But then again, win or lose, life goes on! And mine has; for Super Bowl Sunday quickly gave way to Seminary Monday. You see, our church hosts the East Tennessee Extension Center of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where I also serve as the Director. This was the first week of spring semester classes and of preparing for the future for a number of ministerial students enrolled in our program.
Every so often, I am asked the question that I was asked last Wednesday evening by a church member: “What is it like to attend seminary?” And the answer is: “It’s hard to say.” Seminary is part Graduate School and part Sunday School. The classes offered can be quite rigorous, having been designed for duly qualified college graduates seeking a Master’s Degree in some standard theological discipline. But they are also intended to enhance one’s spiritual walk as a means of augmenting one’s academic education.
The end result of a seminary education can include the awarding of two-year degrees such as the Master of Arts Degree (MA), the Master of Theology (ThM), the Master of Religious Education (MRe), and the Master of Worship, to name but a few. By far, the most commonly sought seminary degree is the Master of Divinity Degree (MDiv). It differs from the MA in that it is a three-year degree, and customarily includes the study of the Biblical Languages of Hebrew and Greek, and sometimes Latin.
Master of Divinity programs can vary widely by institution; but most consist of classes spread over several essential disciplines – among them, Biblical Studies (including languages), Theology, Church History, Church Polity (church government), Worship Leadership, Proclamation (Preaching), Practical Theology, meaning the theory and practice of ministry, and the like.
Along the way, a student can take classes in other disciplines, such as religious education, worship arts, pastoral care, chaplaincy, student ministry, children’s ministry, church administration, missions, evangelism, and many other additional topics.
Seminaries also offer Doctoral Degrees for those students wishing to further their studies beyond the Master’s Degree. The standard professional Doctoral Degree is that of the Doctor of Ministry (or DMin). This degree is largely designed to prepare students for Pastoral and/or Denominational Leadership positions. In many respects, among larger churches and denominations, the DMin has supplanted the MDiv as the foundational degree for ministry.
Seminaries also offer academic Doctoral Degrees, designed to prepare students for academic careers within the church at large. Degrees such as the Doctor of Philosophy (or PhD), the Doctor of Theology (ThD), or specialized degrees such as the Doctor of Missiology (DMiss), are designed to prepare students for teaching in Colleges, Universities, and/or Seminaries. (NOTE: European Theology Schools offer what are termed DPhil and DTheol degrees, designed to serve the same purpose.)
As is the case with all higher education, the quality of theological education can vary greatly from institution to institution. The Southern Baptist convention owns and operates six denominational seminaries. Of these, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, being the oldest, is generally considered the flagship school. (One can find a link below to all of these schools below.) All of them are fully accredited by appropriate regional accrediting agencies (such as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools), as well as the Association of Theological Schools in North America (known as ATS).
In addition, dozens of other colleges and universities across America affiliate with the Southern Baptist Convention. Many of these own and operate their own Divinity Schools, or Seminaries. Examples include the Beeson Divinity School on the campus of Alabama’s Samford University (an institution of higher learning historically affiliated with the Alabama Baptist Convention) and the Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary of Liberty University in Virginia.
But returning to the question at hand, I would suggest that a good start toward finding an answer about what it is like to attend seminary is to define the word “seminary” itself. The standard dictionary definition reads thus:
sem•i•nar•y /ˈseməˌnerē/ noun: “a college that prepares students to be pastors, ministers, priests, or rabbis”.
synonyms: theological college, divinity school, rabbinical college, Bible school/college
Origin = late Middle English (denoting a seed plot): from Latin seminarium ‘seed plot,’ neuter of seminaries ‘of seed,’ from semen ‘seed.’
Pay attention to the Latin term “seminarium”, meaning “seed plot”; for here, in my estimation, is an excellent reason for why all would-be ministers need to attend seminary. In the three to four years it takes to gain a solid theological education, one will invariably have planted several seeds which will come to fruition later in professional ministry, eventually enhancing their ability to carry out the ministry to which they have been called.
