Practical Advice for Seminary Students (by Kevin Schaub)

Kevin is the Director of Family and Youth Ministry at FBC Durham, and this post originally appeared at that church’s website. 

As a young pastor, I would like to write a simple word of encouragement and advice to young, developing future leaders. Perhaps you are an under-30-something seminary student, and you’re excited and can’t wait to be a pastor. What practical advice might help you? The following are six things that have come to my mind over the years as I have aspired to be a pastor—nothing really groundbreaking, just helpful reminders.

1. Don’t rush it

 

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a pastor while not yet being one. In 1 Timothy 3:1, Paul writes, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” However, Paul also mentions things like: “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (3:6). Even for the role of deacon service, Paul writes that one must be “tested” first (3:10), and there is no reason to think that similar testing should not happen for an aspiring pastor as well.

Also, keep in mind that aspiring for the role of pastor does not guarantee that you’ll get to serve in that role, and for most of us, there is a need for a season of preparation prior to serving in that role. That season of preparation is what should mold together the inward call of the individual to pastoral ministry and the local church’s eventual confirmation of that call upon the evidence of that individual’s qualifications and spiritual maturity.

2. Be an active church member

 

Be sure to take church membership seriously. If you’re not already involved in a local church, you need to get involved. Don’t expect to be ready to be a pastor anytime soon if you’re not already an active member of a local church. The healthier a church is (i.e., the more it cares about doctrine, church membership, missions, discipleship, and etc.), the more helpful and fruitful your time of preparation under its care will be.

3. Don’t expect a leadership role right away

 

For seminary students moving from their home church to another church near the seminary, there is sometimes the tendency for some to show up at a local church with an expectation to be teaching a Sunday School class or leading a small group within no time. Usually, however, healthy churches just won’t plug new guys in right away. The leadership at good churches will want to get to know you first, to see your spiritual maturity and ability to handle God’s Word in everyday conversation. Don’t worry; it’s not a knock on your character or abilities. Rather, it is a demonstration of their serious commitment to shepherding their flock well.

In other words, while you’re in seminary, if you are at a local church for a year before you are asked to lead a Bible study, then that might be a good thing. It might show that your local church takes ministry and shepherding seriously, which might mean that it’s a good place for you to learn the ropes, while being discipled and developed by a group of godly men.

4. Be a student of the Word

 

In addition to the above, be careful not to neglect your studies as you prepare for pastoral ministry, especially your study of God’s Word. Many young men who feel called to ministry are prone to get so excited about reading the latest hot book off the shelves that they risk neglecting their time spent learning from God’s Word itself.

Of course, I think all of us need both, but we need the Bible more than any other book. If you’re a seminary student, keep in mind that one day you will be done as a student at school, but you will never be done as a student of God’s Word, whether you are called to pastoral ministry or not. While you are at seminary or Bible college, make the most of your studies by learning as much as you can; create good habits of study that will last you the rest of your life. However, be sure to read the Word, study it, pray for the Lord to make it increasingly clear to you, that you might see it implanted deeply in your heart.

5. Take care of your soul and your family

 

Don’t neglect to take care of your soul and your family in your days of preparation. One of the great benefits of spending time in the study of God’s Word is that it should have a positive influence on your spiritual growth and your role as leader of your family. And these aren’t things that you can simply switch on once you’re in pastoral ministry.

Many of the qualifications for elder listed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 have to do with character; for example, he must be above reproach, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, not a drunk. By the Lord’s help, you need to care for your soul now, and make it a habit for the rest of your life. And, of course, the care for your soul happens best within covenant membership in a healthy local church.

6. Trust the sovereignty of God in your preparation time and waiting

 

Don’t forget to trust in the sovereignty of God along the way, and don’t try to manipulate things while you wait. It seems so obvious, but it needs to be said. There are many ways in which you can “work” your way into becoming a pastor, but most aren’t helpful. I’m sure there are many churches out there that would love to have a young man fill their pulpit and shepherd their souls, and that may be exactly what the Lord wills for you. But, should that opportunity come your way, I would encourage you to talk with your elders and other godly men and women in your church, and ask them whether they think you are ready. And ask them to be as honest as they possibly can.

If you are truly called and truly ready, then a healthy church will confirm that calling, and the Lord will place you in that role of ministry, all when the time is right.

Comments

    • kschaub says

      Brother, my Mom and Dad weren’t even married yet! I came into the world kicking and crying in 1982. ;-)

      • Dave Miller says

        Ignore Breland and stop making excuses.

        I severely violated about 3 or 4 of these. I rushed things – my goal at one point was to get my doctoral studies done by age 25. Then I started having kids and that changed! Never did get it! I wish I hadn’t rushed things.

        I focused on my academic studies to the exclusion of personal spiritual growth and such – becoming something of an arrogant theological egghead.

        Made lots of mistakes.

