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Prepare for Three Years, Get Prepared for Thirty

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.

A DANGEROUS INCONSISTENCY

For some inexplicable reason there has often been an inconsistency between evangelicals’ high view of Scripture, of the church, of gospel ministry—and our approach to ministry preparation. We take the Bible and the gospel seriously, but we’re often too casual when it comes to presenting it well. Some of this tension is understandable. (Do I delay my ministry for several years of preparation, or do I go preach Jesus now?)

At the same time, I challenge you to treat your ministry, and the requisite preparation, with the seriousness they deserve. We apply this logic to every other area of life; why wouldn’t we apply it to this most ultimate area of life?

For example, when God called me to Midwestern Seminary in 2012 and our family relocated to Kansas City, one of our first tasks was to find a new pediatrician for our five young children. We didn’t look for someone who dabbled in pediatrics. We wanted a children’s doctor with appropriate training, sufficient experience, and a good reputation—among other things.

Similarly, when our car needs servicing, we don’t take it to a shade-tree mechanic. When we need an accountant, we don’t just look for someone good with a calculator. When our favorite football team searches for a new coach, we don’t want them to hire someone who’s always wanted to learn more about the sport.

What’s the common denominator in these examples? We insist on knowledge, training, suitable experience, and a successful track record in every meaningful area of life. The church should expect no less from its ministers. We who would minister to the church should expect no less from ourselves. And a faithful seminary will help you toward these ends.

WHAT A HEALTHY SEMINARY PROVIDES

Of the many reasons to go to seminary, give careful attention to these nine. At seminary you will . . .

1. Learn from gifted teachers, all of whom are accomplished in their respective disciplines and will, most likely, be far more knowledgeable than anyone you’d have the opportunity to study with in other venues. And the relationships you develop with these mentors don’t end when you graduate. You can turn to them through- out your ministry for encouragement and support.

2. Enjoy a focused, immersive season of theological training and ministry preparation. Life and ministry pull us toward a “Martha” way of life, but seminary forces us to focus, grow, and become more like Mary (Luke 10:38–42).

3. Avoid gaps in your ministry preparation.

Without a structured course of study, we are inclined to read what most interests us—and avoid what does not. Seminary has a way of rounding us out, enabling us to mature into a well-informed believer with a broad- based knowledge of Scripture, theology, and ministry essentials.

4. Cultivate humility, which is essential for Christian ministry.

Some students show up on cam- pus thinking they know a little something, only to have their paradigms explode once they start attending lec- tures and reading their textbooks. Pride can flare up too, of course, but if you approach your studies with a godly mindset, you will soon realize just how much you don’t know—and how much others do. Seminary incubates humility.

  • Become better equipped to minister to a bro- ken society and a needy church.

The twenty-first century presents societal challenges unknown to previous generations. Ethical dilemmas, moral debauchery, cultural decay, and fractured families all make minis- try—in both the community and the church—increasingly complex. You need to be ready for this ministry minefield.

  • Enjoy access to resources unavailable to you elsewhere.

In addition to the faculty and library, you will benefit from mentorship, ministry-field opportunities, conferences, workshops, and so much more. A healthy seminary is an artesian well of ministry resources and opportunities, daily giving students more than they paid for.

7. Develop relationships that last a lifetime.

Ministry can be a lonely road. There are times we need to lean on other ministry friends who know the burdens we bear and who can, from their own experience, offer words of support. Seminary breeds such relationships.

8. Foster self-discipline and a strong work ethic.

Though ministry preparation is not about earning a credential, a seminary degree evidences that you’ve taken your call to ministry seriously enough to pursue training—and that you have the self-discipline to complete it. Like it or not, churches evaluate one’s ministry preparation and experience when considering a candidate. A seminary degree is a step in the right direction.

9. Gain confidence in your ability to teach God’s Word and minister to His people. Confidence is not something you suddenly summon before your first sermon. It grows within you over time as you develop the assurance that you’ve been called—and prepared— for the ministry God has set before you.

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