Have you ever thought about going to seminary? Chances are your answer is ‘No.’ Maybe ‘No, I’m not looking to become a minister’ or ‘No, I want to do ministry, not just learn about it.’ If you had asked me two years ago if I was thinking about seminary I would have said ‘No way!’ Yet I’m now near finishing at Rockbridge Seminary with a Master of Minister Leadership. I want to share a bit about how I came to that point, and why it might be something for you to consider.
I have always enjoyed learning. It was an easy decision to continue after college to get a Ph.D. I followed that by being an Assistant Professor before making the jump to industry. Now I’m a software developer for a small company. I love my job, spending time with my family, and have been growing in my faith for many years. Things were very comfortable, and I wasn’t looking for more to do. Until Spring 2008:
I was on a team developing a ‘long-range’ plan for my church. I was excited that we taking an honest look at our strengths and weaknesses, identifying strategic ways to pursue our mission of developing fully-devoted followers of Christ. I realized leadership development was a huge need for us “ not relying on staff or professional ‘clergy’ to do all God is calling us to do. Between this realization and the fact that I was turning 45, I was facing a mid-life crisis. No, not wanting a sports car, but a powerful realization that despite my success, I really had no clue about what it meant to be a leader, much less how to effectively develop other leaders. The impact of my life so far wasn’t what I had hoped it would be, and something needed to change. It became clear that the best way to have a significant impact “ on other people and for the Kingdom “ would be to become someone helping others be all they could be, developing others as disciples and as leaders. The big question was: how could I become such a person? My role-models were very task-oriented, great at getting things done, smart and hard-working, but not people who poured themselves relationally and intentionally into developing others.
At this time I learned about a seminary that was 100% online and offered a program of study on Ministry Leadership “ how to build up disciples and disciple-makers. The timing was perfect, and I enrolled in seminary. I had no intention of changing careers, and still don’t know where this might lead me, but I’ve found the past two years to be an amazing growth experience. Seminary isn’t needed to do ministry, but I don’t think that people appreciate just how helpful or practical it can be. There are three groups of people I would like to encourage to give more serious thought about the possibility of seminary.
Church Staffer (no seminary training)
A recent study shows that 83% of seminary graduates highly valued their experience and found it quite practical. Yet only 10% of churches require a seminary degree for staff members! This disconnect reflects a wariness about traditional seminary education. If you’re serving on staff at a church, know that there are now excellent seminary options that are online, biblical, practical, where you do not have to put your life on pause for two-three years to get training.
Volunteer Ministry Leader
Seminary is not just for those looking to be ‘career’ ministers! All Christians are ministers, but God has gifted some to be teachers and equippers to build up others for ministry. This is based on giftedness, not on position or career. Sometimes the best person to challenge volunteers trying to juggle career-family-ministry is a peer facing the same struggles. Developing a better understanding of the bible and practical ministry is not just for full-time pastors. Consider seeing if your church might partner with you, allowing you to serve as a ministry-intern and/or covering seminary costs.
Halftimer / Retiree
It’s common to drift into your 40’s-50’s and find yourself lacking a good answer for the question ‘What am I here for?!’ Bob Buford calls this ‘Halftime’, when a desire awakens to change your game plan from success to significance. One of the greatest benefits of seminary is that it helps you consider this question of life purpose, and helps you find a biblical framework for significance. My classes have included people of all ages.