Monday, February 11, 2013

Seminary, Part I - Why Seminary?

Having now completed all of my requirements for graduation from seminary, I wanted to share a little of my seminary journey.  Because I like to arrange things, I figured that I would do it in 4 parts: Why Seminary, Where Do I Go To Seminary, What Seminary Degree Do I Get, and Was It Worth It.  I hope that the information might be useful to some who may have considered seminary or who might be helping others discern whether or not to pursue seminary.

My family and I moved to Virginia in December of 2007.  At that time, we were only a family of 3, now we are a family of 5.  I had left my engineering career just 3 ½ years before to work as an associate pastor in a church in North Carolina.  Things had been fairly difficult during our time in North Carolina, but my wife and I experienced many rewards through the relationships that God brought our way through the people we served.

In the 3 ½ years that I spent at the church in Asheville, I read tons of books.  Having never had gone to seminary before ordination, I felt like I had to read extra to be prepared to do some of the things that were required of me.  All the while that I was pastoring, I kept asking myself whether or not I should pursue a seminary education.

I could find plenty of reasons not to go to seminary, first and foremost was the people that I would meet there.  Knowledge is power, at least it is to some people, and when they get some of that knowledge, they act like the biggest jerks you could ever meet.  I did not want to go to seminary to meet those people and I certainly didn’t want to become one either.  I had heard plenty of stories from friends about the other students they encountered while in seminary.  My wife was one of those who told me about her own experience in seminary while getting her counseling degree.  I was fearful that my learning experience would be disrupted by the pursuit of knowledge rather than the pursuit of God.

The good thing was that nobody was telling me that I had to go to seminary.  Of course, if I wanted to be ordained within the Reformed tradition, I would have to have a seminary education and pass ordination exams.  Even though I had been ordained already, my ordination was not recognized by my church.  Don’t ask, that’s a story for another time.  But ordination was not as important to me as it seemed to be to other people, I knew who I was and how God had gifted me, did I really need the stamp of approval from a denomination to be “certified” to do what God had called me to do?

Since no one was directing me or mandating me to go to seminary, I had a lot more freedom than most people.  My main drive to go to seminary was for my own personal and spiritual benefit.  Although I had grown up in the church, I still felt like there was a lot that I could learn by pursuing a seminary education.  I wanted to go to sharpen my own knowledge and to learn as much as I possibly could.

Of course, there are certainly stigmas within Christian circles of those who are ministering and who do not have seminary degrees.  While that was on my mind, it certainly did not drive my decision to pursue seminary.  I did know that there would be repercussions and roadblocks in the future if I did not have a seminary degree, but I had been through roadblocks before, I had rarely done things the way that everyone else had, so it wasn’t as if I felt major pressure.

It seems unfortunate to me that people’s choice to pursue seminary can sometimes be driven by their own need to get ahead or advance in their careers.  I feel so fortunate that I did not let that influence me.  If a decision to pursue something comes more out of requirement rather than desire, it can diminish one’s desire to get everything out of their experience.  I would much rather do something because I want to do it rather than because I need to do it, and that probably goes for most of us.

One thing that I observed throughout all of my time in the church was that there were many pastors who had gone from high school to Bible college to seminary to a church that they pastored.  That really didn’t give them the benefit of seeing the world of the people to whom they would minister once in a church.  I felt like it was a benefit to me to go the way that I did, not that I am any better than anyone, but I feel that it helped me and gave me a different perspective.

Ultimately, I would want people’s desire to go to seminary to outweigh their need to go.  If we learn simply out of need rather than out of desire, how beneficial will that learning really be?

1 comment:

  1. I too went to Bethel out of desire...mostly out of the desire to be obedient to God. I trusted that God was leading me there, and to what end I still don't know. So the learning was out of desire (I have never checked my grades while at seminary) and not a requirement. I too love the experience God has given me, with a family and career and ministry, that I can use to build on. All the seminary training wasn't theoretical, it was practical for me. As I look toward the pastorate someday, I feel that my foundation is well-supported. (keep writing Jon - I want to hear parts II-IV)