Once you have discerned the call to seminary, an important next step in the process is to consider which seminary is best for you. There are a ton of factors that go into this decision—things like costs, proximity to family, housing, class schedules, etc.
Students often prepare for seminary considering all of the logistical questions without stopping to consider an important, but often overlooked, aspect of the selection process. What kind of seminary is best for me? What I mean by that is, will I do best at a seminary that focuses on ministry preparation, or would I do better at a seminary that focuses more on academic rigor? Or maybe, do I need a seminary that is a good blend of both types?
There are many excellent seminaries in the United States and around the world, and each has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Some seminaries are great at preparing students academically, producing PhD candidates and pastor/scholars. Other seminaries are great at producing pastoral call ready shepherds who know how to nurture their congregations and perform baptisms and burials from day one.
As you consider seminary, ponder these questions to help you decide which type is best for you. Then, go find the seminary that fits that and meets your other criteria as well.
1. What is the nature of my call to ministry?
This is the primary question you need to address before you make a decision about seminary. Am I called to a traditional pastorate in which I will lead a congregation as primary preacher, teacher, and shepherd? Am I called to parachurch ministry? Is seminary for me a means to deepen my Biblical understanding so I can be a better church member?
Spend some time in prayer and ask God to give you clarity on your call. Have coffee with your pastor and ask him or her what gifts they discern in you and how they think that informs your call. Ask your closest friends and your spouse (if you have one) about your strengths and weaknesses and how those inform your call.
Get clarity on your call then ask the next question.
2. What type of seminary do I think I need?
Which pastors or ministry leaders do you look up to? What about their ministry do you admire, and how do you think they became who they are? What kind of seminary do you think would best prepare you to become like them?
We all have heroes, people we look up to as role models, examples of whom we want to become. When considering seminary it is important to think about the church leaders we most want to emulate to help us discern which seminary type will best enable us to become that type of church leader.
3. Be honest about your academic strengths and weaknesses
Highly demanding academic seminaries are not for everybody. I watched many fellow students struggle through seminary because they wanted to attend a particular school for whatever reason. Past academic performance does not necessarily mean that a more rigorous academic environment is not the right place for you, but being honest with how well you discipline yourself is important as you consider seminary.
Demanding seminaries are just that—demanding. Courses often require daily memorization of Greek and Hebrew vocabulary and grammar, 1,500 to 2,000 pages of reading per class, and regular preaching. It is a lot of work, even for the most astute student, and the rigor does not necessarily prepare the most pastorally equipped graduates.
4. Visit and ask questions
As you narrow down your list, visit the seminaries you are considering and ask questions. Ask questions of the admissions staff, but more importantly, ask students. Admissions staff want you to attend the school and their answers may not be as honest and direct as you need. Introduce yourself to students and ask them difficult questions. What is the workload really like here? Who excels here and why? Who does poorly here and why? Would you come to this seminary again if you had a choice? What are its strengths and weaknesses?
Determining the type of seminary you should attend is an important step forward in the process of going from applicant to graduate. Take your time and consider as many variables as you can. But be honest with yourself about the kind of environment in which you can excel, and the kind of environment that is going to best equip you to become the kind of ministry leader you want to be.
By Daniel Walsh – Daniel is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, MA. He is a writer with experience in local church ministry, the marketplace, and academia. He currently resides in Nashville, TN with his family. Contact Daniel at Theology Pligrim.