As a Presbyterian, I’m grateful for the deep grounding I’ve received in Reformed history and theology. The world is changing, indeed it always is; but in seminary I’ve come to appreciate how the themes of the Reformed faith seem to always describe so well the God we serve and the fallen world we live in. Coming to know this tradition better is a great help in keeping hold of the hope we have in Christ in the face of an uncertain and challenging world.
Seminary has also restored in me an ability to focus on deeper and lengthier arguments. Studying intricate theological issues has retrained me over the past couple years and has broken a bad habit I developed during my years in the high tech/business world. It was an environment of constant interruption, of changing tasks and activity, of flitting about from one IM chat and e-mail to another, from phone call to status meeting to blog post. Certainly pastors are as prone to interruption as anyone else (if not more so), but I can’t imagine trying to proclaim the Gospel without carving out some consistent time for deep study. Seminary has helped me relearn how to do that, and it is something I know I’ll have to strive to maintain when I get out into the parish.
I have also appreciated the well roundedness of the curriculum with regard to spiritual formation. I have greatly enjoyed the academic rigor of seminary, but I also understand that theological issues are rarely experienced only intellectually. The focus on spiritual formation here has strengthened my conviction that the Christian must not neglect spiritual and emotional aspects of the faith. It has also helped me realize the importance of a strong and vibrant prayer life for myself as a pastor.
My seminary seems to strive to provide a balance between the theological and “practical.”
At its best, seminary has provided a challenging but supportive environment in which to learn to think theologically about a wide range of issues facing people and the church in today’s context. At the same time, I’ve found it incredibly helpful to have a place to practice the mechanics of worship and the sacraments and to preach in the classroom in a “safe” learning environment. Though some might wish for an even more practical seminary education, I believe it has been a gift to begin to learn to think theologically.
I’ve seen somewhere the comparison of theological education to that of the education of a doctor, and I think it is apt. We would think something amiss if a doctor’s education focused too much on small office management and the process of filing insurance claim forms. We want them to know anatomy and biology inside and out. Shouldn’t pastors know the gospel — and how it has been formulated and lived by the church throughout history — deeply enough to be able to communicate it in our varying contexts? This seems a more important focus than to be able to effectively and efficiently run a meeting or to manage a small staff.
One area that may be lacking in the seminary curriculum, though, is economics. How can pastors not have even a rudimentary grounding in economics when in our culture so many issues beam through the lens of the market? This seems like a must in our globally interconnected world where issues of trade, government, and economy shape so much of our congregants’ lives. Certainly the church in America cannot afford to uncritically accept the norms and values of our consumerist culture. Neither, however, can church leaders afford to be ignorant of the primary way in which so many church members and others see the world.
Seminary has been a tremendous gift, both in my preparation for ordained ministry and also in the deepening of my faith. I have found it to be a special place, with a special community, a place where Scripture is taken very seriously but Sunday school platitudes are not abided. It has been a place where the whole of the Christian tradition has been opened up to me. It has been a place where I’ve come to understand pastoral ministry as one of serving the body of Christ by helping congregations live out a faithful expression of the Gospel, in submission to God’s revealed word and in fellowship with one another.
The fairly small size of my seminary has been a blessing; it has allowed me to build deep relationships with a variety of professors I don’t believe I would have done at a larger school. I know that, down the road, I will feel comfortable calling my teachers to seek their direction or advice for my pastoral ministry. All of them are academic or spiritual mentors; many I consider friends. I feel truly blessed to have been given the opportunity for theological education. Though I anxiously await graduation next spring and hopefully a call as a pastor or associate pastor, I can already sense the sadness with which I will leave and the fondness with which I will look back on these three years.
Matthew Wright is student at one of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)-related seminaries.