Looking back now on my own experience, by God’s grace I ended up teaching in a seminary and was able to play catch-up on the fact that my own theological education had been fairly, if not very, deficient. So, the first thing I would say is to make sure that you go to a good seminary. Unless you are very, very bright, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to catch up on what you have lost by going to a seminary that is not solidly biblical and committed to Christ. That would be my first piece of advice.
My second piece of advice is advice that one of my colleagues in seminary, who was a very brilliant man, used to give his students: don’t let your grades get in the way of your training for the ministry. It’s very easy for seminary students to be caught up in the wonders of getting good grades in theology, but I think the really important thing is that when you’re studying it, you’re getting to know God better.
You also need to know that for many students, studying is depressing. Not every student in seminary loves sitting for hours and reading books. It’s important to remember that maybe one-third, or even more, of your seminary education has to do with your fellow students. So, I would say to make sure that you make time for your fellow students and for bonding with them because those bonds you make in seminary are going to be important in future ministry.
If I pile on the advice, I would say to study as hard as you possibly can. Another thing I would say is this: don’t assume that just because you’re called to the ministry, you don’t need to learn to speak well. I find that our modern education, especially American education, focuses on having opinions and being able to express them. That’s not the same thing as having good opinions and expressing them well. To do the latter, you have to read. So, another piece of counsel would be to read more broadly than the books your seminary professors ask you to read—in other words: “Never go to bed. Don’t spend any time eating breakfast. Keep studying.” I know that’s a tremendous amount that I’ve just said, but in balance, I think those things really help us grow when we are students and prepare us for the ministry.
The other thing I should say is that seminary is three or four years. If you’re given three score years and ten, ministry lasts for a long, long time, but preparation time is very short. So, one other piece of counsel would be this: don’t rush into doing ministry when you are at seminary. Make sure that you focus on what, in a way, seminary alone can give you. Learning ministry is something that, in God’s providence, you may have another forty-five years to do, but you’re not going to have another forty-five years sitting at the feet of men who are experts in the subjects they teach.