I love seminary. I’m a non-traditional student: I have a full-time secular job and take one class per semester, usually via the internet (curse you internet fees!). Because of my work and life situation, I can get my education while serving in my church, spending time with my family, and earning a living, all without going into debt. Times are changing and educational opportunities are expansive. I told you, I love seminary.
Every once in a while I’ll read an article or hear someone talk about what seminary didn’t teach them. The methods and reasons for writing such articles are varied. Some people are bitter that their educational experiences didn’t prepare them for a church split, a staff member’s infidelity, or the pressures that pastoral ministry puts on their family. Others are self-righteous, seeking to show that they have “succeeded” in the ministry without using Greek or Hebrew in their sermon preparation, following their homiletics’ professor’s guidance, or studying up on Church history. Still others are just trying to be helpful, to tear down false impressions of seminary education, or reminding people that there’s much more to learn than what an M.Div. can teach you.
Some of these articles have been helpful. Others have not. But I’ve yet to read the type of article that highlights the things that they couldn’t or wouldn’t have learned were it not for seminary. So I’ve decided to write one:
1. I couldn’t have received training from some of the best and brightest Southern Baptist leaders of today. I’ve studied theology under Bruce Ware, Stephen Wellum, and Russell Moore. I know that I could read Grudem’s or someone else’s systematic theology, but to be able to interact with the minds behind the books is a unique experience that lets me ask the questions the books don’t always answer. Although more and more educational content is being made available via the internet and iTunes U, it still doesn’t compare to being able to meet with a professor one-on-one to discuss something he’s written volumes on.
2. I couldn’t have studied the Biblical languages. Whereas I’ve learned that throughout Church history there have been plenty of people who were self-taught linguists, my own personal history has taught me that I will never be one. I’ve completed my Greek requirement, but Hebrew still looms in my future. With all the responsibilities I have between work, home, and church, I doubt I would have ever studied Greek apart from seminary, and what I’ve learned has been very valuable for how I approach a text of Scripture, even if I’m not doing my devotional time each day in the Greek New Testament.
3. I wouldn’t have interacted this much with other pastors and Bible teachers. Even in my internet classes I’ve gotten exposed to other Christians from different walks of life. My current ministry context is predominantly among Whites and Hispanics, and among that group very few are pastors. At seminary I’ve been able to meet church leaders who work with African-American, Chinese, Korean, and other groups. Their experiences and perspectives challenge me to acknowledge my own cultural biases and blind spots when it comes to studying the Scriptures and living out my faith.
4. I wouldn’t have read such a diversity of books. I like to read, but I don’t like to read everything. When your time (and finances) is limited, you have to pick carefully what you will spend hours looking at. Thus I would normally not spend much time with histories, early Church writings, Greek grammars, or surveys of Christian ethics. But when I’m taking a class, I don’t have that option. I have to read the required course materials, and by and large I’m spending time with authors, ideas, and subjects that I would normally pass over in favor of those I’m more familiar with.
5. I wouldn’t have written research papers. Honestly, who does this just for fun? But being required to write a thorough book review or a defense of some theological point sharpens the mind and challenges us to conduct more than just surface-level research, to communicate our findings clearly, and to write convincingly.
6. I wouldn’t have had access to such a great theological library. Even though I am not located on campus and can’t peruse the volumes on the shelves, I have been able to do so for the few on-campus classes I’ve been able to attend. The digital library at Southern is certainly growing as well. As a young guy with a small library of his own, it’s nice to be able to look at commentaries that I just can’t afford right now.
7. I wouldn’t have treasured my free time as much. Granted, I’m far from perfect on this, but those breaks between classes really highlight the necessity of spending a lot of time with my family. Some things just have to be done: I work each day, mow the front and back yard once a week, preach once in a while, and do homework almost every day. Sometimes it’s tempting to sit back on my electronic device or zone out on the television when I have a few minutes of down time, but when I have to “budget” my time as I do, I want to make sure that I’m spending time with my kids before they go to bed and with my wife before we do. I used to play video games and watch a lot more television before I started seminary classes, and I hate to think how I would spend my time if I wasn’t forced to manage it.
So there you have it. This isn’t a long list, and I’m sure I’m leaving something out, so please add your own thoughts about what you wouldn’t or couldn’t have done apart from seminary.