Not too long ago, I enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate with a friend from seminary. He graduated not long after I did, and he was telling me about how involved he was in his local church. As we were reminiscing about our seminary days, he said something that stunned me:

“I regret seminary.”

Come again? I asked him to explain.

“I don’t regret going to seminary. I regret how I went to seminary. The very things I should have prioritized, I didn’t. If I had it to do over again, I’d take a different track.”

In talking with my friend, I realized that his regrets were largely the result of his lackluster church involvement during his seminary years. I have another friend who told me that seminary was a particularly “dry” time spiritually. He admitted the tendency to substitute theology for passion.

These conversations have led me to reflect on four things every seminary student should remember:

1. Remember Your Youth

Too many seminary students act like they’ve arrived rather than they’ve been sent.

Most evangelical institutions will not accept students unless they are recommended by their church and pastor. It’s true that you may choose the seminary you want to attend, but make no mistake – you’ve been sent there. Your church has expressed confidence in your gifts, abilities, and calling. Otherwise, you’d be somewhere else.

All this means that other Christians – likely older, wiser, more mature in the faith – have sent you on this journey. You are the youngster starting this new path. Remember that. Remember that you’ve been sent by older, wiser Christians to older, wiser teachers. You have not arrived. You’ve been sent.

But some seminary students are older, right? In age, yes. But all students are younger in learning, perhaps in experience, etc. You may even be older than the person teaching you, but you are certainly younger with respect to knowledge of the subject.

So remember your youth. Whether it’s your youthfulness in age, learning, or experience, don’t forget that you’re there to learn. 

2. Remember Your Heritage

Along the lines of remembering your youth, you ought to remember your church heritage. Most people don’t get saved at seminary. They trust Christ as children in godly homes. Or maybe as teenagers in a vibrant student ministry. Or as the result of faithful preaching and teaching from a biblical expositor.

In other words, someone else somewhere else has shaped you into the man or woman of God you are. Don’t forget that.

It’s easy for students to go to seminary, fill their heads with knowledge, and come back to their home church with a superior attitude. They mock the simplistic traditions, the (seemingly) mindless activities, and the perceived shallowness of the teaching. For a moment, they forget their roots, their heritage, and their upbringing.

Seminaries don’t have to intentionally foster this attitude; knowledge can do this to you by itself. But the arrogance of forgetting one’s heritage makes for a sad seminary experience.

Don’t forget those who loved you, raised you, and cared for you. You would not be where you are apart from their influence.

3. Remember Your Soul

There’s also the temptation in seminary to feed your mind and not your soul. Now, before we make too sharp a distinction, let me further say - the way we feed our soul is often through our mind. Learning precious truths can be a thrilling and affection-stirring experience, and it should be.

But at some point, there is a tiny curve in the road – a barely noticeable turn where you replace your passion for God with passion for knowledge about God. See the subtle difference?

Now, anyone who has a passion for God should also want to have knowledge about God. But there’s a point where your theological study is no longer in service to your knowing God. It’s theology for its own sake. It’s theology in service of your grades, in service of your reputation, in service of your own intellectual curiosity. Whatever the case, if your learning about God is not driven by your desire to know God personally, your mind will expand but your soul will shrink. You’ll be consumed with ideas about God instead of God Himself.

Nothing like the local church will help you remember your soul. Stay involved. And spend some time sitting at the feet of saints who don’t have a Ph.D.

4. Remember Your Mission

Seminary is not a time for taking a break from mission. Don’t let the seminary lifestyle lead to apathy for evangelism and missions.

Education and mission go together. Why? Because theological reflection is missionary reflection. The apostle Paul did not hammer out the theology of Romans while sitting in an ivory tower. He wrote his letters as a missionary on the move. He wrote with Christians in mind – guiding and shaping their mission too.

Don’t forget your calling. You are not called to seminary. You’re called to mission, and seminary is only a step in helping you fulfill your mission.

Conclusion

The biggest danger in seminary is that in the increase of knowledge, you lose sight of the most important things. The more you know, the more you are likely to forget.

Satan would love nothing more than to transform your joy of attending seminary into an intellectual snobbery that renders you ineffective in ministry. Guard your heart against this paralyzing pride. Weeds grow next to the flowers. The flowers are blooming at seminary. The question is: will you choke out the weeds of pride in your heart or will the weeds choke out a lifetime of fruitfulness?

