So you think God wants you to go to seminary … now what?
How do you know you are meant to head to seminary? Especially when some in your life think it would be a waste of time and resources? So, just how does one proceed to investigate, select and make preparations towards seminary, especially when not many in one’s personal sphere have gone that route?
Perhaps you are like me and Christ rescued you while in college. Or perhaps you grew up in the church, trusted in Jesus at a young age, but only in the last few years began to get “serious” about knowing, loving and enjoy God. It takes a unique person to thrive in seminary. Certainly the rigorous theological training is not meant for all. Yet, if you are on this site you probably are pretty serious about seminary.
(Specifically I have in mind those who come from a church or family background where the influential people in your life do not think highly of a seminary education. My wife and I came from a very healthy and vibrant Bible-saturated church tradition, but one that views seminary as essentially a “cemetery.” Our personal experience has been the exact opposite. While we remain close with many of the leaders of that church movement, we knew that heading to seminary might have closed the door to serving there. We were and remain that convinced of God’s call for us.)
Consider all aspects
Both the good and the bad. Jesus commanded that we truly “count the cost” before following Him (Luke 14:28), and this must certainly include life-shaping decisions like heading to seminary. What are your motivations to attend seminary? What school(s) are you considering? Do you know anyone who has gone or is going there? Are they more mature, godly, worshipful, and joyful as a result? What are the theological bent of the schools you are considering? What are their positions on the exclusivity of Christ, the Gospel, biblical authority and inerrancy? As for the “bad”: What will school cost? How far is it from home? Is there a healthy church in the community? Is it too soon to go, or shall you wait another year? (If married: be sure your spouse is on the same page. Whatever you choose, as long as you are of one-mind, you will do well.) Lay everything out on the table and make an informed, honest and wise choice. And while the gravity of the decision may overwhelm you, know that God is sovereign and He delights in the deliberate thinking and humility of His children. By all means make the process towards seminary one of prayer and worship (1 Peter 5:5-6).
Consider others who have gone before
Do you know a pastor or mentor who navigated through seminary? Any men and women you hope to be like? Much of mentoring is informal, yet can become more intentional, as you ask. Paul wrote to imitate him as he imitated Christ (1 Cor. 11:1); thus following in the steps of others, while being our own unique person, is part of this Christian life. Have you considered asking others to help you make this decision in community (and not on an island)?
Invest in the meantime
Not financially specifically, but relationally, in people. As Jake pointed out recently, this vital aspect of life is key while in seminary. It is also important before (and after) seminary. The academy is aimed at serving the local church, and well, if you aren’t investing in people now you likely will not later.
A few practical considerations
- Clean your room. A wise pastor noted how his Dad reminded him about discerning God’s will of when and where to go in His will, “Johnny, be faithful in cleaning your room, and God will open the door to the room next to it.” Sound advice on excelling from the heart.
- Take your time. There is perhaps a fine line here, as all schools have deadlines. Yet know that if God wills it for you to start in Winter or Spring instead of Fall it will be alright. Wherever you are, be all there. (In our case, we arrived on campus (at a different school than we first planned) two years after dreaming about heading to seminary.)
- Do the necessary paperwork. Be on top of school applications and deadlines, and especially the financial aid documents with FAFSA. Relates more to organization than to be being in hurry.
- Get out of debt; at least as much as possible.
- Talk about it. Are there legitimate reasons why some resist you going to seminary? Specifically, are they against a certain seminary? Can you interview anyone who has “successfully” completed seminary? How about those who are students now?
- Live with an open hand. Praying, not begging. All of life is preparation and the end goal is to know God (John 17:3), even more than fulfilling a lifelong dream.
- Be ready. This relates to consumerism, debt and unnecessary ties to our world.
- Love the Church. The Church is Christ’s chosen Bride, and with her He had determined to share the glorious truth of His Gospel of grace. God will not do it without the church and He purposes that you see yourself wrapped up in the story of others, broken and in need of the Gospel (me and you too!)
- Interview others. Worth mentioning twice, especially because even a campus visit and the best publications cannot convey the value of a seminary education. (Note that any of the writers on this site are more than willing to discuss personal considerations and our own journey. Let us know how we can help – the Forum is a good place for discussions.)