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How to Choose the Best Seminary

Wouldn’t it be easier if there was one seminary acknowledged above all others as the best in every possible way? But this isn’t the case. As seminary students, I and my peers have all been in the position of having to choose. We prayed. We researched. We weighed the costs. We considered the benefits. And we chose. Did I make the right choice?

Consider the following…

Theology

Let’s be honest, if a seminary isn’t theologically sound, then even if everything else in your life lines up, it won’t be worth it. I grew up in the Covenant Denomination, and had the opportunity to go to a denominational seminary in Chicago at a greatly discounted rate. But even if it would have been free, the cost would have been too much. Despite the presence of some solid people at an institution attended by my grandfather, great-aunt, father, uncle, and some friends, I couldn’t bring myself to go. Why? The seminary wasn’t, and still isn’t theologically sound.

Some might disagree with me. And that’s fine. But like me, if you don’t think that a place is theologically sound, don’t go there. Find a seminary that you can respect and, though you won’t agree on everything, make sure that it is one you can agree with on fundamental issues of faith. Even if I was and am wrong about the seminary above, if I would have gone there I would not have felt comfortable, rather, I would have been looking over my theological shoulder the whole time, at odds with my peers and my professors, and likely would have had a hard time trusting what I was being taught.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that we should try to find a seminary that will not challenge us. Seminary is the best place to have your faith and practices challenged. But this should be a place where you feel safe to voice all of your questions, all of your doubts, all of your struggles, confident that the faculty and staff are to be trusted theologically. Seminary should be a challenge like no other. But it should be a challenge you share with your peers and professors, not a challenge against them.

For those needing additional explanation, think of it this way. I firmly believe that marrying someone of a different religion than your own is just asking for troubling (to put it mildly). Choosing a seminary, while not the same as finding a husband or wife, is similar in that it needs to be a relationship built on mutuality, not opposition.

Choose wisely.

Financial Situation

Some seminaries are more expensive than others. Some of us are more financially blessed than others. No shame either way. It all comes back to Proverbs 30:7-9 for me. We are each given what we are given, and we have the chance to choose how to rightly make use of those resources. So if you’re like me and have never had much money, maybe going to Dallas Theological Seminary is a bit of a stretch. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go (makes sense I’d say that), but it means that if you are poor, then know going to a more expensive seminary is going to mean that you have to work a lot harder (DTS is around middle of the pack, with an amazing financial aid dept). Sure, you could tell yourself that if God wants me to go somewhere, He will make it work. Just remember, that principle works both ways. If God doesn’t want you to go somewhere, then He is just as justifiably capable of keeping it from working out financially.

There’s no shame in going to a seminary that is affordable. Don’t let “affordable” become synonymous with “lesser.” It is more about what sort of ministry God is calling you into than it is how “prestigious” the seminary is. Talk to family and friends and your home church and see who might be willing to support you. Checking with your undergrad institution might be a good idea as well. You never know who will be willing to help unless you ask. And don’t deny family, friends, and church the blessing of blessing you. If someone wants to contribute money to your seminary education, wisely consider whether or not to accept. And I say “wisely” because it is tempting to be extremely hesitant when it comes to accepting help from others, based much on pride. We can’t do life alone. And sometimes loving others is allowing them to love you.

Money is a powerful thing. Choose wisely. Especially if you’re married.

Career Calling/Dreams/Goals

Over the years I became extremely distrustful of “calling.” I met many people, especially during my undergrad years, who wanted to be in some sort of ministry position. But their lives did not reflect their supposed “calling.” Instead of giving a clear, practical explanation of their calling, they gave me mystical emotions and vague experiences, often times leaving God very much out of the picture.

While it is true that those of us in the ministry are to be held to a higher standard, as we are teaching and leading fellow believers, that doesn’t mean that our reasons for desiring to be in the ministry should be any less concrete than a school teacher, or a fireman. God gifts each one of us uniquely and we should, through careful examination, determine how our gifts best fit into a world that is all sacred, all belonging to God. The pastor, though held to the higher standard, is no more holy than school teacher, or the fireman. It is a mistake to think that the world is divided up into secular and sacred.

And so when we choose which seminary to attend, we must keep in mind our gifting. What is each seminary known for? Do you want to teach at the seminary level? Do you want to get out into ministry quickly? Look carefully at what you’re good at, what you’re bad at, where your passions lie, and how you fit, like a puzzle piece, together with the right seminary for you.

I love to play, to act, to write, to speak, to be together with people, to encourage, to do. I can think of no other job than pastor to fit the eclectic gathering of passions and joys and strengths that is me. But I also know that I have been in some very, very unstable situations in life theologically. And so I chose Dallas Theological Seminary. Because it is solid. And it fits who I am. I am currently enrolled in a creative writing course this fall and hope to engage the vibrant creative community here at DTS. And I have greatly enjoyed my classes, both through the material and the very relationally oriented professors. I feel incredibly grateful that God led me to this place, a place that meets me at each and every edge of me, my gifts, my strengths, my weaknesses, and my dreams.

We each must choose. Take stock of yourself and choose wisely.

