Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Seminary, Part II - Where Do I Go?

Yesterday’s blog was about the issue of why to go to seminary.  Today, I wanted to address the issue of where.  It’s probably a question that might have more to do with your faith background and denomination than anything else, but there are still certain things that are essential.

First of all, is the seminary accredited?  You would be surprised (or maybe not) at how many so-called “seminaries” pop out in churches.  I have not had much personal experience with these seminaries, but I have driven by and seen them before and wonder what their purpose might be.  If it is to simply train and raise up local leaders to lead within the church, I think it’s a great idea.  There are many denominations that have leadership training programs that are beneficial and are somewhat condensed versions of seminary classes.  But if you want your seminary education to be recognized, it would probably be a good idea to find one that is accredited.

Another issue that comes up when thinking about where to go for seminary is the delivery system in which your education will come.  In other words, will it be a residential program where you will have to go live on or close to campus for 3+ years?  Sometimes residential programs can be subsidized by denominations, so it’s important to check to see whether the denomination with which you are affiliated has any such kind of program.  There are some seminaries that have evening programs, allowing for people to continue to work while still going to school.  Still others have distance programs that require a few weeks of residential learning every year.  Distance programs are split to give a fairly balanced approach to students.

My program was a hybrid program created by myself as I traveled twice a year to take classes for a week, I took classes online, and I also traveled to a satellite branch of my seminary to take residential classes for 10 weeks.  I appreciated this approach for myself as I was able to take advantage of some interactions through a more traditional classroom approach but I also benefited from building relationships with a distance cohort with whom I tracked through the program.  My biblical languages were taken in classroom environments, which I thought was helpful for me.  There are options of transferring credits from other seminaries and universities if a hybrid approach is desired.

I started out with the question of “why seminary” yesterday because I think it greatly impacts the “where” question.  If someone chooses to go to seminary just to get through the denominational “red tape” that they need for ordination, their choices might be somewhat limited.  I wanted to go to a seminary where I would be challenged in my thinking and beliefs enough that I would not feel overwhelmed but not so much that I would feel that I was constantly battling orthodoxy.  I have heard of people who have deliberately gone to seminaries where they knew that they would not agree with much of the theology and ideology in order to sharpen themselves.  If I had been younger when I went to seminary, I might have been more tolerant of that approach, but I did not feel that it would have been beneficial for me in the stage of life that I was in.

I wanted a seminary that held to the essential beliefs to which I held.  I did not want to have professors who were atheists or agnostics simply because this was a theological degree that I was pursuing.  I wanted to be taught by those who held to similar beliefs.  I encountered enough fellow students who had differing beliefs, more on non-essentials than essentials, that I felt I still received a diversified education.  There were certain issues that I desired to have resolved or clarified when I entered seminary and I felt that the environment that I entered allowed for exploration enough that I was able to accomplish what I needed to accomplish.

Financial aid and scholarships were an important part of my seminary decision as well.  The seminary that I attended offered great financial aid, scholarships, and was also subsidized by a university with which it is affiliated.  That tremendously helped the cost.  I also received help from my church through their missions budget, something to consider if your church has a larger missions budget.  Between scholarships and grants every year, I received between $3000 and $4000.  Tuition alone for the seminary which I attended was roughly $12,000 per year if 8 classes were taken per year.  They are now moving to a semester system from a quarter system, but I imagine that the costs would be similar.  There are other options such as loans that can be used, I chose not to go into debt for my education as my wife and I had already paid off our college and graduate school loans.

These were the things that were important to me when choosing a seminary.  It certainly helped that I had friends who worked at the seminary and who had spoken highly of the program.  Reputation was important to me as was renowned.  I did not feel that I needed to receive an education from a prestigious institution, but I felt that wherever I went, the institution needed to be familiar or known to people that I would encounter.

I would be curious of others’ experience in choosing a seminary.  Were there other issues that seemed to rise to the top above the ones that I mentioned?  If so, I would love to hear about them.

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