They inevitably find their way into my office, excited about God’s calling on their lives. I’ve had several conversations with people wanting advice about attending a seminary (or a similar institution). God has called them to ministry. They feel seminary will add clarity to this calling.
Perhaps. But before a seminary education can help with a calling, one must have a clear plan for seminary. After working through the spiritual aspect of someone’s calling, I typically offer practical advice. Though each person is different, I’ve summarized the highlights of what to do before deciding to enroll in seminary.
First, a seminary education is helpful but not necessary. You do not need a degree on the wall to minister to others. In fact, a healthy church trains good ministers from within, providing practical ministry experience with a solid theological foundation. Seminary can add to this training, but a formal education need not replace it. There are also other options like Church Answers University, which is a faster, more attainable, and less expensive way to receive theological education and practical ministry training (and your books are included in the price!).
If you still feel led to attend seminary, get a secular degree and a job first. I typically give this advice to young men and women in high school or college. Does God call some straight from high school to a Bible college and then to a church? Sure. Is it better to obtain a secular degree and begin honing relational skills in the workforce? I believe so for most people. Of course, many students balance this approach by getting a secular degree (such as finance) at a Christian university, which is a good option. The hard reality for many without experience in the secular workforce is difficulty connecting with people in the 9 to 5 grind (or is it 5 to 9?). A secular job not only allows someone to work through seminary, but it also forces future church leaders to interact with lost people in a workplace setting. Additionally, secular job experience gives you credibility within your congregation when you counsel them about busy schedules, bad bosses, getting fired, etc.
Regardless of when you attend seminary, start serving a local church immediately. The seminary is not a theological cocoon, slowly developing future leaders into beautiful, delicate pastoral butterflies. Ministering in a local church is messy, complicated, and relational — it involves a lot more time with people than books. You’ll never read your way to becoming a good pastor or church leader. If you’re called, then start serving now. And if you’re not willing to serve now, you’re not called.
Before you sign up for the first semester, understand your financial limitations. Ministry is more rewarding than I ever imagined — just not financially. Do not carry a load of crushing debt into your first (or second, or third) place of service. You will never freely minister while chained to massive student loans. Work days and attend night classes. Swallow your pride and be willing to receive help. It simply does not make sense to commandeer your actual ministry with a debt load that came from your ministry training.
Additionally, weigh your seminary options. With numerous programs, locations, and degrees, most likely, a seminary education exists to benefit your particular calling. Understanding what God has called you to do will help you be efficient in the classes you take. For instance, if you know God is not calling you to teach full-time, then the classes you take will be different from those whom God is leading to be Hebrew scholars.
Lastly, take the path of least resistance with the most challenging professors. Get done quickly. Pick an educational track that best matches your area of calling and can be completed in the shortest time possible. In other words, take as few classes as necessary. But in these classes, select the most challenging professors. It is better to take fewer, more intense classes than it is to fill a bunch of degree hours with easier classes. Your GPA may be lower, but your mind will be sharper.
Originally published at Church Answers.
Sam Rainer is president of Church Answers and pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church in Florida.
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