Church History

This is very similar to Theology and so I’ll keep it short. Grow up in a super conservative Baptist church? Then it might not be a good idea to go to a super liberal seminary. It is fair to choose a seminary based on where you grew up in church. Even though I grew up in a denomination that is increasingly liberal at its core, the churches themselves were incredibly conservative. So when I chose to come to a much more conservative seminary outside of the denomination, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Each of us must carefully consider our church history and ask ourselves what it is that we need, in regards to a seminary that will mirror our past, or bring us to a new place. Perhaps you grew up in a denomination that you did not think was healthy or correct. Then you might want to consider going to a seminary that teaches something different. This is a heavy choice that can burn you if you aren’t careful. So do your research. Pray. Examine your faith in comparison to your church history be sure of your convictions.

And choose wisely.

State of Your Faith

Seminary is not a place for the immature. There is most certainly a great deal of grace and help for those of us who have some major areas of growth to work on. Just because we are mature enough to attend seminary does not mean that we are perfect, far from it.

I believe that David was called “A man after God’s own heart” for several reasons, but one of them was his willingness to repent, to recognize his failings and turn from them. Though it is true that this is not the only area of maturity that matters for those of us who attend seminary, it is certainly a key area in which a lack of maturity should most certainly keep some of us away from seminary until we learn it. We must be wise enough to admit foolishness and pride, and to turn from it.

Are we known as people who take criticism well? A truly Godly seminary will indeed build us up, but it will also tear down strongholds of sin and pride within us. If we truly believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, He will begin to tear down our strongholds until He is the only One that remains. The mark of one who is ready to attend seminary is one who has turned his hand to take part in the work being done within him, standing by his Savior’s side, keeping a close eye on Him, grabbing brick and stone and casting them down.

If you are not ready, then you should not choose any seminary, yet. Instead find a mature believer in your life/church and have him disciple you in the ways of working with Christ. Seek God’s wisdom and maturity and perhaps go to Seminary later.

Sometimes choosing wisely is choosing to wait.

Family (Wife and Kids)

This may be hard for some of us to hear, but if our wives aren’t okay with us going to seminary, then it would be a sin for us to go. All married people, whether pastors or garbagemen or school teachers, sin when they set aside this truth, our first ministry will always be our spouse.

So if we decide that we want to go to seminary, that decision must be unanimous between ourselves and our spouse. If my wife says no, then I must too say no. Perhaps then I would pray and continue to speak with her about it, and maybe later she will say yes. But until she does, I cannot go.

It is not the same with children. We do not have the same partnership with our children as we do with our spouse. But that does not mean that we cannot discuss the decision with them. They may not play a part in the choosing, but if we refuse to let our children process through the decision with us then we are making a mistake.

And this does not mean that we cannot take our children into account. If, before coming to DTS I had a child a year away from graduating high school, it would be perfectly reasonable for me to take online courses for a year before coming to live on campus. But that choice must still lie with the parents.

For those of us with spouses, choosing wisely means choosing together. And if we have children, choosing wisely means taking everyone into account and processing together as a family.

Affirmation of Fellow Believers

Sometimes I think that it is far too easy a thing to switch churches. Don’t like the music? Switch. Don’t like the preaching? Switch. Don’t like that everyone dresses up too much for Sunday mornings? Switch. People dress too casually? Switch.

If we want to go to seminary we should do so with the affirmation of our brothers and sisters in Christ. That doesn’t mean that everyone needs to agree with us, but we should consider carefully the opinions of those closest to us and also those in leadership in our church.

The best way to do this is to start inviting these people into conversation, either one on one, or in small groups, depending on your relationships with them. Ask them to be honest and to pray with you about your decision. If you don’t agree with what they tell you, then discuss it. In short, ask for their affirmation, and if they don’t give it, then deal with it.

Sometimes choosing wisely means listening when someone says no. But in this situation a “no” doesn’t mean a “no” forever! Perhaps you wait a year or two and ask these people to help you in the areas that they recognized as signs that you should not go to seminary.

But even if they all affirm you, the conversation shouldn’t end there! It might be wise to discuss with them some seminary options. You don’t have to go where they want you to go, but if you trusted them enough to seek their affirmation, it stands to reason that they should be trustworthy enough to offer an opinion on possible seminaries.

Choosing wisely means not choosing alone. God speaks to us in many ways, one of them being our brothers and sisters in Christ.

(Some of us may be coming out of unhealthy church environments, desiring good teaching and a truly Godly community. I would suggest finding a healthy church before going to seminary right out of an unhealthy church environment).

Are these all of the things to consider in regards to what seminary to attend? Certainly not! But this perhaps a helpful starting place. Although a very weighty decision, this does not have to be a solemn, joyless thing. Seminary is a wonderful adventure! Do some research, ask for ideas, perhaps even visit a few, call in and ask questions! If you are truly ready to attend seminary, then choose wisely, but joyfully as well! God delights in your desire to know Him and serve Him more! But if God wants you to wait, then recognizing His direction and following it is delightful to Him as well!

And that is the heart of choosing wisely. Soaked in prayer and steeped in study of the scripture, we choose with the goal to bring God glory and pleasure, not ourselves.

Choose wisely.

By Colby Anderson. Having just recently discovered the joys of coffee, pickles, sharp cheddar cheese, and fatherhood, you can find him attending Dallas Theological Seminary in pursuit of a Masters of Theology, which, of course, comes secondary to the continued pursuit of his Beautiful wife. And all of this under Christ, even the pickles. If you’re curious, he sometimes has time to think aloud at more-than-bread.blogspot.com.

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