8 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before Seminary

Editors’ Note: This is the second in a series of brief articles from students and graduates answering the question, “What do I wish someone had told me before seminary?” Previously:


When I started seminary in 2009, I didn’t know anybody who had done it before and was too thick-skulled to ask for advice. So while I think the following advice is worthwhile for anyone considering or already in seminary, I was slower to learn most of it than I care to admit.

1. Serve in a local church.

Bruce Ware, one of my professors, says theology is meant to go from your head to your heart to your hands. In other words, in addition to increasing your love for the Lord (or, because it increases your love for the Lord), your theological education should benefit others. It’s wise, then, to find a local church where you can give of yourself and ensure your hands are keeping up with your mind. Don’t just find a church where you have a chance to teach; look for opportunities to visit the elderly and sweep the floors, too.

2. Read the Bible.

The Bible will sustain, convict, humble, nourish, and strengthen you even when nothing else can. God’s Word will compose the content of your ministry, so make it a priority to regularly read, memorize, pray, and meditate on the Scriptures.

3. Prioritize your marriage.

If you’re married, the last thing you want is to leave seminary with a degree and a shaky marriage as souvenirs. Faithful home leadership is a qualification for church leadership (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1), so, brothers, love your wives and remember that a husband goes home not to be served, but to serve.

4. Exercise and sleep.

Students spend a lot of time sitting on their tail, so it’s important to get up and burn some calories. I was more energetic and engaged in the classroom when I exercised regularly. It may seem like a poor use of time, but it’s not. The same goes for the occasional 15- to 20-minute nap.

5. Beware of cynicism and arrogance.

In other words, get over yourself (Rom. 12:3). Flee any temptation to look down your nose at church members who don’t spend their free time reading theology or whose prayers are too profoundly simple for you to appreciate. In Dangerous Calling, Paul Tripp wisely observes that Christian maturity is about what you are, not what you know.

6. Find out which professors to take.

Get to know someone a little further down the seminary road and find out from them which professors to take for each class. It’s also wise to find one professor worth emulating and then take a bunch of his classes.

7. Learn the languages.

You can grow in your ability to preach, counsel, and understand theology after you finish seminary. The chances are slim, however, that you will improve your language ability after you graduate. So dive into Hebrew and Greek during this most optimal time of your life.

8. Study hard and take the hard classes.

Your future flock deserves better than a pastor who did as little as possible to graduate from seminary. To quote my high school track coach: “Nobody said it would be easy; nobody said it would be fun. Now get after it.”

  • T. Wehrle

    Excellent article.
    Crisp. To the point.
    This is a great one to read before seminary & before -each- semester…

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  • David Hoffelmeyer

    Really good stuff. For me personally, the eating well, resting, and exercising part has probably been the hardest. Bible reading has been tough as well at times. However, during my 20 minute commute to school, I’ve been able to listen to the Bible, which has been a helpful way to make the best use of the time. I’ll read this again before the next semester starts at Covenant!

  • http://seminariesandbiblecolleges.com Matthew Knapp

    This is all too true, unfortunately. In my last year at seminary, I wish I knew this the first year.

  • http://Propreacher.com Brandon

    For me, the biggest ones are reading the Bible, Marriage, and Excercise. It is so easy in seminary to get caught up in all the reading, papers, and other work that we faile to take care of ourselves spiritually, relationally, and physically. Great post. Everyone in seminary (or bible college) should read this!

  • http://veritasdomain.wordpress.com/ SLIMJIM

    My biggest problem was exercise and sleep. But good list!

  • Mike

    The biggest one that is often overlooked is

    “Do not take to many classes.”

    If you overload on courses, no matter what you do in the other areas, life is going to be crazy. Hard is one thing, but overboard is another.

  • http://bcaskins.wordpress.com B.C. Askins

    How about this one?

    9.) Get a real job.
    Not one at the seminary. Or the library. Or the church. Lace up some boots, get your hands dirty with some other sinners, and don’t ask your wife or other relatives to earn your living for you. You’ll value your education more when you’ve had to sweat for it for yourself. And once you can explain “infralapsarianism” to the guy helping you dig that ditch or mop that floor, then maybe you’ll be (academically) fit for a pulpit. Maybe.

    • Chuck

      MAN, I wish there was a like button here B.C. I am a part-time (as in ‘maybe I’ll finish in the next ten years if I’m lucky’) student who has been working in the rebar industry off and on for the last six years. It has given me a vastly different perspective than that of the classroom- on work, on pastoral care, on communication, etc. While I am anxious to be in full-time ministry, I think I have a better grasp on these things than I could have any other way.

