Thanks for writing back. I’m very glad to be able to talk more about your growing sense of being called to ministry.
You had a great insight when you said that you are actually feeling called to seminary.
You are right: you still have plenty of time to think about whether you want to seek ordination.
And even if you never work in a church, a deeper knowledge of the Bible, theology, ministry, and mission is a great foundation for all the other ministry your life will hold.
At this point you might expect me to be fanning the flames of your dream, and connecting you with the admissions office at the seminary where I teach.
Not so fast, my friend.
I have seen a lot of people start seminary too soon.
- Some come after a life-changing conversion; they can’t figure how else to be faithful to that new passion.
- More often, long-time Christians come to seminary without some of the most basic kinds of preparation.
Some say that a few generations back seminaries could assume new students would already be well-steeped in Christian teachings and practices.
That is what a lifetime in a healthy church ought to provide, right?
- knowledge of Scripture and the basic shape of the faith
- good habits of prayer and Bible reading
- some growth in Christian character
Now? Not so much. Many Christians begin the journey toward vocational ministry with neither a well-informed faith nor a well-formed discipleship.
Exploring the “why” of all this is a much bigger question, and way off topic.
My point is that you will have a much better experience in seminary if you come with some basic preparation. If you do, you will learn more in seminary, and you will become better prepared for serving in God’s mission.
So imagine that seminary is at least one full year away.
How will you invest that time? I have three suggestions.
1. Read the Bible
Aim to read the Bible cover to cover before you start seminary. Every class you take will connect with the Bible in one way or another. You need, at least once, to see the big picture, the grand sweeping story of God reaching out to solve the biggest problems of humanity. (There are a lot of one-year Bible reading plans out there.)
Without that basic familiarity, theology will be just abstract ideas, preaching will just be setting yourself up as a motivational speaker, and pastoral care will just be amateur psychotherapy.
Don’t feel bad that you don’t already have a strong Bible background. In my denomination our own research shows that most members read the Bible less than once a week.
And don’t think that once you have read the Bible once you are done. Lifelong engagement with the Bible is a core Christian practice, something that God will use to grow your discipleship and nurture your faith.
(If you want a way to build that ongoing practice, try my book Love Your Bible: Finding Your Way to the Presence of God with a 12th Century Monk. Hey, it’s free!)
2. Read some theology
Being prepared for seminary is not just a matter of Bible reading. You should also spend some time reading works by thoughtful Christians who take on serious issues.
We call this “theology” but I’m not saying you need to jump into anything scholarly or academic. If you want a starting point, pick up some books by C.S. Lewis, Eugene Peterson, John R.W. Stott, and Mark Labberton.
It wouldn’t hurt, of course, to also read something like the Heidelberg Catechism or the Westminster Standards, or even the little 1536 first edition of Calvin’s Institutes. These are works that try to summarize and organize biblical teaching to help Christians make sense of their own faith.
Take note, though, that I’m not saying you need to master theology. I’m suggesting you begin to stretch your mind by asking good questions about theology and exploring them in good company.
Nobody enjoys seminary students or ministers who think they have all the answers.
What really helps you prepare for seminary is to have at least asked the questions once.
3. Try some new forms of ministry
My last suggestion for the year ahead is for you to try serving God in some new and unfamiliar ways. You could do several in that time.
- Maybe spend a period exploring the children’s ministry
- Maybe become a temporary member of the worship team
- Maybe volunteer for Habitat for Humanity with the young adult group.
- Maybe your pastor would let you spend an occasional day of “job shadowing.”
What you need is some exposure to what people do to serve God in ministry. Ministry is so many things, and the more possibilities you know and try on, the better equipped you will be to consider your own calling wisely.
I’ll share some other issues that help make a healthy decision about seminary and ordained ministry later. But for now you have my three-part plan. Try it out.
A well-informed disciple is a better-prepared seminarian.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
- If you are considering theological education, what do you want to explore before you go?
- If you have been to seminary, what do you wish you had learned before you went?
To get future posts (plus a free copy of my new book Love Your Bible: Finding Your Way to the Presence of God with a 12th Century Monk) click here.
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