I loved my seminary experience. My wife and I both studied at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena at the same time (she pursued a MFT while I worked on my M.Div.). There are many wonderful things I could share about it, yet as I look back on my experience – as well as what other pastors have experienced at other seminaries – two things stand out to me:
The first is what I will call “the mystery of seminary.” By “mystery” I mean that so often when I speak to members of the church, they talk about seminary as if there is a nebulous cloud that envelopes seminary studies. They have no idea what I studied or what I learned – but they are quite certain it was very profound and important. I can’t tell you how many times a pastor has heard someone say to them, “Well, I don’t know all that stuff you learned at seminary, but… .” Sometimes when I listen to others, I feel like they talk as if all that seminary stuff is simply beyond their grasp. (It isn’t.) Other times I feel like they assume that I will know anything that remotely has to do with not only the Bible and theology, but also church marketing, budgets, insurance, evangelism – you name it – because I know “all that seminary stuff.”
My M.Div. studies were a wonderful three-year period in my life. It was special. I took a survey class of church history. I took surveys of systematic theology. I took surveys of the Old Testament. I took surveys of the New Testament. … And that’s a lot of surveys! Don’t get me wrong, those classes were great – but an M.Div. covers many topics and therefore is not always able to go in-depth. Yes, I have a strong framework and outline of things in my mind. But I’ll spend the rest of my life learning.
Now this may surprise some readers, but there are many things seminary doesn’t cover. It is roughly two years of academic studies and one year of more practical ministry. In other words, I did learn something about preaching and give a few sermons; I did many hospital visits; and I did attend some committees. But I learned little-to-nothing about how to run a meeting, manage conflict, fundraise, or church insurance policies. Those all came later – on the job. Or are still coming.
Let me give you an analogy. If you were working on a Habitat house, one day you may learn something about drywall. Another day you may learn something about electricity. Another day you may learn something about painting. And you try your hand at all of them. You learned different skills with different tools and you are putting it all together. That is what seminary is like. When I finished seminary I felt like I had a full toolbox. I learned some things and I had some tools for ministry that I had tried out, and now it was time to go to work and put it all together. I was ready to begin.
Now for my second observation. In general terms, I think that most seminaries are deeply lacking in one area: biblical languages. It is not uncommon for the mandatory one year of beginning Greek to be the only Greek class offered. In many places you will have a tough time even finding a class on second year Greek being offered. Many students don’t even desire it. It may not be trendy – and I am fully aware of Bible software – but I wonder if we are not getting away from a key part of our Protestant heritage. If Luther knew, he would roll over in his grave. He would affirm how much the original languages help us understand the Gospel. … Would you like your preacher to love Bible study? Then give the text back to them. One of my fondest memories in seminary was a weekly meeting with a couple friends as we would go around the table, each translating a verse and then discussing theology together.
I loved my seminary experience and am deeply grateful for it. If a holy cloud of mystery still hovers over your mind when it comes to seminary studies, then just remember this: all that seminary stuff is expensive! Put a seminarian in your church budget.
Darryl Evans is the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Kannapolis, N.C. He is a candidate for Doctor of Ministry at Fuller.