What do I wish someone had told me before seminary? First, I wish someone had explained that my time would be a season of preparation in the fullest sense. To grasp this concept has taken me a few years. I had little experience with graduate level study, even less experience with writing, but most significantly I was unprepared for the kind of commitment I was making. In an ethereal, almost metaphysical sense, I had a notion that I was entering a season of necessary discipline and diligence. But I failed to grasp what that meant in the everyday grind of theological training.
I attend Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. It's an incredible institution founded on the desire to build up and prepare ministers to proclaim the name of Christ. Their credo is what attracted me first, their high academic standard second. Though I wanted to be challenged in my faith as well as in my studies, I'm not sure I understood what that would actually require. As I'm sure most seminary students would agree, studying theology, philosophy, and the biblical languages takes concerted effort and copious amounts of time. It's truly a time of intentional preparation.
When my classmates and I began seminary, many of us assumed we'd have ample opportunity to use what we were learning in everyday ministry. But this hasn't always been the case. I'm not proud of this fact; I'm just making an observation. Much like other fields of training, in ministry it's wise to build a solid foundation of learning before undertaking your first "real world" assignment. Seminary provides such a foundation. Many students have ministry positions during their time in seminary, to be sure. Even in those situations, though, it's difficult to give your all to a particular ministry while investing in the future. This by no means excuses ministry laziness while in seminary; instead, it calls to attention the need to prioritize. It's a hard choice, but one that ultimately results in a person better equipped to serve in the long run.
I also wish I'd understood before seminary that it's an investment in my future. Not some theoretical "oh that sounds nice" sort of investment, but a literal, determined, hard-fought one. Moreover, I wish someone had made clear that such educational pursuit is okay. Investing through further education is worthwhile, and no one should feel a false sense of guilt for this effort.
I believe seminary should be difficult. Most worthwhile pursuits are. Those in seminary are challenged with the prospect of ministering to others who, like themselves, are broken and need help. Rigorous training, therefore, is necessary. We expect high standards from our physicians, our accountants, and our professors; shouldn't we expect as much—if not more—from our Christian leaders?
Seminary is necessarily a time of foundational training and preparation. It sets the standard for the future. I just wish I'd recognized what it actually would—and should—require before I began.