How to Thrive (Not Just Survive) in Seminary
A little over eleven years ago, I began my seminary journey as a master’s student with great enthusiasm and anticipation to see what God had in store for me. After spending four years at a secular university where my faith was often ridiculed by professors, seminary was a welcome breath of fresh air. I had the opportunity to learn biblical truth from men and women with an infectious passion for the Word of God, and I got to build relationships with fellow students who shared my heart for ministry. Life was incredible!
Unfortunately, as it sometimes happens, I had a few bumps in the road, and I experienced some trouble in my little Camelot. There were a few semesters when I barely managed to survive my classes and really wanted to quit. However, there were other times when I just thrived and experienced the high of my early years in seminary. As I have begun teaching, I have started really thinking about what distinguished those difficult days in my journey. Here are a few lessons I learned the hard way – either through my own life or by watching a friend struggle –about how to thrive as a seminary student.
Don’t neglect your devotional life.
There is a danger in seminary of allowing your time with the Lord to become an academic exercise. You will have to read the Bible for class, and if you are not careful, you can view your time with the Lord as a homework assignment. When I notice myself start to struggle with this, I pray that the Lord would give me a Psalm 42 kind of hunger for Him and His Word: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God.” Pray against the temptation to make your relationship with Christ a “task” and protect your time with Him!
Do pursue excellence in your school work.
Remember that school is one of your primary assignments during this season of life. Do it with excellence – not for a grade – but because it honors our Savior. Now, excellence doesn’t mean that you will get an “A” in every class, but it does mean you will not be ashamed to present your effort to the Lord. Colossians 3:17 encourages us that “whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” That means that even parsing Greek verbs in a homework assignment can be done for His glory!
This area, more than any other, was a struggle for me. Procrastination often robs you of the opportunity of learning everything God may have for you in a class. Instead of really digging into assignments to see what God wants to teach you through writing a research paper or reading a book, you end up just barely getting through requirements. Noting this impact, Thomas H. Benton once wrote, “Students often postpone required readings and assigned preparations, making it hard for them to understand their classes the next day. Gradually, lectures and discussions that were once interesting start to seem boring and irrelevant, and the temptation to skip classes becomes greater and greater, especially when the classes are in the morning.” Be careful of falling into this trap!
Do be involved in some type of ministry and actively share your faith.
Now you may not be able to be as involved in ministry while in school, but if you cut this out of your life, I can guarantee you that seminary will be difficult. Involvement in ministry and evangelism adds fuel to the fires of your faith. You get reminded why you are investing your time in study in the first place. For me, investing in the lives of teenage girls in my local church has kept me grounded and reminded me of the importance of my seminary training. I was not in seminary to gorge myself on knowledge; I received my training so I could more effectively minister to those girls and others that God brings into my life. If you are not careful, seminary will turn into a very selfish pursuit. God has allowed you this time to become a workman who knows how to effectively handle His Word, and He has done this for the building up of His Kingdom. It’s all about Him!
Don’t neglect family and friends.
You cannot go this journey alone. Ecclesiastes 4:12b warns us, “…woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” Isolating yourself is a sure way to invite struggle into your journey. If you are married, make sure your family isn’t always last in line for your attention. But whether married or single, make sure you get to know your fellow classmates and pray for them regularly. Students who do this find their classes more meaningful because of it.
Do pray for the Holy Spirit to teach and refine you so that at the end of the semester you look more like Christ than you did at the beginning.
Sitting in a seminary class should change you because you are being exposed to the Word of God and it pierces to the soul and marrow (Heb 4:12). One of my most memorable classes in seminary was Biblical Theology of Womanhood with Mrs. Patterson. I came into the class not wanting to accept her position about gender roles. We had to read the entire Bible in the semester, and Mrs. Patterson faithfully proclaimed God’s truth week after week. I was miserable! I finally had to decide whether or not I was going to accept what God was clearly teaching me from His Word or whether I was just going to be rebellious and hold to my own opinion. My prayer for each of my students is not that they would have more knowledge at the end of the semester, but that they would be more like Christ because they have allowed God to mold and shape them through His Word.
Seminary is no walk in the park. It is difficult, but I truly believe that sometimes we do things to make it harder on ourselves. I pray that you will be able to look back on your seminary days as precious times of refining and strengthening. I pray that you will thrive in your journey and allow God to do all the He has planned through you during these days.