Choosing a seminary is an incredible decision. It determines what institution’s name will be on your diploma (at least you hope), it determines the professors you’ll take, and it determines the “brand” that you’ll carry with you throughout your ministry.
In light of this importance, I think there are several issues that need to be addressed when selecting a particular institution. And while I don’t believe this list is exhaustive in any sense, I do believe that any decision-making that ignores any of these specific points is incomplete.
Every seminary has it’s own tradition. You’re simply not going to escape that reality. When someone sees your diploma on your wall, or your education listed on your resume, they will make a snap judgment regarding your theology and ministry style.
You may object to that and say that it’s unfair. It may be.
But it’s true nonetheless.
Most seminaries are directly tied to a denomination. Personally, I think that’s a good thing. Generally speaking, you should attend a seminary tied to the denomination that you anticipate serving in. In doing so, you show your willingness to submit to that particular denomination’s heritage, history, and theology. As someone who has served in multiple denominations, I can personally attest to the importance of a pastor being in step with the theology of a denomination.
Many times, a given seminary will lean theologically in a particular direction within a denomination. It’s no secret that The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY is the Calvinist (Reformed) SBC seminary, or that Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, KY is the conservative UMC seminary (even if they’re not “officially” a UMC seminary). Any seminary you choose will carry a similar moniker. Your task is to discover what that is.
So when you’re working to select a seminary, try to find a few alumni from any particular seminary and see if you line up with them. (Note: Always find more than one.) Would you be comfortable being associated with them? Would you be willing to submit yourself to the authority of the same professors, denominations, and networks that they are under?
This will go a long way toward helping you make your decision.
Once you’ve narrowed your list of seminaries down to those with a tradition that you’re comfortable lining up with, your next step is to discern the values of a given seminary. You can do this by reading books written by the professors, listening to the professors and presidents, or visiting the campus itself. (The first two are great ways to introduce yourself to their values, but visiting the campus will give you the most accurate sense.)
When I visited Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, several values stood out to me: they place a high value on preaching, global evangelism, and on the family. The campus is covered with banners that repeat, “Preach the Word, Reach the World.” Globes are a prominent fixture all over the campus, intentionally placed there to remind students that what they learn at the campus is intended to be taken to the farthest places in the earth. And we learned that they offer a “seminary wives” certificate to prepare women for the specific role of being a pastor’s wife. I had a sense of each of these values before we visited the campus, but once we visited, we knew that was seminary God was calling us to.
Another reason you should consider visiting a campus is to get a feel for it’s location. Your years in school will feel like an eternity and likely will come to an abrupt halt if you’re constantly looking forward to leaving. (Note to husbands: if your wife doesn’t want to live there, she probably won’t for long. Do not visit a campus without her and do not choose a seminary without her input.)
Another option is to attend a virtual (online) campus or an extension. This allows you more freedom and options in regards to a location, but to get the most from your seminary experience, you should seriously consider being at a physical campus at some point in your seminary career.
One more thing: Don’t go for the diploma, go for the education
If you’re considering going to seminary and you’re trying to discern which seminary to attend, please allow me this reminder. A diploma on the wall may open more options and doors down the road, but that simply cannot be the focus of your time in seminary. The lessons you learn, the relationships that you build, and your grasp on the Word of God will serve you and those under your pastoral care throughout your ministry.
Be sure to keep that in mind when selecting a seminary.