Disclaimer – I get frustrated with articles written about “all the things I never learned in seminary.” I really praise God for the time I got to spend at two great seminaries and feel they prepared me very well for ministry. This post is not intended to critique formal training, I believe in its value, but I also want to be honest about its dangers.
1. Graduation is not the end of learning – I am so thankful for the years I was able to spend in seminary, but I have learned a lot since. Seminary equipped you to some degree for ministry (some institutions do better than others at this), but most of all, it equipped you to keep on reading, studying, learning and growing. You cannot have a fresh and vibrant ministry today based on how good your Romans lecturer was back in the day.
2. Don’t treat your pulpit as a surrogate classroom – Academia has a habit of stirring a desire in some, though not all, to pursue further degrees and to aspire to teach in the classroom. I am probably right in stating that you didn’t yet get hired by the seminary of your dreams to join the faculty. Please don’t impose that aspiration on your church by turning your preaching ministry into pulpit lecturing. Create venues to train, accept invitations to lecture, but when Sunday comes, be sure to preach the Word!
3. Seminary is a glory environment, but ministry is done in the trenches – I loved my years in seminary, but it is clear that academia has the poison of human glory in its very DNA. There’s the prestige of the institution, regular praise from feedback on projects, peer competition via grades, ego stroking through certification and awards. Everyone in seminary should ponder the last verses of John 5 at least twice each day. If you are now out of seminary and in church ministry, welcome to the trenches. Ministry tends to keep its servants wounded and humble. This is probably healthier than the intoxicating glory chase of academia.
4. Education can undermine authentic spirituality – Having left the institution of learning, you probably need to detox. I am being provocative, even though I loved my seminary years. However, the human glory DNA can really undermine a close daily walk with Jesus. Our spirituality can grow sophisticated, our theology can grow heady and our Lord can seem to grow distant. Beware of plastic spirituality. Your church needs you walking closely with Jesus more than they need your great learning.
5. Pray for God to develop a loud pride radar – You may have thrived in studying languages, theology or whatever. Perhaps, post-seminary, God needs to help your character catch up with your learning. One helpful tool would be a loud radar that beeps whenever your fleshly inclination toward pride rears its head. Pray for this. And speaking of pride—don’t name-drop. You may have learned Romans from Professor Doctor Exegenius, but people probably don’t need to know that. Just give them Romans!
6. The Bible says more about the heart than a lot of academia does – Due to a potent combination of emphasizing the intellectual, mixed with some philosophical assumptions and buried in dubious exegesis, many in academia turn the biblical emphasis on the heart into a matter of cognitive processing. Good preaching, good counseling and good living all require a spirituality that is hearty, not just heady.
7. Make sure your learning closes the gap through clarity, rather than extending it through impressiveness – Watch your vocabulary as well as your attitude. Technical terminology is typically unnecessary. Grammatical and original language references are almost always unhelpful. The best athletes make their sport look easy. The best preachers don’t obfuscate.
8. Good classrooms include robust discussion, but good ministry requires Christlike love – So perhaps you formulated a watertight theological position on divorce or whatever. In church world you need to be able to lovingly shepherd real people with real pasts and real struggles. You will need the biblical basis, and you will need a heart of love and compassion.
9. Incidentally, your listeners are typically not as interested in your Bible school experiences as you are interested in telling the stories – They need to know that the Gospel works in real life, so don’t keep talking about how good it was when you were in seminary. That can seem like a bubble to those who’ve not experienced it. Instead, talk about how good God is in the midst of the life experiences you share now.
10. Own what you preach, and be owned by the One you preach about – Don’t regurgitate your class notes. People can tell. Instead, preach out of the overflow of a present day walk with Christ that is vibrant and vital. Be thankful for your seminary years, but never despise where you are now. God has brought you to this point to know Him now and spill that goodness onto others as you preach.
I am sure there are many points that could be added. I probably should have written that you should wear your learning like your underwear: It is important that you have it on, but don’t let it show. Maybe I should have nudged you to pray about paying off any education debts. But I ran out of points. What do you think should be included here?