So don’t forget. Fight to remember. And don’t be the guy who wishes he could do seminary differently.

 

[This article was written at the request of my friends at Desiring God, in connection with this series.]

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Comments:


12 thoughts on “4 Things to Remember While in Seminary”

  1. a. w. sauls says:

    thanks. this was great.

  2. Jared Zehring says:

    You might pare this down to: “Refuse to listen any time your preconceptions are threatened or you feel personally challenged.”

    This is a license to remain unchanged both by school and by the experience of life. You don’t see anyone telling medical students to ignore their professors and play sudoku whenever their lessons conflict with something their grandmother told them about burn care. The entire point of education is personal change and broadened perspective.

    There is an injunction here about avoiding smug intellectualism, which is fine and true–but it really boils down to not being a jerk. Being a jerk recognizes no distinctions in levels of education. It’s not as if there is some critical mass beyond which education only instills arrogance. Arrogance is the condition of assuming your knowledge makes you more worthy than others; it has nothing to do at all with simply possessing that knowledge.

    Neither seminary nor education are threats to faith. They are, however, threats to ignorant and immature faith–as well they should be.

    These four points sanction willful ignorance and a faith dismissive of growth.

  3. Thanks for the post and let me add my two cents worth. Very simply, remember that hardly anyone outside the walls of seminary uses the theological words you are using right now. Therefore, remember how to speak English when you step outside the walls of your wonderful institution. What good is it to learn all these great things and they get lost in translation:)

  4. Ben Simpson says:

    All extremely helpful and wise words.

    Along the lines of your second point, I found myself leaving seminary wondering why so many of the things I had learned had NOT been taught to me within the local church. I was often upset, sometimes angry, and mostly disappointed. Why had my church, which I regarded as a wonderful community of people, failed to explain to me more fully the nature of the gospel, the implications for living, and the full richness of the Christian tradition?

    Over time, I came to realize that those things may have been taught, but I was not yet prepared to listen, nor my heart ready to receive the truths that had been offered. It was not my church that was the problem, it was me. I also came to realize all of the wonderful things I had received, and my anger, disappointment, and confusion came to be replaced by thanksgiving for Sunday school teachers and pastors, humility of spirit, and gratitude toward God for his providential guidance.

    Again, fantastic counsel.

  5. MIke says:

    Hey Travis,

    This is a great post, I would like to read a post or two about “How to remain Christian in Graduate School” for the non-seminary folks. I think many of the same struggles take place in any believer’s heart that works toward a degree. Such as:

    Drifting from the Lord, too much time in the books at the experience of family, prideful head knowledge, learning a language that the average person doesn’t know, missing fellowship because you need to study, not serving in the church because of studying…

  6. “Satan would love nothing more than to transform your joy of attending seminary into an intellectual snobbery that renders you ineffective in ministry. Guard your heart against this paralyzing pride. Weeds grow next to the flowers. The flowers are blooming at seminary. The question is: will you choke out the weeds of pride in your heart or will the weeds choke out a lifetime of fruitfulness?”

    Thank you, Trevin!

  7. A.J. says:

    It appears as though I am reading this article WAY later than its publication date, but I was very pleased. One thing that Seminarians need to realize is that Seminary is not the “real world.” Cherish your time there. Cherish the brothers and sisters you meet there. Cherish the knowledge you gain there. However, remember that there are a great number of Christians out there who don’t really care how good you are at studying the finer points of theology. Further, you will learn more about ministry by actually doing it, not sitting in a classroom taking notes or writing papers about it. Involve yourself in a church that NEEDS you, and will USE you……. You can attend the big-name Churches where all the professors are members, but chances are you won’t get many opportunities to preach or teach there. Also, you won’t always get paid or showered with recognition when you preach, teach, or minister…… If this is your expectation, you need to get out of ministry right now, because your priorities are screwed up. Go to a nursing home and ask them if you can lead a simple service there one or two Sundays a month; they are always looking for people who will take time out of their day to stimulate the residents. They will sleep through most of your sermon, and they may hum along with your singing, but preach as though you are doing it for the glory of God, and sing as though you’re doing it for the glory of God, because that’s the point anyway, right? Remember as well that ministry in the local Church should always be prioritized over and above Seminary and study. If you don’t love the Church enough to make it a priority while you’re in Seminary, then you won’t love it enough when you get done with Seminary either. Thanks for letting me put my two cents in!

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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