Seminary is an exciting time. God has probably done some incredible things in your life to lead you to the point of wanting to study and prepare for further Christian ministry in a formal setting. When I came to seminary I was so excited to finally meet the authors of my favorite theological texts and learn God’s Word as my primary daily task.
However, within a few months I was startled at the number of students who were leaving the institution with or without degrees in a daze. Some left with great purpose unto the mission field, into a church planting project or serving in the local church. But a zombie-like hoard also wandered out of the seminary doors into prolonged (even multi-year) spiritual funks. Assuming that spending time in the Word and in prayer are non-negotiables, here are six ways to not get lost in the haze of seminary and to keep your passion for ministry alive:
1. Do not stop doing things you once did when you first loved Jesus.
You are probably in seminary because you had ministry experience where God used you powerfully and ignited a passion in you. So why stop because you have to read more?
You love the poor? Find a place to join what God’s doing in your new town. You minister to college students? Plug in as volunteer with your local church in this capacity or latch on to a campus ministry. Want to be a counselor? Find an internship to grow, observe, or a ministry to start investing in. You preach? Shadow a preacher.
You may switch roles (for example, once a youth leader and now a lead pastor after seminary) but in seminary, make sure you fan into flame the desires God has already given you and never lose your first beautiful steps of obedience to your calling. God will use your current passions to cultivate your future work.
2. Do not believe this lie: Your primary ministry is preparation in this season.
Too often I hear this as justification to drop all sorts of responsibilities. I hear fathers and husbands using this as a reason to seclude or over-schedule themselves. Chatting on campus is not as important as playing with your children. Sometimes it’s men and women refusing to take on consistent volunteer roles in the local church. Or perhaps it’s debt piling up or students asking for government assistance over getting a part-time or even full-time job. Seminary is a privilege, not a visa to skip out on your God-given responsibilities.
3. Be a blessing, not a burden, to your local church.
Remember you are passing through town and the local church’s primary goal is not just raising you up for ministry. The local church isn't a problem, but a proving ground. Your pastor should be thanking God you are there, not having to answer to your gripes, critiques, or pleas for more stage time. Remember, if you are in seminary you probably have many opinions and little church responsibility. Therefore, don't give into the temptation to speak hastily or foolishly. Listen first, serve second, and speak when asked. Missing out on community and character growth in a local church is the quickest way to lose your way in ministry calling.
4. You are not a sound bite or a position. You are a person whose God is Jesus.
Complementarian or egalitarian, one to five points of TULIP, baptism modes and church government are important, but your Twitter handle should not read: “Reformed, Complementarian, Congregationalist.” When we start defining ourselves by doctrinal distinctions, we lose touch with our reality as people. Self-righteousness billows in the heart that wants to be right more than righteous. Worse, when we love our own labels, we tend to treat other people as labels instead of people who need the love of Jesus. This is a great way to lose your love for others. When it comes to theology: have convictions, be generous, humble yourself, and stay curious. You are more than a doctrinal stance; make sure you are the aroma of Christ, not the stink of seminary.
5. Be friends with unbelievers and don’t get caught up in the fuss.
Do not live on campus, have campus job, and load down with classes. You will find yourself so far in a Christian bubble that you may never get out. Whenever you feel like you are chasing a campus popularity contest or entering the rat race to publish or be a certain teacher’s favorite, remember: no one cares. Globally? There are two billion Chinese and Indian people who couldn't care less. Don't believe me? Walk up to a dozen American millennials and ask who John Piper is and watch them stare at you. Being friends with unbelievers keeps your awareness of the priorities and realities of life apart from Christ front and center. Love your neighbor and your calling will be crisp.
6. Have a plan and stick to the plan.
Seminary is not college. Seminary is difficult, expensive, and time consuming. Seminary is graduate school. You are further preparing for future employment. You must make a plan on what degree to pursue, your finances, and how fast you should take classes. If you are married with family, then jetting through coursework is probably wise. If you are single with some disposable time and income, maybe slower is better. If you feel young for your calling, perhaps working at a church or gaining secular management experience might be wise while you take classes on the side. But one of the easiest ways to get lost in the fog is to push too fast with no realistic job opportunities waiting on the other side of graduation or study too slowly and forget why you are there. Every path through seminary will be unique, just make sure you are prayerfully thinking through yours with older mentors. If you get off track, don't be surprised if you find your calling and seminary’s role becoming murky.
Seminary is extremely challenging. But the challenges of seminary can equip you and purify your passions and motives. Apply your heart to your coursework. Own your graduate school experience. Pursue and plan for your degree, grow in passion, develop character, bless your local church, and live a life of mission. Don't get lost in the hype, and live with purpose before our God.