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I can hardly believe it’s already been 17 years since I started seminary. I remember feeling nervous, excited, and far from home. Those three years were wonderful–filled with good friends and good classes. I strongly believe that any man wanting to prepare for a lifetime of pastoral ministry should make every effort to matriculate (yes, in person) to a good evangelical seminary and commit to several years of serious study and ministry formation.

If that’s you, or will be you someday, I’m really excited for you.

I also have some advice. Here are ten things every incoming seminary student should know, consider, and keep in mind over the next few years.

1. Get involved in the local church. Star this one. Underline it. Put it in italics and don’t forget. The seminary exists to serve the church. You are in seminary, presumably, because you desire to be a servant in the church. So don’t neglect the very reason you are where you are. Find a good church. Get plugged in. Get mentored. Volunteer (and not just for teaching and preaching). If you go through seminary without pursuing deep relationships and practical ministry opportunities in the local church you are doing it wrong.

2. Take advantage of what’s there. A good seminary is an amazing place. You have experts in Bible, theology, history, languages, counseling, and preaching. Learn from them. Go to chapel. Attend special seminars and lectures. It may all feel like too much at the moment, but soon you’ll be in a church, on your own, and your weekly routine will be almost all output and very little input. Be an engaged, grateful, hungry member of your seminary community.

3. Don’t forget about relationships. One of the best parts about seminary is the people you’ll meet. You’ll labor with some of these brothers in the same network or in the same denomination for the rest of your life. Take time to get to know people. Have fun. Go out to dinner. Pray together. Make friends.

4. Have a hobby. Trust me: you’ll get more seminary work done if you don’t try to do seminary 16 hours a day. If you like running or swimming or biking of fishing or hunting or even fantasy football, don’t quit now. You need an outlet. Man does not live by Greek flashcards alone. Even Spurgeon tells us to go take a walk on the beach. Don’t be too spiritual for your own good.

5. Take a Sabbath. Is it wrong to study Calvin and read about the Great Awakening and write about the meaning of pistou Christou on Sunday? No. Is it unbiblical to think seminary students don’t need a day for rest and worship? Yes. Plan ahead. Guard your Sundays.

6. Remember, it’s just a grade. I know how important it is to you to get an A instead of an A- or, heaven forbid, something in the B range. Grades were important to me too. But they are not the measure of your worth as a Christian, or even the best predictor of what kind of pastor you will be. A higher grade is not worth ruining your family or bankrupting your personal devotional life. Work hard. Know your limits. Don’t freak out if you don’t get the highest grade in the class.

7. Your life is not on hold. This may be a season of training and preparation, but it doesn’t mean you should wait three more years to be a serious Christian or a valuable member of the church. There are good works God has for you today. There is ministry he has called you to right now. Don’t think real life starts later.

8. Be careful, you know more than most everyone in the church. If you are enrolled at seminary, you likely already know more about formal systematic theology and church history and exegesis than 90% of the people in the pews. In another few years, especially if you are at a rigorous school (like you should be!), you will have more biblical, historical, and theological knowledge than 99% of the Christians on the planet. Your job is not to impress people with your learning. You must learn to communicate in a way that is open and accessible. Stay humble. Keep it simple. The best teachers make the hard stuff easy to understand.

9. Be careful, you know much less than you think. You may have more knowledge than ever before, but that doesn’t mean your discernment, your maturity, and your real world experience have caught up with your formal training. And even your formal training is less than you think. Anyone four weeks into a doctoral program knows more than you do about a given topic.  Keep reading. Keep growing. Listen to your elders. Learn from older Christians. Don’t be haughty.

10. Find your identity in Christ. When I was in college I was the guitar playing, Calvin quoting, Greek and Hebrew studying, ministry minded, theology guy. That’s who I was. I thought I was special. Until I got to seminary and realized that my supposedly unique identity now described every single person around me. It’s easy to compare ourselves with others, especially when the others are doing the same things and pursuing the same ends. Don’t forget: we are not justified by preaching (or by our knowledge of Turretin or the size of our church or the grade we get in personal evangelism). We are called to be sheep before we are called to be shepherds. You are who you are in Christ. That’s special enough for all of us.


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10 thoughts on “Ten Words of Advice for Seminarians”

  1. The best part of being a Christian is building relationships with ordinary people in their struggles through life. Now semniary may provide a lot of theological knowledge, whats important is what you do with it. I ask myself what did Jesus or Paul do with their knowledge, they met people where they were at and ministered grace. Be hungry member of Gods community following Christ, what great privledge we have. Kevins post made me stop and think it through.

  2. Andrew says:

    Great article, thank you.
    Is a fully online degree not recommended? Can someone speak to being called to pastor later in life, with a wife and four kids, and a decade in an unrelated field? Where moving is too much, and the 8-5 job is needed to pay for all of this. A man in this situation could use some good top-ten lists too. Asking for a friend… :-)

  3. Clay says:

    As someone who has just finished seminary last May (completely online) I’ll add my $0.02 on each point. it took me about five years to complete due to work and financial constraints, but it was well worthwhile.

    1. Yes. Yes. Absolutely yes. Not only does it help you apply what you are learning, it helps to keep you humble. You don’t know everything, nor will you ever.