        • kschaub says

          Hey Dave, if it makes you feel any better, I do have about a dozen gray hairs in my beard. I’m also handing out some of this advice as one who learned a few of these the hard way. I am very thankful for the men who’ve mentored me over the past 12 years or so, and I’m also thankful for the experiences I’ve had along the way—some of which have served as painful lessons, but good lessons learned nonetheless.

          One of the best lessons I learned along the way was that (1) if I truly had an inner call from the Lord to pastoral ministry, then (2) a good, healthy church would invest in me, and (3) confirm that calling when the time was right by calling me to serve as a pastor/elder. There are some different ways where the same principles can be worked out, but overall, I think it’s a pretty good indicator of call and readiness.

          Thanks again for letting me post this!

  1. Greg Buchanan says

    Nice list.

    If I may suggest another, specifically about seminary classes:

    – Be open minded to learning new perspectives; either your beliefs will be confirmed, they will be taught in a new way and now you will understand better, or you will be challenged to grow, change, or hold firm. Don’t take a different point of view personally.

    My theology professor and both my OT & NT professors would throw curve balls as far out as down right heresy (i.e. repackaged Arianism) to spark conversation about the implications and applications of our beliefs.

    It was amazing the number of students who, because they were offended, missed the opportunity to counter and/or defend Arianism or Emergent theology for the sake of understanding HOW they arrive at incorrect conclusions. In each instance after the discussion, the professors would always state they didn’t believe their own propositions and that they were trying to stretch our understanding and our ability to apply scripture in an apologetic fashion. But many missed an opportunity to learn and grow beyond their own theology upon arriving at seminary.

    I often wondered what those folks really learned while at seminary besides some public speaking skills and how to write 30 page papers :)

    • Dave Miller says

      Howard Hendricks warned us not just to read books that agree with our viewpoints – “that will only reinforce your prejudices.”

      There is great value in what you say.

  2. says

    Learn lots, read lots, but more than that:

    Take one fewer class if need be and make a few friends.

    Seriously.

    Because when I left seminary, fell out, really, due to various issues, no one noticed, because no one knew me. When I went back, people asked why I hadn’t been at new student orientation–people I had been in classes with a little over a year before. At that time, my ego made them the stuffy ones that didn’t care, but that’s not what it was. It was me, really, trying to learn fast and in isolation.

    You’re not there just to learn. Do not confuse seminary with gathering information. If you are worth anything as a minister, you’ve been trying to gather information, and you will never stop learning–but you have few concentrated times to build relationships. Don’t wait until you’re a grouchy blogger who only makes friends through the blog world–you may not be as fortunate as I have been and find any.

    Seminary (or whatever other structured study/internship program you’ve got) is a time to gather information while building relationships. Build relationships, learn languages, develop thinking skills–then you can more readily fill any gaps left between what class did not cover.

    • Jeff says

      I wholeheartedly agree about making friends during seminary. Unfortunately, the only friends I have from seminary are the ones I already knew before we went there together. I spent most of seminary commuting from a neighboring state (taking classes 2 days a week) so I could work on staff at a church near my hometown. If I could do it over, I would have moved into married housing near campus and invested in being a “regular” member of a local church.

  3. kschaub says

    Hey there friends,

    Great thoughts. I should say that I wrote this with the seminary student’s relationship with their local church more in mind, than how they spend their time on campus. That would make for good post content, too.

    Anyway, just thought I would clarify that. Probably could have written a better title for this post in the Voices context. Still, good thoughts from you guys here.

    In Christ,

    Kevin

  4. says

    Very helpful article. It is my view that every seminary graduate should be required to spend at least five years under the oversight and protection of a seasoned pastor before being thrown into the fray. My best advice would be, if you can do anything else and have peace about it, don’t become a pastor.

  5. Mark Terry says

    Kevin,
    This is great advice. In regard to #2 seminary students should try to get as much experience as possible in every aspect of church life. For example, volunteer to help with children and youth classes, even VBS. Ask the pastor to go along on hospital visits, etc. If the seminary student is a faithful, active church member, then the senior pastor or associate pastor is much more likely to recommend the student to a church and/or write a positive letter of reference.

  6. says

    Kevin,

    All these are really good. And I agree with gracewriterrandy that several years, 5 or so, under the oversight of a seasoned pastor would be very beneficial.

    One other thing I might add is this. If at all possible, get some real life experience, as an adult, out in the workforce. I’m seeing very many young men who have come along in a Christian high school, followed by a Christian college, followed by seminary and very little work experience along the way.

    I’ve ministered along side some of these over the years both as a vocational minister myself and as a layman (elder/leader) and what I’ve seen is a sincere but profound ignorance of how the world works out there away from the church. Far too many of them have no idea what most men and women go through week in and week out as they juggle their families, careers, other outside expectations/obligations, travel, etc.

    A good, hard work job would do many of these young men a lot of good both to instill a hard work ethic in them and to give them some experience to better relate to their congregations.

  7. Kris says

    Where did you all attend Seminary? What seminary would you encourage a young lad like myself to attend?