To study or not to study? Completing formal seminary training is one of the constant pressures on the priority list of pastors today. Is it worth the money, time and effort? Can’t I just study theology on my own?
I’m sure you can find many Godly, successful pastors who have never attended graduate school (such as Matt Chandler). However, are these pastors the exception to the rule? It’s hard to know. At the very least, you have to consider the advantages of seminary training before making your final decision.
Grad School Develops Your approach to Ministry
Theological training—the first thought in most people’s mind when you mention ministry grad school. Unless you plan to be an author or professor, this aspect alone won’t be your greatest benefit in seminary training. However, one of the greatest perks to seminary training (as opposed to independent study) is the opportunity to disagree. If you’re like me, you tend to read commentaries that mostly agree with your theological stance. But seminary will force you to interact with other intelligent Christians that hold completely different theological viewpoints. (Hopefully the disagreement is over secondary and tertiary issues only, otherwise you may have chosen the wrong seminary. Stay tuned for my blog post on how to choose the best seminary/grad school for you.)
Seminary will also sharpen your critical thinking skills. You certainly won’t learn all the answers, but you’ll learn the right questions to ask. Whether online or in person, the material and social interactions will develop your filter for how you view issues in ministry. Graduate school may not be necessary to develop these skills, but you’ll definitely be taking a proactive step in the right direction by starting early in seminary.
Grad School Offers Lifelong Ministry Relationships
Mentors and peers in ministry can be hard to find. Seminary has allowed me to meet others from incredibly diverse walks of life and connect in ways we otherwise never would have. I had the benefit of studying at three different institutions (through three formats: residential, online, and weekly seminars) and each afforded me the opportunities to connect with other ministers.
Seminary on all levels and all formats will provide opportunities for you to connect with others.
Grad School Infuses Disciplines into Your Ministry Practice
Do you consider yourself an habitual procrastinator? Believe it or not—seminary is for you. Grad school will set concrete goals and deadlines that you must complete, or else it will cost you. This sort of positive reinforcement has a way of motivating even the worst procrastinator. After eleven years of formal education, I have learned how to work well under pressure, prioritize up-coming responsibilities, and multitask efficiently. These skills have all translated well into my daily ministry tasks.
Even more, seminary requires you to learn how to write well. As you become a better writer, you will become a better communicator. As a result, all of your written and verbal communication will improve through your grad school development.
Is seminary for everyone? Not necessarily. Could everyone benefit to some degree from grad school? Absolutely. Sharpening your theological understanding, developing your ministry outlook, building lifelong relationships, and becoming an effective communicator are just a few of the benefits to weigh when considering grad school. With as many benefits as you will receive in seminary, the decision to begin and complete a degree is still a major commitment. Let me know if I can help guide you through the process.
Andrew Hale currently serves as Associate Pastor of Education and Discipleship at Turning Point at Calvary in St. Augustine, FL. He earned his Doctor of Ministry focusing on church planting and revitalization through Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in May 2015. You can connect with Andrew on both Twitter and Facebook.