For many people who enjoy studying the Bible and reading theology, seminary is comparable to a spiritual Disneyland. They fawn over the idea of being able to take an extended period of time to study God’s Word and dive in to theology. However, with this outlook often comes an over-romanticized view of what seminary life is like. In fact, some people’s perception of going to seminary might set them up for failure, at worst, or, at best, a jarring wake up call to the reality of theological higher education. With that in mind, I wanted to provide four reasons to not go to seminary. This is not an exhaustive list by any means and much more likely could be said. However, I hope this brief article provides some insight into how to approach seminary with more realistic lenses.
1. To have all your questions answered
I’m sure most, if not all, of the people who roam the campuses of various seminaries around the world have a handful (or several handfuls) of theological questions as they enter their years of study. In fact, for many, myself included, seminarians may have certain questions they would like answered before they graduated, or at least firm up their convictions in those areas. However, one quickly realizes that as you pursue your studies, you often are greeted with more questions, some you didn’t even know existed. In seminary, as one might expect, you are exposed to information that most people in your churches have no clue about. And because of that, you will often find yourself wrestling with questions many non-seminarians haven’t even asked. This isn’t to sound elitist – for that has no place among the people of God – but what it does mean is that while you may come to terms with some loose ends you were trying to get answered, you are likely to come across many other questions – doctrinally, pastorally, and personally – that you hadn’t considered coming into seminary. That’s okay. Don’t let it freak you out. Take it one step at a time. Seminary is not meant to teach you everything you need to know. It is meant to better equip you for being a lifelong student, both of the Scriptures and of the world around you.
2. Because you want to start doing “real ministry”
I grew up with the idea that “going into ministry” meant becoming a missionary or a pastor in a local church. Thanks to a lot of Christian literature that has come out in the past several years and to the faithful teaching of many pastors, this idea has been given a much needed corrective as of late. Every Christian is on mission, regardless of vocation. You can be a butler, a schoolteacher, a baker, a DJ, or a pastor – you are all called by God to point others to Jesus exactly where He has placed you. Now, seminary may be a great idea for you if you desire to have a more robust theological framework in which to be a better schoolteacher or baker, but to “do ministry” does not require you to retire from one vocation to pick up another one – one you may not even have any business doing. While God can certainly call us to new things in life and change what we’re doing, don’t think that because you aren’t a pastor or missionary that somehow you’re not doing ministry or that your work is somehow less important.
3. Because you want a degree program that won’t be that hard
While I have yet to hear this as a reason why people want to go to seminary, I have found a general lack of understanding as to what all consists within a seminary school schedule. To give you a better picture of this, I will use my current seminary situation as an example. This semester, I will have read several thousand pages total for around four classes. Some books are fairly engaging and well-written, others are a beating and hard to get through. Also, for my degree plan, I have to take five Greek classes – one in which I have to translate the entire book of Romans from Greek to English – and four Hebrew classes. In other words, seminary is hard work. It isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. You’ll have days where you are encouraged and glad you’ve made the decision to be a seminarian, while other days you’re frustrated and discouraged, wondering if this was all just a mistake. This is the reality of many a seminary student. However, you’re not alone. God does provide friends and fellow students to walk alongside you, to struggle with you as you do with them. I say this not to deter anyone from attending seminary. In fact, I love that God has led me to attend seminary, even with the days that it’s hard to stay motivated and get work done. What I do hope is that you’ll have a realistic picture of what is required of you (and every seminary is different) as you pray about attending and weighing the pros and cons of being a seminary student.
4. If your family can’t handle it
I will admit that I have no experiential knowledge in this area because I am not married. However, in talking with many of my married friends who attend seminary alongside me, this is a common theme that all of them seek to guard against. Seminary is not worth sacrificing your family over. Even if you’re single, yet you are helping to provide or look after your family, I would strongly urge you to prayerful consider whether seminary is right for you or not. It may be, it may not be. Please recognize, whether single or married, seminary itself takes a huge portion of your time. Add to that a job, a wife and kids, or both, and you have quite a full schedule. God certainly is good to us in how endless He is in His distribution of grace through His Son, but He also does expect us to live according to biblical wisdom and in holiness. With all of the strong warnings God gives concerning those who fail to take care of their families (1 Timothy 5:8 particularly comes to mind), it should give us pause before we make sure a life-changing decision as going to seminary.
Seminary can be one of the best experiences of your life. It can be a place where God deepens your roots in sound doctrine, growing in you a richer love for the Scriptures, the Christian tradition, and most of all, for our Triune God. However, graduate theological education presents some unique challenges, ones that many in the church may not be quick to identify with. It is my prayer that as you consider whether seminary is the right move for you, that you would take some of the things I said into account, seek the Lord prayerfully, pursue wise counsel, and trust the sovereignty of God. He is a good Father and wherever He leads you, seminary or otherwise, you can trust that He has what is best for you in mind.
<em><strong>By Chris Crane</strong>. Chris is pursuing a Th.M. in Historical and Systematic Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. He has previously written for Gospel-Centered Discipleship and the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.</em>