The flip side—5 things I wish I’d learned in seminary

Lest anyone should think me ungrateful, yesterday I wrote a list of things I was glad to learn in seminary.  You can read that piece here.  Today, I share the things that I missed in my theological education. 


1. I wish I had learned that, like all professionals, good pastors make hard things look easy.  And work that looks easy is easy to under-appreciate.   When a pastor “effortlessly” makes welcoming remarks at a community event or leads worship with grace and ease—none of the hard work of preparation is readily visible.  Even pastoral visits that provide comfort and peace can be taken for granted on the grounds that, “We have such nice conversations—it’s not really work for her to visit me.” 



2. I wish I had learned how important it is for pastors to give generously.  No one in seminary ever told me this.  Not my pastor, not the CPM, not my professors or field education supervisors.  I’m not sure why.  Many of them were deeply generous people.  I wish someone had pulled me aside in seminary and told me—“Scott, if you are going to preach about stewardship and tithing—you have to walk the walk.  If you are going to lead a congregation—you have to invest your money in it.  And if you are going to live as a disciple of Jesus, you are going to have to trust God more than money.”  It took me an embarrassingly long time after seminary to make giving a key part of my faith practice, and I wish I had learned about the freedom and joy of generosity much earlier. 


3. I wish I had some inkling of how often we would touch holy things.  We do it so often that they risk becoming common in our dirty hands.  In the early days of my ministry, I led a funeral service for a member of the church.  The service was on a Tuesday afternoon on a day when I had about 200 other responsibilities.  At one point that day, rushing around to complete my many tasks, I ran into the man’s widow near the sanctuary, two hours before the service.  She was there to make sure that everything was ready, set up and perfect—because she was going to bury her life-partner that day.  This was the most important thing in her life, and I was treating it like another committee meeting.  I wish I had learned earlier that the things we touch are holy. 


4. I wish I had known how painful it is to hurt the people you love.  There are two types of pastors in the world: those who have badly hurt someone they were called to love and those who will.  The names and faces of people I have hurt are running across my mind as I type this.  Sometimes pastors do and say dumb things and sometimes congregants harbor unfair resentments and unrealistic expectations—but for a pastor nothing is more difficult, messy or painful than hurting your people. 


5. I wish I had learned more about practicing my faith.  Seminary, on the whole, was not a spiritual place.  It was a place to think and learn and study about God—but not usually a place to discuss a life of prayer.  I learned a lot about theological traditions, but precious little about personal spiritual formation.  Devotional reading, intercessory prayer, Sabbath keeping, and weathering spiritual dry-spells are all vital skills for ministers to have.  There are many things about ministry preparation that seminaries simply cannot teach—this is not one of them.  I wish I had learned more about becoming a disciple as I learned to be a minister and theologian.  


scott hauser




Scott Hauser is Pastor and Head of Staff at First Presbyterian Church in Clarion, PA.