    2 and 3. This is where it can get tricky online. My program was completely 100% online and I never set foot on the campus until the day of graduation. If I had it to do over again, I would choose another program that required me to be on campus at least once per semester. Yes, it’s more expensive due to travel costs. Yes, it’s more time required. The lack of relationships I have after five years of seminary work is sometimes painful to me.

    4. Having a family and working full time while attending seminary doesn’t leave a lot of time for hobbies, but this is great advice. Find something else to distract from your studies. Doing something else helps to clear your mind and may even improve your output when you are working.

    5. Rest is vital. Most of my assignments were due on Sunday, so some of my weekends were filled with school work, but rest is so important.

    6. I finished with just above a 3.3 average. I’m fine with that. The church isn’t going to ask for your GPA when you preach. It’s important to do well, but not everything will be a good fit for you. My worst grade was from a course on marriage and family counseling. My wife and friends will attest to the fact that I would make a terrible counselor because I’m too blunt sometimes. I’m OK with that.

    7. I’ve preached, taught classes, lead worship, helped in children’s ministry, worked on the tech team, coached sports teams, and cleaned pews during my time in seminary. The learning is great, but the practical is so much more important.

    8. A million times yes to this. You will know more than almost everyone. That means more will be required of you than almost anyone. This shouldn’t be a hammer with which to beat people over the head with, but should be a ladel serving out of the pool of knowledge you’ve acquired. Don’t be impressive, be practical.

    9. The most humbling experience I had at our church was sitting in a teacher training one Saturday morning. I was surrounded by older people who had been teaching in the church for decades. I thought I knew so much, but some of these men made me feel stupid. It was just what I needed. These people had so much to teach me about being faithful and consistent in my own walk. My degree doesn’t compare to their life experience.

    10. Coming into seminary a little bit later in life (I started at 34) and having two other degrees already under my belt I already had my identity. I’m a programmer by trade, and that is what God designed me to be. When I graduated I wanted that identity to change, but it didn’t. As of right now I’m bi-vocational and I’m finally OK with that. I can serve my church well by using the tools I gained through seminary, and I can serve my job well by writing the best software I can which serves our customers well. Both are profitable pursuits and both have eternal value.

  4. Jim says:

    My advice would be, DON’T DO IT. Don’t waste your life. I went to Bible college and seminary then spent 15 years in ministry. When I left I had $600 and was basically homeless with a wife and three kids. I eventually got work, but was laid off three months ago. Now I have no prospectsbfor employment and no hope. My seminary degree is a worthless oiece of paper. Instead get a useful degree and pursue a career where you can provide for your family.

  5. L. A. says:

    Please consider the use of gender-inclusive language. God has called women to serve His church and become better equipped through pursuit of a seminary education. I am a woman in a “good evangelical seminary” and I found this list to be very truthful (and there was a lot of head bobbing as I read it). Spouses of seminarians would likely also benefit from this sage advice.

  6. Olivia says:

    So, is this article directed toward “…any man wanting to prepare for a lifetime of pastoral ministry…”? You go on to say that, “if that’s you,” (men preparing for ministry) you have some advice. It would go a long way to keep up with your secular, heathen peers and at least assume that some of the people reading this blog (and in this case considering seminary) are not males. In other words, there are things you can learn about loving and respecting your neighbor from people who hold to ideological views that are different from yours. Women have all kinds of reasons to attend seminary, which even some of the most conservative institutions affirm.

  7. Olivia says:

    So, is this article directed toward “…any man wanting to prepare for a lifetime of pastoral ministry”? You go on to say that, “if that’s you” (men preparing for ministry), you have some advice. It would go a long way to keep up with your secular, heathen peers and at least assume that some of the people reading this blog (and in this case considering seminary) are not males. In other words, there are things you can learn about loving and respecting your neighbor from people who hold to ideological views that are different from yours. Women have all kinds of reasons to attend seminary, which even some of the most conservative institutions affirm.

  8. I’m not a seminarian, nor do I have any aspirations due to financial constraints. But I have great respect for those who do. I find the advice you gave in this post to be applicable to anyone who take time to grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Knowledge puffs up. I love reading Christian books, I review them and I have learned a lot. But in the process, I had to learn humility, I had to learn one of the goals of theology is discipleship, I had to learn sound doctrine is best lived out not merely lectured. I believe this is not only for seminarians. Thank you for the great post.

  9. Alicia says:

    Women go to seminary too, for a wide variety of reasons. I am in my second semester of seminary right now, and loving it. We may be the minority, and trust me, we are well aware of that fact. Please don’t ignore us. God has callings on our lives too.

  10. Jims story tears at my heart. Unfortunately Jims plight is being repeated all round the western world as church numbers decline, which also includes the career path called Pastor, Minister or Priest which is also shrinking. My hope for Jim is that the same people he spent 15 years minstering to will step up to the plate and help him and his family to be secure again and offer him full time work. In relation to gender I cant find any where is scripture where Jesus discriminates against women and their roles, therefore nor should we. Seminary is for everyone if they so chose and can if they can afford it. However, like in Jims situation it may not end the way you want it to.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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