In January, David Mathis and Jonathan Parnell at Desiring God Ministries began a series of blog posts titled “How to stay Christian in Seminary.” When I saw the title of their series, I was immediately intrigued. While to some the title of their series might seem a trifle presumptuous, it is precisely the sort of title that will hopefully catch the attentions of current seminary students and those entering seminary. Theirs is an appropriate concern, for they have rightly recognized the many dangers, toils, and snares that exist along the journey through seminary.
Last week, David Mathis and Jonathan Parnell contacted several of us and asked if we would be willing to write a blog post for their series, which has the following stated goal:
The goal is to get this topic out there so that those in seminary, or considering seminary, would see this unique season as one of amazing potential growth—and so that they wouldn’t get caught off guard and end up “going backwards,” so to speak, in their Christian lives. We’re under the conviction that this season of theological training has an amazing impact on future ministry. By touching on this topic, we‘d love to serve seminarians now for the good of the church tomorrow.
This is precisely the sort of intramural ministry work that needs to be done for the church, and I am grateful to have been asked to contribute some thoughts on this crucial matter.
Satan Is At Work In Seminaries
Seminary is an academic graduate school, indeed, but, more fundamentally, it is a training institution for those who believe they have been called by God to give the entirety of their lives to fulfill the Great Commission—at whatever cost. It should be no surprise, then, that it’s in the seminary where our enemy is seeking someone to devour, accuse, and deceive. Having blinded the minds of unbelievers, we know that Satan and his minions are constantly waging war against professing Christians, and that they are often hardest at work against those who are daily engaged in the spiritual battle of heralding the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ to a dark world. And where best to work but among those who are in training to tear down the devil’s strongholds?
Many men who enter seminary are leaving the comfort and immediate support of their families, friends, mentors, and churches, and they are heading into a world that is far more dangerous than they realize, with far more at stake than they ever could have imagined, namely, their souls.
Nevertheless, we are confident that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world, and if God is for us, none can ultimately stand against us. And if a man enters seminary only later to deny the faith once delivered to the saints, then it is better for him and far better for the church that he leave the seminary and the ministry altogether so that he not lead any of God’s children astray and receive a much greater sentence than a mere millstone around his neck, for we know that teachers will incur a stricter judgment.
30 Things to Remember in Seminary
A few days ago, my brother Trevin Wax wrote a very helpful piece for this same series titled “Four Things To Remember in Seminary,” and borrowing from his theme of things to remember in seminary, I offer the following thoughts, in no particular order, to the end that my brothers in seminary and all believers training for ministry at whatever level and for whatever ministry purpose might find some of my comments helpful and reflect on these points and pray that the Holy Spirit would grant them wisdom and humility and that He would guard their souls and instill within them a mind for truth and a heart for God.
1. Remember why you’re in seminary—God's glory, God’s kingdom, and God’s name, not your own.
2. Remember the beautiful simplicity of the gospel of Jesus Christ and your need to grow in dependence on the Lord with a more biblically doctrinally rooted childlike faith.
3. Remember the Great Commission, and let it constantly be at the forefront of what motivates you and focuses your studies, your discussions, your research papers, and your prayers.
4. Remember your pastors and mentors, and speak with them and pray with them as often as possible, finding in seminary not just that one ultimate mentor but many men from whom you can learn—ordinary, local-church pastors, elders, deacons, and godly, wise older men.
5. Remember your frailty and live dependently and in community, not as an independent lone ranger who's too busy and too smart to be authentically connected to others in the church.
6. Remember the biblical qualifications for elders and set your heart on those, not the superficial qualifications of men.
7. Remember your role as a student, who is never above his professors, and always show respect to them, don't unnecessarily criticize them, pray for them, and thank God for them as those who keep watch over your souls.
8. Remember that your professors aren’t perfect, and be Berean-like in your study of Scripture never allowing any professor, no matter his degrees or books, to demythologize your faith.
