This guest post was written by S. Daniel Smith. He blogs at http://differentfrequencies.blogspot.com and is a US Navy sailor.
A few months ago, Going to Seminary covered the four schools that offer an entire online degree program at the master’s level. I know how this works first hand because I am going to one of those schools as a distance learner myself. Because of this interesting combination of US Navy sailor and seminary student, I’ve learned a few things about surviving in a distance learning seminary. If you’re on active duty, or even if you have an otherwise demanding civilian job, then I hope you’ll find some valuable information in this article.
I am a lot of things. First, I’m a believer, and while that sounds contrite to put it first, it is the most important truth of my life. Secondly, I’m a husband and a father to two children. Thirdly, I’m a sailor who has made two deployments in a 3.5 year tour. Furthermore, I’m a concerned sailor who wants his shipmates to come to Christ. Finally, I’m a distance learning seminary student at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, where I’m studying for a Master of Divinity. This, in a nutshell, is who I am, and it’s as busy as it looks.
Sure, I would rather be at a brick and mortar seminary, but with my schedule and my career, I need to “go distance “. After a dozen semester hours to my credit, I have learned five things that I believe you can take away from my experience.
- Seminary is an academic institution. My chaplain on board the USS Antietam made me painfully aware of this fact. Seminary doesn’t exist to do anything other than give you an education. You’ll need your own mentor, your own accountability partner, and your own work ethic. It’s not the job of the seminary to make sure your supervisor on your ship gives you an opportunity for ministry. That’s up to you. And just saying, “I’d like to be in ministry,” doesn’t make it so. The military context is in many ways different from the civilian context. What would work in the “real world” might not work here. What you can know, however, is that the seminary is there to teach you the scholarly parts of ministry.
- Make sure you have a good internet connection. Take it from me: Do not try to take seminary classes with a very low bandwidth connection in the Persian Gulf! Please make sure you have the necessary bandwidth to complete all of the research, writing, and message posting you’ll be required to complete. If nothing else, remember that you need enough bandwidth to take your final!
- It’s harder than you think it is. I earned a good portion of my undergraduate degree online as well, and while I had to work for those grades, nothing could have prepared me for the level of work I saw in seminary. No matter how hard one might think seminary is going to be, the student needs to understand that it will probably be harder. There is more reading, writing, and research to do in a seminary class than in an undergraduate class. It will trip you up if you’re not careful.
- Don’t forget who you work for. As a sailor, I work for the United States Navy, and more directly, for my supervisors on the USS Antietam. Whether you are a military person or a civilian, always remember your employer will continue to expect good work from you while you’re in seminary. In fact, this is the best example of Christian life we can give to some of our unbelieving friends and coworkers. Producing good work in the secular job while getting good grades in seminary is a great witness.
- Don’t forget your life. One of the controls my wife and I have put in place for our marriage is that marriage and fatherhood trumps seminary. For that reason, and a few others, I’m a part-time student. While raising two kids and being a good husband and sailor is not the time to be thinking about how fast I can get through seminary by taking more hours. Back off a little—your family will thank you.
I realize that not all of these apply exclusively to the military community, but all of them do apply in some way to the military community. Committing these five lessons into your seminary preparations can help you in more ways than you can imagine. And since I’ve already learned those lessons for you, all you have to do is take note of them! As my grandfather used to say, “You don’t have time to commit all of my mistakes, so learn from them.”
Best wishes for a successful seminary semester!