The Frustration With My Seminary Education

It’s completely mind boggling how many resumes I’ve looked at over the last few weeks. I knew we are going to look at a lot of resumes but I am not sure I was ready for either the quantity or the quality.

This process has jogged some memories of my seminary days – back when we had to take real notes with a palm pilot or a laptop. None of these smartphones or iPads for us. We were hardcore.

Theological education, seminary in particular is a fickle mistress. I’ve seen her be used as the be all, end all of pastoral qualifications. If you have it – you are in, among the chosen, the elite. If you don’t – you are just not quite ready yet. I’ve also seen her be used as a whipping boy – called completely pointless and man’s attempt to quantify spiritual calling and gifting, a Pharisee factory.

Reality is much more complicated than that. There are so many variables – type of profs, theological bent of seminary, type of student you are, did you grow up in a Christian subculture or not, area of calling. It’s a lot like raising kids – same parents, same home, same parenting style and each kid comes out very, very different with a different perspective on their parents.

Part of the frustration is that most seminaries and Christian colleges can’t deliver what is needed. That is an integrated faith that is biblical AND engaging (missional) AND relevant. Maybe they can’t do those things just like a car can’t fly. It was never designed for that.

I treasure much of my own seminary education. I learned different languages, different cultures. I learned different ways of approaching scripture and my own biases were revealed. I learned to study and dig. I learned that most of my professors – while well-meaning – had not talked or built a relationship with a lost person in the last 25 years. I learned that a focus on ‘doctrinal purity’ often meant ‘MY doctrinal purity.’ I learned how to think – not what to think.

Seminary was woefully inadequate in other areas, though. When it came time to lead people older, wiser than me. It had been little help ministering to families decimated by divorce, abuse, debt, and consumerism. Seminary, while enlarging my mind, did little to enlarge my heart. It did not make me love the homeless or deepen my dependence on the Spirit. It didn’t help me deal with my own ego or needs. Seminary forgot to teach me the difference between church growth and church health. It enhanced my love of books, did nothing for my love of people – as entitled as many of them feel.

And to be fair – I’m not convinced seminary or any theological education can (or should) do these things. But those of us that go to seminary or Christian colleges ought to know these limitations coming in.

Spiritual transformation happens in the trench. Discipling relationships, serving in places that stretch us to our core, serving with people who love us but aren’t impressed with us.

A ‘both/and’ approach is needed. We need the education. We need the experiential.

And I’m concerned that there is a wave of church leaders behind me that are making one of two fatal mistakes in their preparation for ministry. They either are putting to much stock in their education at the expense of service OR they are doing ministry with only the narrow band of their own experience, shallowing out what it means to be a Christ-follower because of their disdain of education.

Both extremes are ridiculously short-sighted and these mistakes are producing shallow, ill-equipped, short-sighted, train wrecks waiting to happen kind of leaders.

What is the solution? I’m not sure there is a solution that we can institutionalize. It will come down to the individual. Will he or she serve while being educated? Will they be teachable while they serve – whether they get paid for it or not?

I learned more about Jesus – the man – from a high school guys life group that drug me under a bridge once a month. They and their volunteer leader led me, not the other way around. What I had in ounces, they had in pounds -a desire to be changed by Jesus for the sake of others.

It radically changed and challenged me – and still does. My education gives me a foundation of knowledge and answers the ‘why.’ The trenches is giving me the ‘how’ as well as developing my character for the long haul.

End of rant.

One thought on “The Frustration With My Seminary Education

  1. Just a nudge of help in wading through the resume debris from someone who just finished that process. Make a list of questions. No more than 10. Make them Grant questions like, “Why do you want to serve teenagers and their families?” or “Tell me what scares you about student ministry?” Give them to ten people at a time starting with your top ten applicants. Follow it up with a short ten minute conversation (you love this anyway).

    I bet you’ll have a pretty good candidate soon. Praying for you.

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