Seminary is a religious place, but it is still a very human place. It is a place that needs the power of God to overcome the decay and weaknesses that face our existences. Seminarians are like the people in your church and the people in your hometown – they need grace. Every Christian institution should recognize its own limits and continuously call upon God to guide its direction. It is easy to assume that seminarians should point their focus outwards, but often time the needs at home are just as pressing as those outside.
Seminarians have to readily practice an openness to the call and work of God by faith. Life in seminary is hectic, but it is a training ground for the pastorate. It is easy to get wrapped up in the workload, chapel attendance, field education, and seminary cliques without focusing on the self. We all have to rely on God for help in facing our trials, and that should be all the more true when facing the challenges of seminary.
After a couple years in my M.Div. program I can say that I have seen three real dangers that face almost every seminarian. The first is the tendency to get so wrapped up in school-work and assignments that you lose all other identity. This seems to be particularly true for students who want to go on to PhD studies. Here at Princeton the professors assign more reading assignments than the students can actually accomplish. Everyone is of course aware of this, at least after the first semester, but the point is to make sure that we leave Princeton with several lessons ingrained within us. Part of any element of education is the continuous revelation that there is still more to be learned and read. Scholars can spend their whole lives studying Christianity and still fail to exhaust all the readable material. Seminarians have to learn how to keep a balance between remaining committed to learning, taking time for self-care and the spiritual disciplines, and time spent on the ground in practice.
My seminary tends to be very academically oriented. Other seminaries tend to overemphasize the practical elements of ministry. There is a spectrum between the overly academic and overly practical elements of a minister’s role. It is true that a pastor job is in one sense that of a public intellectual. Similar to a newspaper editor or an educator the pastor is responsible for digesting new and old information together ethically. In another sense, the pastor is more hands-on than others with this role. Seminary can easily lose sight of the multi-faceted nature of ministry and train lopsided graduates who are poorly prepared to deal with real life church circumstances.
Finally, it is easy for seminarians to focus on their school work, field education placement, or group of friends at the expense of looking at how they can practice ministry to those around them. We all have a tendency to associate with those we feel the most comfortable with, but we also have to realize that those that surround you at school may have real-life spiritual needs that could use the active touch of an alive spiritual community. If seminarians fail to learn how to minister to other seminarians who may not be in their social group, how will they ever cross the social boundaries that exist within the church or the world as a whole? The Gospel of Jesus Christ transcends our individual contexts. It breathes life into communities and lives, but it is a proclamation that is free from human restraints. As Christ’s disciples, we must follow his lead and step out of our own comfort zones to touch and heal the broken and lost lives of those around us. The place to start is with those around us, not just those we feel comfortable with.
Written by Kadin Williams. Kadin is presently in his third year at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey. He has served as an intern in American Baptist, Southern Baptist, and RCA churches. He is presently seeking ordination with the American Baptist Churches USA. You can connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.