On May 21, 2016 I completed the journey I began nearly 4 years prior. Clothed in black robes and with a master’s hood around my neck, I walked across the graduation stage to receive my seminary degree. The moment was surreal. I shook the president’s hand, received a few pats on the back from my favorite professors, and quickly walked back to my seat. I had done it. God had done it.
If you’ve followed the blog at best-seminary.com over the last few years than you might have seen a few of my others posts. I want to take some time and go back over a few of the things I said. Most of them still ring true and only a few could use some slight correction. This is both a letter to my younger self as well as some words of wisdom for any of you on your seminary journey.
1. Seminary is absolutely a marathon.
I ended up taking a total of 1.5 years off in the last 4 years. This ended up being for my benefit – physically, spiritually, mentally. No one cares if you take 4, 5, or 8 years to finish your degree (although there are time limits for some programs). Go at your own pace. An empty watering can is no use to the garden.
Marriage was definitely NOT in my plans for graduate school, but that is how life works sometimes. Breahna is, without a doubt, a gift from God. Don’t run away from a relationship just because you are in seminary. Sometimes the support God sends us just happens to be our life-partner.
3. Lament the things you lose along the way.
Seminary is as much about loss as it is about gain. We look forward to learning new things, making new relationships, and adventuring into new ministry experiences. But at the same time, it is also about losing our old way of thinking, being pushed into a different mode of life, and often parting ways with important people and even lifelong dreams along the way. God likes to remove the old in order to bring in the new (Ezekiel 36:26). It will hurt at times but remember that what is coming will more than makeup for what has been lost.
4. Respect those who came before you; encourage those who will go after you.
You can’t really understand what seminary is until you’ve reached the end of it. It’s something beyond words and for that reason, you must respect every person who has chosen to go that difficult route. Regardless of your theological bent, we must give honor to those who have struggled with and alongside God and are working to make His goodness known throughout the earth. And for those who are being called now, encourage them. They may see your success or difficulty and question God. Be honest with them, and with yourself. Seminary is not for everyone, but those He calls He certainly equips (Hebrews 13:21).
5. Seminary did not kill my faith.
This was one of my very real fears going into seminary. I heard so many horror stories of passionate Christians entering seminary only to leave a hard-hearted atheist. I can assure you, that fear is largely unwarranted. Of the hundreds of people I took classes with over the last 4 years, not a single one lost their faith. Seminary challenges us to not only believe with our hearts, but to question with our minds. The marriage of a critical mind and a reverent heart leads us to become more effective leaders. It takes both to become a truly gracious and faithful servant of God.
6. Speak your pain.
I attended counseling for a short period during my seminary journey. This is something I recommend every person do – especially those who are looking to shepherd a church. Even if you don’t think you have “problems” to talk through, I assure you that you will benefit from the experience. Pain is a part of the human condition and in order to help people through theirs, we have to learn how to confront our own.
It makes me sick to my stomach when my fellow students would tell me how much they had out in loans, or when I heard the all too common line “I have no idea how I’m going to pay for this but I’m sure God will work it out.” Ignoring your finances or charging forward without careful consideration of the cost are both the opposite of faithful stewardship. I held a secular job during my entire seminary education. I plan to continue to work here until God calls me elsewhere. Everyone’s situation is different but debt will cripple you from certain opportunities. There is a difference between trusting God and being irresponsible. I don’t want this to sound too mean, but if more Christians truly considered the cost of their pursuits I believe the church would be in a different place today (Luke 14:28).
8. Seminary is not about what you become.
It’s about recognizing the process of becoming. It’s not about reaching the mountaintop of your relationship with God but instead, realizing that you and God are on the path together and that your path looks completely different from anyone else’s. The destination we seek is not a place or a feeling or a title – it’s simply saying good morning to God and knowing that today He will say it back because He is real and He is good.
Remember, the ending of one story is always the beginning of another.
I hope these few words encourage you. Completing seminary can be done. I did it (barely) and you can too. Above all, remember why and for Who you are on this journey.
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.