This week we asked our bloggers to share three things they would have liked to tell themselves before starting seminary. Here are their thoughts.
I am thankful every day for the education I received in seminary. The three years I spent at Columbia Theological Seminary were inspiring, challenging and formative. If I could tell my former self three things before beginning seminary it would be this:
#1: Relationships are one of the most important parts of this time and space.
Sure, it is important to go to classes, to do the readings and to study. But you’re going to do that anyways. The friendships you make with your classmates will become your lifeline in ministry. They’ll be the people you cry on the phone with, laugh about the latest thing that happened at the church and confess when you’ve messed up. They will be the ones to listen to your discernment process, to help you figure out when it’s time to leave a church and when it’s time to stay. You need them if you’re going to survive this calling. Those relationships extend to the faculty and staff too. Get to know your professors. They will continue to be mentors and advisors. They’ll help you when exegeting Scripture for a sermon, when you need a resource for pastoral care or when you are trying to teach theology to your congregation. Spend time developing and cultivating relationships. Make that your priority.
#2: Field education is really important.
I know you love going to classes. The class discussions and the readings will benefit your ministry, but they only take you so far. In field education you are putting into practice what you are learning. You’re preaching to an actual congregation, doing pastoral care with people with real problems, moderating committee meetings filled with diverse people and walking into hospital rooms. In field education you figure out the areas where you need more knowledge and experience. You’ll mess up, but you’ll learn. You will gain mentors and vital experience. On that note, choose your field education experience based on your mentoring pastor. It makes all the difference in the world. This experience will enhance the learning you are doing in the classroom. Theology becomes more than just an intellectual exercise; it becomes figuring out how to help people make sense of the world and God’s presence. The Bible classes you’ve taken are now put to practical use as you engage Scripture for preaching and teaching. Field education will help you with discernment, provide you with a safe place to experiment and give you another mentor in ministry.
3: Start developing healthy habits now.
Pastors are notorious for being unhealthy spiritually, mentally and physically. Yes, you are busy in seminary, but that’s not going to change once you start ministry. Practice sabbath now. Make exercise and eating healthy a priority now. Sleep. Seriously, make sure you get enough sleep. Develop spiritual practices that are life-giving to you. It will only get harder to take care of yourself. Find hobbies or activities that have nothing to do with ministry or church work. This balance of work, play and rest is always a juggling act, but starting to figure it out in seminary will make the transition to ministry easier.
Lastly, enjoy every moment. It goes by quickly and you will miss these days. You can’t and won’t learn everything you need to know in seminary. This is just the beginning. There is time and space for the seeds that are planted in seminary to grow.
KRISTIN STROBLE serves as the pastor of Heritage Presbyterian Church in Youngstown, Ohio. She enjoys coffee, books, running and spending time outdoors