I have a way of getting through something tough and then wishing I could go back and do it again. It’s not that I enjoy torturing myself. Rather, it’s that I usually learn a lot under such stress. Because I knew more coming out of the experience than I did going in, there are some things I would do differently.
There is one lesson in particular I wanted to offer that might benefit others who are considering seminary. When I walk into the classroom this fall, I will have a drastically different mission than I did last year. This new mission hasn’t displaced my earlier reasons for going, but it has put them in perspective. I’m still considering pursuing doctoral-level work after my M. Div.; and my ultimate goal is still to begin a church planting ministry in my old stomping grounds of Upstate New York.
So what’s the lesson? What’s my new mission at seminary? I’m going to learn about Jesus. And I am going to learn about Jesus so that I can worship Him.
Now you’re disappointed, aren’t you? You thought I was going to say something really important and earth shattering, didn’t you? Here’s the thing: this is important. I know that, by itself, it isn’t really memorable. But it’s still important. Yet it’s easily forgotten. Probably because it seems so obvious. But most of the important things I have learned recently have been things that seemed so obvious that I didn’t even think about the fact that maybe I wasn’t actually there.
If you’re like me, you run the risk of seminary being merely about preparing for ministry. That’s important. Or maybe you’re the type that is more tempted to think of seminary as a time to think big thoughts. That’s important too. But who are you preparing to serve in ministry? And who are you hoping to think big thoughts about. As it turns out, Jesus doesn’t want (much less need) merely our service. And our big thoughts? Try to imagine the big thought’s of the Divine Son as the world was created through Him.
In the introduction to this famous book, Desiring God, John Piper tweaks of the first answer to the Westminster Shorter Catechism so that it reads, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” That’s why I was created. And that’s why I want to be in seminary right now. It’s also what I have been missing out on this past year. I’ve been preparing for ministry. I’ve been only preparing for ministry.
Tim Keller helpfully points out (though, now that I think of it, I’m sure I’ve heard it from others as well) that ministry can be a kind of moralism. It’s possible as a pastor to think that your acceptance before God is based on the fruit borne out by your ministry. In fact, the danger is that, even in knowing this, it’s still an easy trap to fall into. What if seminary is the same way? What if, rather than going to seminary to learn about God (so you can worship Him more passionately), you’re going to make yourself acceptable to God?
It’s because that danger is so subtle that I’m going to risk stating the obvious. And I’ll even say it again. I am going to seminary to learn about Jesus so I can worship Him. The other stuff too (preparing for ministry and all that). But mainly just this. And, by the way, I’m pretty sure that in the end I might just be a better pastor for it. So, win-win.