    • Ethan

      True B.C., but the problem is that churches, presbyteries, etc., should be helping foot the bill for future pastors. It’s absolutely ridiculous that I’m supposed to:
      1) Take courses
      2) Do all the reading, papers, etc.
      3) Work part-time job(s) [I’ve worked about 8 or 9 different ones during my time at seminary
      4) Maintain spiritual disciplines
      5) Do ministry, evangelism, etc.
      6) Spend time with family

      #6 should be the top priority, but it sadly finds it’s way to #6 at times.

      • Andrew

        Ethan, take your 6 steps and apply it to a regular college degree. I was a student with a wife and a child working a full time job. I find it a little hypocritical that pastors think their education should be paid by people with “regular” jobs. I completely agree with B.C.

        • Authan

          Andrew, I could not agree more, both with you and with B.C. I too completed my undergraduate degree while working full time in a factory, and without neglecting my wonderful wife or opportunities to serve in our church. I am now continuing my education in the exact same way. I’m no different than anyone else, and I’m certainly not above the rest of the blue-collar guys I work with. This path isn’t always easy. In fact, sometimes its extremely hard, and if I were simply following my own plans, I probably would have quit years ago. However, I know that God has laid certain things on my heart for a reason, and that He has always been faithful to see me through even the toughest days. Any would-be pastor who thinks they are entitled to an easier path than the flock they plan to lead is unfit for ministry and should really step back to rethink and pray through some things.

          • Daniel


            I’m really not trying to be a smart alack here, nor am I trying to enter a debate. I just want to maybe make a point that can perhaps soften your heart with regard to this issue.

            Perhaps you have not considered the difference between your education and a pastor’s education. Your education is a financial investment. It means you labor (diligently and honorably as you are!) to pay for your education, but in return you hope for a higher salary to someday make it worthwhile.

            Unfortunately, pastors don’t have that same financial security. Eight years (4 undergraduate + 4 seminary) of education to pay for just to be your pastor–and your church will not even pay him well (probably), but he won’t complain. Would you go to school for eight years majoring in something as financially promising as Flower Arrangement Studies? Your analysis was perhaps a bit too shortsighted. The typical seminarian already has undergraduate student debt, and he is plunging to accumulate more debt without any prospect to pay it off later. Especially in small churches (which is most of America), entering the pastorate just turns out to be a vow of poverty. If the church won’t help him, who will?

        • Josh

          I agree with Andrew. God did not call me to the pulpit, He called me to the bar (the legal profession, that is). Was I not expected to do Ethan’s list while in law school and college? I think it’s good preparation for pastors to get to the ends of their ropes in seminary, just like it is good lawyers to do the same in law school.

          Also: just like law students don’t earn fees like real, live lawyers (who get their J.D. and sit for the bar), maybe seminarians don’t earn support until they become real, live pastors (who have earned their M.Div. and get ordained). Just thinking out loud.

          • Hodge

            Unfortunately, all of your problems are with God, who commanded you to support the ministry and His ministers. You get out what you put in. If you want an overloaded seminary student who can’t reflect on what he’s going to teach you in the pulpit watching over your souls then that’s your prerogatives. It’s just a disobedient one.

            • Josh


              Thanks for the attempted guilt trip, but I do support the Lord’s ministry and His ministers — with my time and energy as a lay participant in the ministry of my local church and with my money. My argument is that seminarians should go through the rigors of post-graduate education like folks in other disciplines. I don’t see any merit to the argument that seminarians are somehow entitled to an easier educational path than Christians called to other disciplines. In my opinion, such an attitude reflects a grossly inflated sense of self-importance, which is something that we all must be broken of — particularly pastors prior to taking a pulpit.

              Also for the record, I dispute the proposition that I need seminary student to “watch over my soul” — whatever that means.

          • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

            Hi Josh, Speaking from my experience, if an M.Div. student does the degree in three years (the minimum) and tries to do his best, he’ll have many 17 hour days. I think that’s a pretty heavy load.

  • Sarah

    Thanks so much for this article Matt! I am encouraged and see that their is great take-away in these 8 things not only for seminary prep, but also for life and walking with the Lord.

  • Matt Svoboda

    Interesting… my advice would be “do what you need to do to graduate while you put all of your effort into serving the local church and learning how to actually lead.”

