One of our readers recently commented that he was in the process of deciding whether or not God was leading him towards starting studies at a seminary. He had a few friends who had already graduated or were going through seminary themselves, and was wondering what kinds of questions he should be asking those who have had some experience with seminary to determine if this was something he should pursue and what direction God was leading him in. Here I have tried to gather together some possible questions that he, or anyone else, could be asking others to help them begin to think about what is involved in making this decision.
I think that any questioning is going to have to begin with finding out about the sense of calling because that is going to be the antecedent consideration to all other factors we would discuss about this issue. If this is something you are not called to pursue, then everything else is irrelevant. Determining your calling is usually not a straightforward process; God tends not to reveal Himself in burning bushes very often anymore. But part of it can begin with finding out how others determined their calling to head down this road and relating their experiences to your own. Here are a number of things you can question them about.
- Ask them to tell you what led them to seminary. Find out about their stories, how they got from where they were to where they are today. They can tell you about what influenced them to consider seminary, and how were they confirmed and encouraged in this calling. Were there specific signs that pointed them in this direction? Find out how their spouses felt about pursuing a seminary education. What made them aware that they were gifted to head in this direction? Then find out about their experience once they were in seminary. Was their sense of calling confirmed as they went through? Did they feel like they had rightly understood and interpreted all the factors that had led them to seminary and therefore had made the right choice?
- Ask them to tell you about their seminary in particular. Websites and catalogs are helpful, but don’t necessarily provide all the information you want. So ask about the respective strengths and weaknesses of a seminary. What is its theological position? Find out who the professors are and if they are passionate about the gospel and eager to mentor and equip students for minister. You will want to know if the community is one that is welcoming, supporting, encouraging, and prayerful. Inquire about the school’s academic perspective and how demanding and challenging the work is. What kind of academic expectations does the school have of its students? Also, it would be helpful to know what kind of students are coming out of the school, if they are passionate for God’s Word and His people and are they well equipped to serve His Church.
Of course, seminary happens in the context of real life, and so it would be a good idea to ask them questions about the practical aspects involved in going to seminary, what kind of demands it places on daily life, and so on. Consider some of these things.
- Ask them to tell you about the transition when they started seminary. Did they have to move to go to seminary? If so, find out how that worked out and how it impacted their family (just to let you know, Ryan and I will be having a series of posts on moving coming up in the next little while). Did their spouse have to take up a new job in order to provide for the family? Undoubtedly, this whole transition affected the rhythm of life, so find out specifically how it did and how they adjusted accordingly for these changes. Find out also about the financial aspects involved in this transition. How did they pay for it? Perhaps they were sponsored by their churches or received scholarships. Maybe they took out a loan to go to seminary, and if so whether they recommend it or advise against doing so (we have a lot of posts here on that subject, such as here, here, here, here, and here). What kind of sacrifices did they have to make in order to cover tuition?
- Ask them to tell you the challenges of daily life while they were in seminary. How was their relationship with their spouse and, if they have them, their children affected? The family dynamics may have changed in the process. If they moved, how did they adjust to making new friends and joining a new church community? Ask them about what they do to balance studying and leisure time. What advice do they have for managing these two? Find out what kind of ministry they got involved in with their local church while they were in seminary and what advice they would in regards to that.
These are just some examples of the questions you can ask students who are currently in or have gone through seminary. Asking a number of different people in order to get a variety of perspectives can be very helpful. I don’t think, though, that hearing about others’ experience will be sufficient to determine whether or not this is something you should do. There is still a significant subjective factor that must play a role here. Someone’s story and experience in seminary may be inspiring, but that doesn’t mean it will be the same for you. Talking to others is only meant to help you reflect on your own circumstances and discern your own calling.
Above all, there is one person you should implore more than any other to help you determine your call, and He is the one who actually gives you that call. If seminary looks like it is possibly on your horizon, the best way to see what lies ahead is when you are on your knees.
Readers, what you think? What kinds of questions can we ask those who have experienced seminary already to help in our deliberations?