Not too long ago, I enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate with a friend from seminary. He graduated not long after I did, and he was telling me about how involved he was in his local church. As we were reminiscing about our seminary days, he said something that stunned me:
“I regret seminary.”
Come again? I asked him to explain.
“I don’t regret going to seminary. I regret how I went to seminary. The very things I should have prioritized, I didn’t. If I had it to do over again, I’d take a different track.”
In talking with my friend, I realized that his regrets were largely the result of his lackluster church involvement during his seminary years. I have another friend who told me that seminary was a particularly “dry” time spiritually. He admitted the tendency to substitute theology for passion.
These conversations have led me to reflect on four things every seminary student should remember:
1. Remember Your Youth
Too many seminary students act like they’ve arrived rather than they’ve been sent.
Most evangelical institutions will not accept students unless they are recommended by their church and pastor. It’s true that you may choose the seminary you want to attend, but make no mistake – you’ve been sent there. Your church has expressed confidence in your gifts, abilities, and calling. Otherwise, you’d be somewhere else.
All this means that other Christians – likely older, wiser, more mature in the faith – have sent you on this journey. You are the youngster starting this new path. Remember that. Remember that you’ve been sent by older, wiser Christians to older, wiser teachers. You have not arrived. You’ve been sent.
But some seminary students are older, right? In age, yes. But all students are younger in learning, perhaps in experience, etc. You may even be older than the person teaching you, but you are certainly younger with respect to knowledge of the subject.
So remember your youth. Whether it’s your youthfulness in age, learning, or experience, don’t forget that you’re there to learn.
2. Remember Your Heritage
Along the lines of remembering your youth, you ought to remember your church heritage. Most people don’t get saved at seminary. They trust Christ as children in godly homes. Or maybe as teenagers in a vibrant student ministry. Or as the result of faithful preaching and teaching from a biblical expositor.
In other words, someone else somewhere else has shaped you into the man or woman of God you are. Don’t forget that.
It’s easy for students to go to seminary, fill their heads with knowledge, and come back to their home church with a superior attitude. They mock the simplistic traditions, the (seemingly) mindless activities, and the perceived shallowness of the teaching. For a moment, they forget their roots, their heritage, and their upbringing.
Seminaries don’t have to intentionally foster this attitude; knowledge can do this to you by itself. But the arrogance of forgetting one’s heritage makes for a sad seminary experience.
Don’t forget those who loved you, raised you, and cared for you. You would not be where you are apart from their influence.
3. Remember Your Soul
There’s also the temptation in seminary to feed your mind and not your soul. Now, before we make too sharp a distinction, let me further say – the way we feed our soul is often through our mind. Learning precious truths can be a thrilling and affection-stirring experience, and it should be.
But at some point, there is a tiny curve in the road – a barely noticeable turn where you replace your passion for God with passion for knowledge about God. See the subtle difference?
Now, anyone who has a passion for God should also want to have knowledge about God. But there’s a point where your theological study is no longer in service to your knowing God. It’s theology for its own sake. It’s theology in service of your grades, in service of your reputation, in service of your own intellectual curiosity. Whatever the case, if your learning about God is not driven by your desire to know God personally, your mind will expand but your soul will shrink. You’ll be consumed with ideas about God instead of God Himself.
Nothing like the local church will help you remember your soul. Stay involved. And spend some time sitting at the feet of saints who don’t have a Ph.D.
4. Remember Your Mission
Seminary is not a time for taking a break from mission. Don’t let the seminary lifestyle lead to apathy for evangelism and missions.
Education and mission go together. Why? Because theological reflection is missionary reflection. The apostle Paul did not hammer out the theology of Romans while sitting in an ivory tower. He wrote his letters as a missionary on the move. He wrote with Christians in mind – guiding and shaping their mission too.
Don’t forget your calling. You are not called to seminary. You’re called to mission, and seminary is only a step in helping you fulfill your mission.
The biggest danger in seminary is that in the increase of knowledge, you lose sight of the most important things. The more you know, the more you are likely to forget.
Satan would love nothing more than to transform your joy of attending seminary into an intellectual snobbery that renders you ineffective in ministry. Guard your heart against this paralyzing pride. Weeds grow next to the flowers. The flowers are blooming at seminary. The question is: will you choke out the weeds of pride in your heart or will the weeds choke out a lifetime of fruitfulness?
So don’t forget. Fight to remember. And don’t be the guy who wishes he could do seminary differently.
[This article was written at the request of my friends at Desiring God, in connection with this series.]