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Before Starting Seminary: 5 Steps for Those in Mainline Congregations

As I pursue my call to ministry, the first few months before beginning my seminary experience were intense.  The reasons why are varied, but a great majority had to do with being a member of a mainline congregation.  Mainline congregations have specific requirements for their seminarians, not only for required classes and education, but for those pursuing ordination, some require specified training and approval before and during the time of seminary education.  I wanted to share an insider’s look to my particular process so that those thinking of pursuing seminary from a mainline congregation might get a better glimpse at what the process might entail for you.

Step One:  Meet with your Pastor

Each and every person considering seminary MUST do this, whether it’s required or not.   If you don’t, seminary isn’t for you. You should consider your pastor as a mentor for your own journey because he/she has been there before.  It may have been years ago, but seminary changed who they were and it will change you too.  Your minister will offer insight on what seminary does, why it’s necessary, and a small description of the process you will be enter into as a seminarian.  Also, this meeting will require your honesty about your call and the real reasons why you have considered pursuing ministry as a full-time career.

Step Two:  Meet with the Church Board

Most mainline denominations like the congregations to know who they are sending to seminary and also to approve their call as genuine.  Congregations many times offer financial and emotional support for their “baby ministers,” as well as keeping track of them for pulpit supply and other church endeavors.  The church board will ask questions you might not have considered until that meeting.  You will experience a large range of opinions, not all positive, and these will help you firm or discard the idea of pursuing seminary.  Some churches will have personal requirements they place on their candidates and many will want to stay in contact with the candidate after the official approval is voted upon.  Consider this as a firming of your particular call and an affirmation of support for your ministries.

Step Three:  Visit Seminaries

This is one of the most important steps to accomplish before a full commitment to the call.  Each seminary is unique and addresses the basics of ministry, but also delves deeper into the seminary’s particular calling and benefits.  Before you visit, decide on a list of things a seminary must have in order to be considered.  For me, I wanted one that was affiliated with my particular denomination, a diverse body of races and ethnicities, and one that offers on-campus housing.  Some of you might consider flat-fee tuition, large student body, or doctoral studies as more important.  Visiting a variety of seminaries allows you to cement the necessities that you desire in a seminary while providing challenge and opportunities down the path as you pursue your particular calling.

Step Four:  Meeting with the Association/Larger Governing Body

At this point, you have committed to your calling and are pursuing seminary in the near future (or have at least applied to a few seminaries).  This meeting has a few purposes, including identifying a commitment to your call, developing honesty about your personal character flaws and benefits in ministry, and visualizing your capacity for growth and adaptability through seminary.  It gives the people you will eventually call colleagues a chance to meet and get to know you and your foibles.  This meeting also gives you a chance to prove yourself.  Most importantly, this committee will approve you (or not) to continuing education and potentially ordination in the denomination.

These are the people that will also propose limitations or additions to your seminary education, so be prepared for some extra work.  I was given a list of required courses that must be completed, plus I have specified training and testing that must be done along the path to ordination.  Be sure to have a list of things that your chosen seminary requires to compare with the list that your denomination requires.

Step Five:  Reviews Throughout Seminary Education

You’re making progress in your education, right?  These are the final steps before ordination (if that is your calling).  Reviews may not be required by every denomination, but these check-ups are there to make sure you’re staying on the path and to assure you of support.  My particular denomination requires evaluations by my seminary professors on me, but ALSO my experiences at seminary and in my ministries.

These reviews are also a time for you to firm your personal stance on the type of minister you will emerge as after your education.  Each minister has varied gifts and these times of review give you a chance to explain the differences based on what you’ve learned.  You can share your achievements, your pitfalls, and your growth in a safe, secure environment without being judged for the things you believe or don’t.  The people who review you might be the same that initially interviewed you or the makeup of these boards may have changed.  Welcome the new and honor the old.

Finally, the ordination requirements will be steep because they will draw on everything you’ve learned.  Even though it seems silly to think about the end at the beginning of your education, it isn’t.  Write down the important things that stick with you in a separate notebook.  You may draw on these in final interviews and especially when you pursue the final stages of completing your seminary education.  Mainline congregations are committed to educated pastors, so show them that you meant it when you claimed your call.  It will make all the difference now and later.

Written by Rebecca Mularski. Rebecca is a student at Eden Theological Seminary. She blogs at Seeking Eden.

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