This post is an excerpt from Succeeding at Seminary: 12 Keys to Getting the Most Out of Your Theological Education by Jason K. Allen. The book is out now from Moody Publishers and wherever Christian books are sold.
Tragically, some ministers disqualify themselves because of how they treat their families. Please don’t let that be you. If you can create healthy family patterns now during your seminary years, it will serve you far more than you can imagine when you are on the front lines.
EXCELLING IN THE HOME AND THE CLASSROOM
But here’s the good news: most students can excel both in the home and in the classroom. Consider six keys to that end:
- Remember that both your studies and your family are arenas to honor God.
All of life is to be lived for God’s glory, and both family and ministry preparation are unique venues for this to happen. As you undertake these with spiritual mindedness, biblical wisdom, strategic time allocation, and mature prioritization, you can honor God in both without compromising either. Set out to do just that.
- Ensure your spouse benefits from seminary, too.
A strong seminary will seek to minister not just to the student but to his or her family as well. Perhaps your spouse desires to earn a degree or take classes along with you.Labor to make that happen.At Midwestern Seminary, my wife leads the Midwestern Women’s Institute (MWI), which “is a residential certificate program that exists to equip women to serve their families, churches, and com- munities by providing them with ministry training, spiri- tual encouragement, and biblical fellowship.”2
I am grateful for how MWI engages the women on our campus, and I consistently hear how the program blesses the wives of our male students. Thus, I strongly encourage our male students to support their wives in this endeavor.
Involve your spouse in your studies as well. Ask for help proofreading a theology paper. Enlist them to quiz you on names and dates in church history. Share what you are learning in exegesis class. The more seminary is about the two of you learning together, the more enjoy- able it will be for both of you.
3. Cultivate friends as couples. In seminary, you will likely make friends for life. That was true for us; I developed a few close guy friends and my wife a few close girlfriends. But the most encouraging and last- ing friendships we developed were with other couples. These relationships have been life-giving. In the midst of intense study, your family needs to be around others with whom you all can relate and relax. And since these couples are walking through many of the same pressures and difficulties, they will be able to offer timely advice and friendship. With the advances of modern technology, it’s easier than ever to stay in touch with and receive continual support from such friends—even when ministry assignments have separated you by hun- dreds of miles.
4. Seize seminary-community opportunities. Prior- itize seminary-sponsored events and gatherings. Attend the fall festival and the spring picnic. Go to chapel as a family. At Midwestern Seminary, we provide free child- care for couples who want to attend chapel together but whose kids are too young to enjoy the hour. The more seminary includes the entire family, the easier it will be to sustain family-wide joy while there. As you get the whole family involved in campus events, you can instill a sense of belonging that will leave fond memories for years to come.
The more seminary is about the two of you learning together, the more enjoyable it will be for both of you.
5. Commit to having less “me time.” The truth of the matter is, getting an A at home and a C in class—as opposed to a C at home and an A in class—is often a false choice. Most students can excel at both. As we saw in the last chapter, though, it takes careful time- management and focused self-discipline—which likely translates into longer days and shorter nights. Again, prioritize engagement with your family during daytime hours and give yourself to your studies before they wake up or after they go to sleep.
6. Move through your studies. Lastly, plot your aca- demic course and plow through it as quickly, albeit re- sponsibly, as possible. Your studies will likely wear on your spouse even more than they wear on you—especial- ly if your spouse is working long hours to support you. So involve your spouse in your course selection, inform him or her of your time horizon, and keep him or her apprised of the progress you’re making. I’ll never forget my wife’s sense of relief when I completed my PhD. I grew to learn that my academic work weighed on her as much as it did me—and the sense of accomplishment that graduation brought was not personal; it was mutual.
Your ministry preparation is a precious stewardship, but your family is more so.
Put them first—and don’t blame them if you underachieve at school. Most students can excel in both categories; resolve to be such a student. Let me conclude by leaving you with this challenging quote from the Puritan
Matthew Henry. Read it carefully. Chew on every word. Then apply it to your family:
If therefore our houses be houses of the Lord, we shall for that reason love home, reckoning our daily devotion the sweetest of our daily delights; and our family-worship the most valuable of our family-comforts. . . . A church in the house will be a good legacy, nay, it will be a good inheritance, to be left to your children after you.3
May this be your goal. Regardless of how busy you be- come in the midst of your studies, remember your primary call to shepherd your family. If, at the end of your studies, you achieve a degree but lose your family in the process, you have experienced a net loss. But if you get your degree and nurture your family in the process, you will have much to rejoice about, together, on graduation day. Pray and strive for the latter scenario. You will not regret it.