take your faith seriously and realizing that you are called to a life on mission, you can abandon other career aspirations thinking a life on mission requires working in a church or some para-church ministry. At Word of Life, it was often presented, if not directly vocalized, that the greatest thing you could do as a Christian was go be a missionary somewhere. The natural conclusion was that you if you were going to take your faith seriously, you’d better start thinking about where you were going to go.
What was missing – and I should note, may have changed since I was there – was reinforcing the idea that many people can and should take “secular” jobs and let that be where they are on mission. In one sense, the Word of Life emphasis was right, you should pursue a life of mission. However, that might very well entail being a doctor, dentist, engineer, accountant, or some other career. What’s more, if you choose one of those career paths, you could still do it overseas somewhere, and might have a better chance of getting into the country.
With all this in mind, answering the question of whether or not you should go to seminary comes after settling what kind of mission you’re on. You may have a really strong desire to serve others and share Christ, but might have a passion to work in some other non ministry related field as well. I’d pursue that first. In my case, although I had a full ride scholarship to study recording engineering, I wasn’t particularly sold on that as a career path. When seminary was suggested and I felt affirmed that I could be a good Bible teacher, I decided that was what I wanted to pursue.
That, I think, might be a good indicator of whether you should go to seminary. If you have the gift of teaching, seminary will help you develop that as well as give you credentials to do that on a wider scale. If you don’t, it doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t go, but it should give you pause before your pursuit. The basic seminary degree (M.Div) seems very much designed to facilitate growth as a teacher of the Bible. If that’s not really you, then you’re potentially going to school for a degree that doesn’t fit your giftings. There are other degree options, and that’s something to think through when we talk about what you should learn in seminary. For now, if you definitely want to pursue training for ministry and most likely want to do ministry as a full-time job, then you should go to seminary. Since they are many other hypothetical positions you could have, I’ll leave it to comments to talk through the other options.