    I believe way to many Seminary students spend way to much time in their seminary books and way too little time loving people in a local church and learning how to actually lead people.

    Very few young pastor fail because of lack of Bible knowledge. A ton of them fail because they have no idea how to love and lead people. They have no idea how to preach to people, not at them. They have no idea how to deal with conflict without pretty much saying, “This is what the Bible says, deal with it.” Shepherding and Leadership need to be learned with hands, not just heads.

    Overall, great article. I think you and I value a few things a little differently (languages, how much time to put towards books), but are very much on the same page in most areas.

    • http://mattpdamico.wordpress.com Matt Damico

      Matt, thanks for your feedback.

      I agree that people should be involved in ministry while in seminary and that there are skills only learned on the job (hence #1), but I do think there’s value in devoting time to study and preparation. And I don’t think there’s necessarily a dichotomy between loving people and devoting time to study; being faithful in your studies and making the most of them can actually be a way to love the people to whom you minister, either presently or in the future. I think Billy Graham said that he wished he’d preached less and studied more!

      Thanks, again, Matt. God’s blessings on your ministry!

  • http://bcaskins.wordpress.com B.C. Askins

    Let’s round it out the list to 10, shall we?

    10.) Don’t biblically disqualify yourself as an elder in order to academically qualify yourself as a professional minister.

  • Dane Hays

    Great article, Matt. As a fellow student at SBTS, I can tell you speak from experience, and I thank you for your work in this challenging article.

    I would, however, push back on the following statement:
    “You can grow in your ability to preach, counsel, and understand theology after you finish seminary. The chances are slim, however, that you will improve your language ability after you graduate. So dive into Hebrew and Greek during this most optimal time of your life.”

    While it’s true that many of us will not pick up our BDAG for a while once we get into the pastorate, counseling and preaching are skills that are acquired after lots of hard work. As a biblical counseling major, I’m thankful for the hours that I’ve spent in the classroom being observed by professors who are more seasoned than I, who can tell me how to better communicate biblical truths across the coffee table to those who are hurting. I think it’s dangerous for a seminary student to focus on languages at the expense of failing to learn how to do the work of the ministry.

    I’m not saying that you shouldn’t work hard to learn the biblical languages, I’m just saying that ministry of the Word (public or private) is a skill in a similar way to biblical exegesis. Why not do this hard work under skilled professors before we are faced with our first major pastoral crisis on week one? Thankfully, at 90+ hours, most MDiv’s afford us the opportunity to do both!

    • http://mattpdamico.wordpress.com Matt Damico

      Thanks for the encouraging word, Dane.

      I think we generally agree. Languages are best improved in the classroom and study, and counseling and preaching are best improved by practice. I certainly agree that counseling and preaching classes are important and worth focus –I benefitted a lot from those classes – but those skills will likely improve over the course of one’s ministry in a way that the languages won’t. Also, I don’t think there’s a dichotomy between learning the languages and doing the work of the ministry. If a guy will preach regularly, then careful preparation in the languages is part of his ministry.

      Thanks again, Dane!

    • Calvin

      Dane, I agree 100% there is an undertone of arrogance surrounding the biblical languages in Bible Schools/seminary’s. The truth is that there are plenty of great resources (commentaries, logos, word studies ect) to help fill in some of the language gaps for pastors when needed. I would rather have a pastor who can counsel, disciple, and is a great preacher who may not have the languages down pat over a language expert who became one at the expense of preaching, discipleship and counseling all day!

      Ministry is not glorified Bible study, it is ministering to people in practical and tangible ways!

    • http://bcaskins.wordpress.com B.C. Askins

      “I think it’s dangerous for a seminary student to focus on languages at the expense of failing to learn how to do the work of the ministry.”

      I think this is a false dichotomy, Dane. The languages are simply one aspect of learning how to do the work of the ministry. To focus on any one aspect to the detriment of the others is dangerous. That means if you focus on *biblical* counseling, but can’t read the Bible, you’ve got a problem.

      • Dane Hays


        I understand your point, and it is well taken. I do not wish to exclude learning biblical languages as “work of the ministry.” Perhaps I should have said “practical outworking of the ministry.”

        My larger point, which I fear isn’t being considered, is that seminary is an important time to learn various aspects of the ministry, and preaching/biblical counseling/evangelism/etc. shouldn’t be excluded for the study of biblical languages.


  • Ross Bebee

    One thought…

    It won’t be easy. But it WILL be fun (seminary & ministry). Now, get after it!

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