I remember a pastor once referred to seminary as “cemetery” because “that’s where promising pastors go to die.” Like most maxims, I’m sure there was a kernel of truth in that statement somewhere. But seminary isn’t just for pastors anymore. Nor is it only for people with plans to enter into full-time, paid ministry.
People from all walks of life with all different kinds of aspirations are increasingly entering into seminary as an opportunity to work out their “callings.” What about you? Could seminary be right for you? Making that determination is as simple as taking a breath.
I think that inspiration is still the most common reason that people end up in some seminary program or another. It’s a valid one. Once you’ve identified a “call to ministry” (vocational or not), seminary is often the logical next step. This is usually accompanied by the feeling that you just don’t “know enough” about the work that God has in store for you. Many times, seminary is the right place to go acquire that knowledge.
But learning new things doesn’t need to be the only reason you might consider heading to seminary in preparation for your ministry work. The people with whom you interact in your coursework become a great source of inspiration. Many seminaries, online and traditional, are making more use of a cohort model. You enter into your seminary program with a cadre of students pursuing the same degree and you take most of your classes together. As you get to know one another, you’ll find that the bonds that form and the things you learn from one another often eclipse anything you’ll read or write.
Equally as important as the inspiration that seminary can provide is the opportunity for expiration. If you’ve been involved in ministry for any time at all, you’re well acquainted with how easy it can be to become disillusioned and jaded. Seminary can help you get rid of some of the “toxins” that may have built up over the past few years.
Having a group of people outside your immediate ministry context provides you an opportunity to process things honestly and openly. It creates a safe space for otherwise dangerous conversations. Seminary can also act as a place to sort out bad theology, poor leadership practices, and unsustainable work habits that you might not even know you have.
Seminary also allows you an important outlet to pass along what you’ve learned in ministry to others who don’t have the benefit of your years of experience. You have valuable things to contribute to the conversation. Your hard-won experience can pay dividends to those people just entering into a life of ministry-oriented work.
When you breathe, there is a little pause between your exhale and your next inhale. It’s almost a mini-death that occurs dozens of times every minute. Perhaps you are at a crossroads in your life. Big changes are on the horizon, but it’s just not clear what’s next. Something inside you tells you that God has big plans in store for you. Seminary can be a great place to patiently await clarity.
Waiting for anything is hard. But you can choose whether to take an active or a passive approach to waiting. It’s much easier to sit on your hands and wait until you have all the answers before taking a step. It’s safer that way. But we weren’t called to lives of safety, were we?
Seminary offers you the opportunity to start walking, even if you’re not totally sure about the location of your final destination. Perhaps the answer to that question lies with one of the travelers you’ll meet along the way. Seminary might not offer a map to where God’s taking you, but it can certainly serve as a compass.
Stop Holding Your Breath
Gone are the days when seminary was reserved for only for those seeking ordination and full-time pastoral jobs. Today’s seminaries are full of all types of people pursuing creative avenues of Kingdom inbreaking. Do you need a place where you can inhale, exhale, or rest? Consider seminary. Perhaps you’ll breathe easier.