In the days ahead, tens of thousands of seminarians will begin a new academic year in theological institutions across America. In the Southern Baptist Convention alone, we will see close to 20,000 students enrolled in one of our six seminaries this year.
For the student, a new year brings with it cause for optimism and excitement, but just because one attends seminary does not mean he will get much out of it. The wise student will optimize his seminary experience. Here are nine disciplines for the successful seminary student to master.
Choose the Right Seminary
From the outset, one’s choice of a seminary is crucial. Is the institution you have selected doctrinally faithful? Does it serve the local church and love the Great Commission? Is its faculty willing to invest in you personally? These questions, and many more, are worth carefully pondering. If any of these issues are awry, transfer immediately. You only attend seminary once; so do not settle for a subpar institution.
Avail Yourself to Every Seminary Resource
Assuming you have been prudent in selecting a seminary, drink deeply from the well while you are there. Attend chapel and special events. Build relationships with your faculty. Intentionally seek out mentors. Be prepared for class.
Additionally, don’t settle for the shortest or easiest degree. If you envision fulltime ministry service, the Master of Divinity degree remains the gold standard. Quite literally, you are spending several years to prepare for several decades of ministry. Get the most out of it.
Cultivate Habits that will sustain a Lifetime of Ministry
Seminary can be a challenging season. Many students hold down multiple jobs, parent a growing family, and live with the constant pressures of classroom assignments. For some students, this crucible is unlike any they have faced before. To manage it well, self-discipline, careful stewardship of time, and ability to prioritize the best over the good are indispensable habits to form. If you cultivate these habits in seminary, they will serve you well the rest of your ministry.
To this day, many of my closest friends in ministry are men I met at seminary. The challenge of rigorous study, the joy of those romantic early years in ministry, and similar life stages are the perfect setting to build ministry relationships that last. My wife also forged some of her closest relationships during those years. For us, these relationships have been a constant source of encouragement as we have traveled the highs and lows of life and ministry.
Be about the Basics
The longer I serve in ministry, the more I realize how important the basics of Christian discipleship truly are. In fact, the purpose of theological education is to enhance and extend the basics of the Christian life, not eclipse them. For the seminarian it is all the more urgent to read your Bible daily, to study it regularly, to pray often, to share Christ at least once a week, to cultivate personal holiness, and to practice other spiritual disciplines. Jesus found the lukewarm church nauseating. How much worse is the lukewarm minister?
Serve your Local Church
The church is not a place you go to work in ministry after graduation. The church is your ministry, then and now. Join a healthy church and find a way to serve it during seminary. This will beautifully compliment and balance your studies. It will also help you when you seek your first vocational ministry position. Churches want to hire proven ministry servants, not hypothetical ones. Show yourself faithful to God’s people before you are on their payroll.
Think Practically about the Theological
Roughly speaking, seminary classes will range from the theological to the practical. Some classes, like theology, apologetics, and church history, are obviously more theological and content-driven, but do not leave them there. Seek to apply what you learn to your life and ministry. Think through how you can teach theology to your congregants. Imagine how apologetics informs your personal evangelism. Realize that church history class is more than names and dates. Instead, draw practical encouragement from the great cloud of witnesses God has used throughout the church’s history.
Think Theologically about the Practical
Similarly, the practicalities of ministry ought to have a biblical and theological foundation. Preaching, administering the ordinances, conducting funerals, and marriages, fulfilling the Great Commission, rightly ordering the church, applying leadership principles, and every other practical dimension of ministry should be—and must be—informed biblically and theologically. A good professor will connect the dots, but make sure you connect them as well.
Do Not Lose your Family while Gaining a Degree
Last, but certainly not least, guard your family. The old axiom is true; “It is better get an ‘A’ at home and a ‘C’ in the classroom, than an ‘A’ in the classroom and a ‘C’ at home.” To be sure, one should strive to get an A in both realms, but if something has to give, do not let it be your family. You can have a great marriage without a great ministry, but you can’t have a great ministry without a great marriage.
Seminary can be one of the healthiest and most rewarding seasons of your life. My ministry preparation at Southern Seminary under the leadership of Dr. Albert Mohler was just that. My wife and I, and our expanding young family, loved that season of our life and flourished during it. Now, at Midwestern Seminary, I get to be on the giving end of that equation, and I know as fact that every student can have a great seminary experience. Do not settle for anything less.topicsSeminary, theological education