What is more, the lack of having sown these seeds will have an equally significant impact - only in this case, it will be on the negative side. Simply put, my seminary experience forced me to plant seeds that I regularly harvest fruit from to this very day - the more obvious things being Biblical Studies, Theology, Preaching, Administration, etc…
But I also find that seminary taught me many other things that have proven useful in every day ministry. For instance, I learned good study habits, which I still use regularly for preaching and teaching preparation.
Personal discipline and accountability were also instilled within me. Such skills, learned early on, have helped me to produce my twice weekly blogs to this very day. I also learned time management skills, which help me to this day to accomplish the many tasks of ministry in a timely fashion. All of this is to say nothing of people skills instilled within me, which are far more important. In truth, this list could go on and on.
And so, my admonition to young seminary students is two-fold. First, as the Apostle Paul told young Timothy (in 2 Timothy 2:25 KJV): “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” The key word here is the word “study”. Other translations term this “work hard” (NLT), “make every effort” (Berean), “be diligent” (NASB), and “do your best” (ESV).
The original Koine Greek term here is “spou-dason”, which means “to hasten, to be eager, to be diligent”. It comes from a root word “spoo-day”, meaning “speed, haste, diligence, earnestness, enthusiasm”. This latter term comes from a principal verb , “pseudo”, meaning “to hasten, to speed, to urge on”. (Yes, SPEEDO swim wear label comes from this very term.)
The picture here is of a young Timothy working swiftly and diligently to accomplish preparation for the task of ministry to which he has been called. This is an apt metaphor for young ministers working hard in seminary to prepare for the work to ministry to which they have each been called.
But the seminary experience should involve more than just studying hard – much more. Another relevant passage of Scripture for seminary studies can be in found in Matthew’s Gospel (11:28-30 KJV):
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Focus on the key words “learn of me”. Most all other English translations follow the KJV translation. The NLT is an exception, stating “let me teach you”. The original Koine Greek term is “mathete”, meaning “to learn, but to do so with reflection and application”. It is based on the root word “mathetes”, which is translated as “disciple”. Thus, Jesus is essentially saying, “Become My disciple!”
So, seminary education is a wonderful time to study hard, and to put in the work and the due diligence needed to get oneself an education! But it is also a time to sow seeds that will be needed for harvest later on. For this reason, I encourage all seminary students to do the work! To plow the ground! To plant the seeds! For what they plant and nurture here and now will reap vast rewards for them out there in the future one day!
To do otherwise will be to cheat themselves, as well as those whom they will one day serve and minister unto. Even worse, it will be to sin against God who has called them into the ministry to begin with. As (Saint) Augustine wrote in his Confessions (Book One): “But we sinned in that we read and wrote and studied less than was required of us!” Simply put, any and all seminary students who do not diligently apply themselves to their studies while in seminary will eventually be sorry that they did not!
But an even greater danger for the average seminary student is to treat seminary as merely Graduate School and not as Sunday School. One must never merely study and learn theological disciplines at the expense of becoming an authentic disciple of Jesus Christ!
So, while I encourage all seminary students to work hard and learn their share of Theology, Biblical Studies, Greek, Hebrew, Church History, Church Polity, etc…, I also admonish them not to let the learning of these subjects become a substitute for learning “of Jesus” – for sitting at the feet of the Master and becoming His authentic disciple!
Those who do this are ultimately cheating themselves more than if they did not study at all. For they will develop a lifelong habit of letting weekly sermon preparation substitute for personal daily devotion!
And the result of this will likely be a faith and a testimony that is as straight as a gun barrel theologically, but also as cold as one spiritually! Such a minister will likely do little to grow the Kingdom of God!
Please pray for our seminary extension center. For that matter, please pray for all Christian seminaries everywhere, as well as the ministers they regularly help to educate. For in the process of equipping these young ministers, theological seminaries have an impact upon all those others whom these ministers will one day touch for Christ. And any way you look at it, that is one tremendous responsibility!
CLICK HERE TO FIND THE SIX SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION (SBC) SEMINARIES: http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/entities/seminaries.asp
CLICK HER FOR THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY (SBTS) HOMEPAGE: http://www.sbts.edu/
CLICK HERE FOR THE SBTS EAST TENNESSEE EXTENSION CENTER: http://www.sbts.edu/extension/centers/east-tennessee/
SCRIPTURE SOURCE: www.biblehub.com