Here at Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, I want my students to enjoy what I experienced during my own ministry preparation and what, by God’s grace, we have to offer. And I want you to be similarly selective, whether God calls you to Kansas City or to some other faithful evangelical seminary. But in order to enjoy what I’ve been describing; you need to know what to look for.
Here are the nine must-ask questions that will help you pick the right institution:
1. WHAT ARE THE SEMINARY’S CONFESSIONAL COMMITMENTS?
All students should know what they can expect to be taught, and they should know it f rom the beginning. Does the institution have a confessional statement? If so, is it largely a formal- ity or a functioning instrument of accountability? What does the seminary believe and teach about the Bible, the gospel, the church, marriage and gender, and the image of God? As a prospective student, does the confessional statement align with your own convictions? Is the seminary positioned to undergird, not undermine, your faith?
Midwestern Seminary is an unapologetically confessional in- stitution, happily teaching in accordance with, and not con- trary to, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Additionally, our professors ink their names to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, the Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and the Nashville Statement on Human Sexuality and Gender Roles. Each professor must affirm these documents and teach in accordance with them. As a student, you may not affirm every point of these confessions, but it’s important for you to know where your professors stand on essential matters.
2. WHAT IS THE SEMINARY’S PURPOSE?
Why does the seminary say it exists? Can you clearly state its calling, and does that calling resonate with yours? If you don’t know why the seminary exists, it might not know either!
Every seminary, worthy of consideration ought to be about the business of serving the church. John Piper encourages prospective students: “Look for a love for the church. Look for a passion to be connected with the church, not loners off doing their own academic thing, but [people who are] part of the church. . . . They want to feed the church and provide leaders for the church.”
I’m so committed to this conviction at Midwestern Seminary that we’ve adopted it formally: For the Church. These three words are our guiding vision, shaping each decision we make, each position we fill, each event we host, each initiative we launch, and, most definitely, each class we teach. A seminary isn’t required to have For the Church as their official mission statement, of course, but they must be an institution precommitted to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
3. WHOM DOES THE SEMINARY SERVE?
Every seminary has a constituency—a group they look to please and under whose oversight they serve. For some semi- naries, that might be an active alumni base, a generous group of donors, or some other subset of their denomination.
When you figure out who the seminary strives to serve, that will tell you a great deal about the school. It will indicate the type of faculty they will hire, the campus community they will cultivate, the events they will sponsor, and a host of other things. Ferret out whom the institution purports to serve, and how they go about that service.
4. HOW MUCH WILL IT COST?
In North America, the cost of higher education has skyrocketed. This is true in every field of study, including theological education. Thankfully, due to the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptist seminaries remain more affordable— especially when compared to other evangelical institutions.
Yet even for institutions generously supported by their denomination, you should carefully review what they charge. What’s their tuition and fee structure? What’s the cost of liv- ing on or near campus? Are there hidden fees buried within their catalog? These are vital questions because they will affect how much you have to work during seminary, how quickly you can complete your degree, and the extent to which you may have to incur debt.
5. IS THE SCHOOL SPIRITUALLY VIBRANT?
This question is difficult to answer from a distance, but it is important. Is the seminary a dry place that so prizes academic achievement that the spiritual disciplines are not championed? Is there a warmth and vibrancy to the chapel hour? Are prayer, Bible intake, worship, evangelism, and personal holiness cherished? Do you get a sense that godly professors are leading and attempting to build a God-honoring institution?
While it may be hard to ascertain answers to some of these questions, call around to local associational leaders, nearby churches, trusted alumni, and anyone else who might have in- sight on the school’s spiritual vibrancy.
6. WILL THERE BE MINISTRY OPPORTUNITIES?
Every seminary worth its salt will have formal, local-church expectations for its students. Minimally, this will include active church membership. Yet students ought to desire more than this. The best ministry preparation weds classroom instruction with weekly local-church service. You should, therefore, not only look for a healthy seminary but also nearby healthy churches, where you can plug in and, perhaps, enjoy a paid ministry position.
At Midwestern Seminary, one of the ways we encourage this is with our Timothy Track program. The Timothy Track offers select residential MDiv students on-the-field ministry training in a local ministry context. Regardless of whether you’re able to participate in a program like the Timothy Track, though, it is vital to gain ministry experience while completing your studies. Keep this in mind as you survey seminaries.
7. WHO COMPRISES THE SCHOOL’S FACULTY?
It is impossible for a seminary to rise beyond its faculty. So ask yourself: Who teaches there? What are they known for? Will they be accessible to you? Are they willing to invest in you personally? John Piper is right: “Don’t look for a building. Don’t look for a campus. Don’t look for a library. Don’t look for a location. Look for a faculty.”
This is more than a rundown of who’s published what (though writing is an essential part of a faculty member’s work). If theological education were merely about publications, you could just buy books, read them, and save yourself a lot of time and money. But does the faculty actu- ally invest in students? Are internships available? Are leading professors present and accessible? Does the faculty view students as an interruption to their call- ing or as their calling?
8. WHAT IS THE CAMPUS COMMUNITY LIKE?
Seminary is so much more than the formal classroom teaching. Yes, ministry preparation is taught, but it is also “caught.” This takes place over coffee, in chapel, at campus events, in student housing, and in countless other venues. Is the campus community one in which you can envision yourself growing, both in Christ and in your ministry pursuit?
This is more than an assessment of amenities and events; it also entails the vibe on the ground. Is it a cheerful institution? Are the faculty, staff, and students happy to be there and en- couraged about their future? Is the seminary a natural place of encouragement, organic discipleship, and group synergy about kingdom matters? Such elements should play a key role in your decision-making.
9. IS THE GREAT COMMISSION CELEBRATED?
Lastly, is personal evangelism and the Great Commission a box to be checked or is it an essential part of the seminary community? Does the institution long for the Lord to summon workers for the harvest? Are outreach opportunities and international mission trips front and center? Does the faculty engage in personal evangelism and let it shape their classroom instruction? Do you sense a burden for lostness, a love for the community, and a heart for the nations? If not, you will likely be served best by another seminary.
Ministry is too high a calling to enter ill-prepared, and picking a seminary is too serious a decision to make lightly. There are other considerations one should make in choosing a seminary, but these nine questions are a great place to start. Do not enroll in a seminary without carefully considering them. Nothing short of your ministry future—and the good of Christ’s church—is at stake.
Excerpted from Succeeding at Seminary: 12 Keys to Getting the Most Out of Your Theological Education by Jason K. Allen (© 2021). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.