Why Go to Seminary? Hoop, Hurdle or Vital Necessity?

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It's the time of year when students are still deciding whether to do a last-minute application for seminary. They wonder about finances. They wonder, “Is God really calling me?” They may be deeply involved in church life and even have their own fruitful ministry and wonder whether seminary is “worth it.” Isn’t seminary education just a hoop or hurdle to overcome?

In May at commencement and in June at the synod of the Christian Reformed Church, I had the honor of standing before students who went to seminary and completed that journey. What did they gain?

I keep a growing list about why seminary education is more than just helpful—it is vital for church leaders and the church. Here are three of my top reasons for attending seminary:

  1. Sermons: Everyone has one good sermon in them. It is their testimony of what Jesus Christ has done for them. But what about the second sermon or sermons at year ten in the same church? The ongoing work of message preparation is deepened by theological education and training. I still remember getting ready to preach on Sunday, September 16, 2001. That was the Sunday after 9/11, after terrorist attacks took down the Twin Towers and more. What to say in this time of tragedy was not a theoretical question. Lament and theodicy (the problem of evil in the presence of a good God) are just a couple of the biblical and theological concepts that helped frame my sermon on September 16.
  2. Facing Issues in Ministry: Everyone will face issues in ministry. Why not have a deeper understanding of how church leaders have not only faced the same or similar issues and questions, but what are some of their answers were, and what resulted? Here is an example. Grandparents will want their grandchildren to be baptized even though their children do not attend church. Grandparents want to do all they can to help their grandchildren find faith. What does this say about their view of baptism?What is your understanding of faith formation? When churches in New England allowed grandparents in full membership to bring grandchildren forward for baptism as part of what became known as the “Half-Way Covenant,” what resulted for the churches and the children?
  3. Evaluating New Ideas in Ministry: Fads come and go, but good ideas for ministry can find their footing by developing their rootedness. One of the key books that I read as a church planter was from a missionary who served in Kenya by the name of Mark Shaw. In the book 10 Great Ideas from Church History: A Decision-Maker’s Guide to Shaping Your Church, Mark Shaw surveys church history and helps place worship renewal, discipleship processes, and other topics within their historical context. It is a great book because it helps a church leader take history and bring it to bear on the current context of ministry.

Some of you who read this blog will want to add your own suggestions to this list. How about leaving a comment below or emailing me at sempres@calvinseminary.edu and adding communal wisdom to the ongoing question: What good is a seminary education? I would greatly appreciate your input. I only scratched the surface, but I hope you know I think seminary helps for the long-haul of ministry—no matter the field of ministry.

What I tell students again and again is that one of our seminary goals is not just for them to “survive” in ministry. Our desire is to help them “thrive” in ministry and part of that thriving comes from running the race with the aid that the breadth and depth that seminary education does provide—year in and year out!

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Before seminary I was doing ministry in a non-denominational, organic, young and hip group with zero budget and no ties to a building. I was living the dream that a lot of anti-seminary, anti-denominational, anti-institutional seminarians and pastors think they want. And there were some great things about it - but it wasn't nearly the dream that people like to think. I was so thankful when God called me to attend CTS! I came in with the attitude of wanting to get to know God better and understand His community of children - the Church. I was seeking for a greater filling with Christ, and I found that. The time I spent in seminary were some of the best years of my life, digging deeper into my relationships with God and with His Church everyday. I got to sit at the feet of people, past and present, who have been recognized as deeply knowledgeable, passionate, and wise about God. Yes, there is an academic structure and rigor to it all, but every relationship comes to a point where it takes an organized and intentional effort to grow. When I hear someone talk down about the importance of a seminary education I end up wondering how serious they really are developing their relationship with Jesus.

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