What I Really Learned in Seminary
Every year thousands of young (and old) men and women will go to some seminary. Maybe it's to be a priest in an Archdiocese somewhere or to pastor a small church in the middle of nowhere or it might be to become a missionary overseas. Either way, many people will go on to a higher education level because they feel like God has called them into full-time ministry. It is those people that I am talking to today because I was one of you.
I'm a full-time pastor at South Mountain Community Church in Draper, Utah. It's one of the biggest churches in Utah and I'm currently one semester away from graduating with my Master in Divinity from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. While I don't have a lifetime of ministry experience, I do have some and seminary is still fresh in my mind so I wanted to write something for those who are still wondering about whether seminary is right for them or for those who have just started.
I've asked a few of my closest brothers that I went through seminary with the same question I asked myself: "what did you really learn in seminary?" What did seminary actually teach you? Good or bad, what are the things you will walk away knowing because of higher education?
They are in no particular order and, for the sake of anonymity, I've changed all of our names.
1. How to hide sin from other people- Aaron
In a place where everyone is striving to be the closest to God, it's easy to let sin slide into your life and hide it away so that you can fit in with all the holy men. You don't want to be shamed by your friends or thrown out of seminary, so you lie. You say you'll deal with the small sin on your own and no one will be the wiser and sadly, you'll be right. 99% of the time. No one will know the sins you are struggling with. You can put on a smile and talk about how Jesus is "really doing a work in you" and no one will ever even think to look twice. But you will know. You will know your sin and it will eat you alive. So confess it to whatever church you belong to and get it out before it turns into something worse.
2. Don’t forget common language-Asher
If you don't know them already, words like "Arminianism" and "Dispensationalism" will become a somewhat regular part of your vocabulary. You'll use deep theological terms that have more syllables than your favorite hymn. It's actually pretty useful for discussing things with your friends or your professors, but it is absolutely worthless in the real world. Most of your average people can't even spell "Eutychianism," let alone tell you what it means. Don't forget how to explain things with regular words. Sanctification is a great word, but it means nothing if the people you're speaking to don't understand it. Speak the way people hear.
3. Busy work is not hard work-Able
Books and papers. That is what has filled up most of my time here. The average class will have you read 4-7 200 page books and write 4 papers of varying lengths. That's on top of the tests, quizzes, and reports you'll have throughout the semester. For one class. It's not hard work, it's busy work. Lots of seminary's will claim to have a rigorous course load, but in reality, it's not that bad. If you have good time management skills, you'll be just fine.
4. Choose friends wisely-Alex
I would argue it's not about what you learn, but who you learn with. The friends you make in seminary are probably some of the same ones that you'll turn to in ministry. You want to make sure that those are the kinds of people you can count on and who will help you in realistic ways, not just force feed you Bible verses. I've seen men turn on each other in the name of "biblical ethics" when really they just needed a helping hand. Being sinful doesn't make you a bad pastor, but letting legalism get in the way of helping your friend absolutely makes you a bad pastor.
5. Spurgeon and Edwards are not Jesus Christ-All of Us
Every seminary has a mascot. Our was the Bulldogs...or maybe it was the doves? I honestly cannot remember, but what I do remember were the unofficial mascots. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary had a few: John Piper, Charles Spurgeon, and Jonathan Edwards. You might be able to throw in George Whitefield or Tim Keller depending on who you had as a professor, but the point remains. Our professors sung their praises like nobody else. Altogether we've read more from historical pastors than we ever had to read from our Bibles. That's actual fact. Keep in mind, as you begin or search for a seminary, that though they are good to learn from, they are just men. Your ultimate authority is Jesus Christ and the Bible, so learn from them with a critical eye.
6. You can tell the difference between a pastor who teaches and a teacher who pastors-All of Us
Collectively, we've been with almost every single professor our seminary offers and there is one definitive thing we can tell you: there is a difference between pastors who teach there and the teachers who happen to pastor. Teachers who happen to pastor are academic and very into their own theology. Pastors who happen to teach care about the application of their theology and, more importantly, how you are doing as a pastor in training. This is mainly a shout out to Dr. T.J. Betts who helped all of us pass his Hebrew and Old Testament classes, but most importantly, showed us that he cared for how we were doing and how the Bible is influencing us. So choose your professors wisely.
There is a lot more that could have been written about, like which books meant the most to us or how our theology was shaped, but that doesn't really give you an insight into the actual experience going to seminary offers. These seemed to be the most important to each of us and we felt it would be the most beneficial for you.
So take these and use them as you begin your next steps into the ministry.