The title of this article may strike you as an attempt to degrade seminary or tell you that seminary is not important nor necessary. That is by no means the case. This article is not about putting seminary down but rather is an attempt to help you understand the role seminary plays in your life and ministry.
Being in seminary teaches us how to quote scripture and study the Bible. We learn the original languages, theology, apologetics, and Church history but are never really explicitly taught that these lessons are designed to inform our understanding of God and Christianity and are not necessarily designed to be regurgitated to counselees or suffering congregants verbatim. What I mean to say is that explaining 5 point Calvinism versus Arminianism or discussing the ontological nature of God and Humanity, may not be the most effective way of empathizing with someone who just lost a loved one in a car accident.
Perhaps learning how to sit with someone who is hurting is taught in Practical Theology courses or in a Pastoral Counseling class, however when it comes to practical ministry, experience (or rather our ability to process experiences) is one of the best teachers.
This makes volunteering at a church or engaging in ministry in some form or another a vital role alongside seminary education. Unfortunately, these experiences rarely count for credit. Nevertheless, practical experience combined with seminary education has the potential to become a very powerful conduit for significant Kingdom work.
Being properly educated and trained informs our understanding of Christianity and the nature of God and humanity. Seminary teaches us that God is holy and righteousness and that we are sinful yet forgiven by this holy and righteous God. Seminary teaches us that the Bible is reliable and has been preserved throughout the centuries. We are taught that truth is objective and not relative, which is important to understand in a highly pluralistic culture. These truths that we learn inform our own faith and identity and makes us more effective at being an instrument of life transformation.
By understanding that the addict has real forgiveness in Christ, we are given hope that their life can change. By understanding that the lost can find their true identity as a child of God, we can help direct them. By understanding how Atheism, Buddhism, or Islam are fallacious worldviews, we can have confidence in Christ and exhibit this hope and faith to others. However these truths are the end and not necessarily the means.
The means is empathy and deeply understanding what it feels like to hurt. When we can understand pain and suffering we are able to give grace and when we give grace, the broken find acceptance. Acceptance gives way to leadership and respect and with those we are able to gently guide the broken to their restoration in Christ. These things are best learned in context of an actual situation. Unfortunately there are no shortcuts to this. Rarely have I ever found a shortcut that turned out to be better than going through the “grind.” Perhaps the “grind” is itself the way we learn to empathize and understand.
By Joseph Siacunco. Joseph is a Masters of Divinity Student at Denver Seminary located in Littleton, CO. He currently works at Mission Hills Church in the Finance Department and is a Certified Public Accountant. He has worked in Accounting since 2004 but also serves at his church in other ways including teaching and preaching.