9. Remember the church, which is the foundation and fountain of your training for the sake of the church, the covenant people of God. Be committed, be involved, and be the man in the church while you are in seminary that you hope to be in the church when you are out of seminary.
10. Remember that you’re not training to be a glamorous superstar in the entertainment industry but a servant who sacrifices himself, his interests, and his dreams daily for the sake of God and God’s people.
11. Remember that seminary isn’t a sprint, it’s a three-to-five-year-long marathon, and, generally speaking, the longer you take, the more deep will be your learning and the more thorough will be your training.
12. Remember that the Bible is not just one of your textbooks, it is your wellspring of daily life-giving water by the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit.
13. Remember that going to seminary in and of itself doesn’t make you holy, but, by God’s grace, it should. Growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ will, by necessity, bring you to your knees in repentance, faith, and authentic holiness.
14. Remember to keep yourself from the idols of a big ministry, a big church, a big name, and all the pomp and circumstance of a you-driven ministry.
15. Remember to redeem the time and to work hard in seminary recognizing that you’re not college boys anymore who can waste your time away with daily pick-up basketball games, hours at the gym, and weekends around the television filled with watching every possible game.
16. Remember that seminary is easy compared to the daily life of fulltime ministry. Though you may not believe it, seminary life is fun and simple comparatively, so be diligent and disciplined in your studies and your training.
17. Remember the Lord’s Day and remember that God made for us to worship, rest, relax. Work well so that you might relax well, play well, and rest well. Schedule and keep regular times for community and fraternity with other men.
18. Remember that not everyone is in seminary for the same reasons that you are; thus remember not to unnecessarily compare yourself with your fellow students, as God may use and gift them differently in His kingdom than He may use and gift you.
19. Remember that seminary only partly prepares you for ministry. Though it is an important part, you also need to be involved in the community, in the church, and at home.
20. Remember that seminary is foremost a time to learn how to learn. It’s a time to learn how to study and where to study, so don’t be discouraged by everything you forget and all you discover you don’t know.
21. Remember that seminary exposes you to the beautiful breadth of biblically founded theology throughout the ages of church history, which should inform your understanding and tone in how you engage with brothers in the church with whom you disagree.
22. Remember not to develop your theology based on how much you like your professor, his teaching style, or his grading, but be discerning and as objective as possible as you establish what you believe, not by stacking up the number of respected scholars on two sides of a theological debate, but by studying to show yourself approved by God.
23. Remember your wife and family as your first responsibility, not just to keep yourself from divorce or to keep up all appearances of happiness for the sake of your ministry but to show forth the gospel in your marriage by sacrificially loving your wife and authentically loving her as Christ loved the church. Don’t ever make a particular hour of study seem more important than helping your wife do the dishes. For what does it profit a pastor, if he gains the whole church yet loses his family?
24. Remember to keep your eyes fixed on Christ, who is the author and finisher of your faith and who will always sustain you in His calling upon your life, thus put your trust and your future in His care, not in your own abilities, intelligence, or degrees.
25. Remember you’re not there to learn how to be a self-kingdom-networking-pragmatic-political opportunist but a principled shepherd of souls.
26. Remember that you are not training to be a master over men or a master of divinity, but a shepherd-servant of men and a steward of God who daily kneels and swears fealty to the Lord and ultimate love of his life.
27. Remember that pastoral ministry revolves around two overarching callings—the ministry of prayer and the Word, thus give yourself over to prayer and the Word—not just to read and talk, but to listen, meditate, and commune, and not just have said you did, but for the sake of our own soul.
28. Remember that the Holy Spirit is your ultimate teacher, advocate, counselor, comforter, and friend, so lean upon Him mightily for your strength amid strength and weakness, confidence and fear, and He will always bear you up and lift up the light of His countenance upon you.
29. Remember that you’re not in seminary primarily to get a degree but to learn how to and what it means to feed sheep, wash feet, and die to self.
30. Remember your first love.
Finally, may we always remember the words of Count Nicolaus von Zinzendorf (1700–1760), and may his words help to define our ministries: “Preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten.”