Not everyone called into ministry should go to seminary. That much is clear. But some people who do not want to go to seminary probably should. (Perhaps especially because they do not want to go!) Seminary trained ministers of the gospel should not be the exception, but the norm. However, the argument for this claim, as well as a discussion of the benefits and drawbacks of seminary, are topics for other posts.
This post addresses some common excuses people who are called to the ministry give for not going to seminary. Here are five reasons young ministers often refuse to go to seminary, and some answers to their concerns:
1. I can learn more in the work of ministry than I can in any old classroom setting.
Brother, that’s like saying that you have an apple, and by obtaining an orange, you will have less fruit. You most emphatically will not learn more in a ministry setting than in seminary. And here is why: Some of the learning offered in seminary is almost impossible to reproduce in a ministry setting. That is not a bad thing, that is a good thing. Seminary offers helpful content in its courses that you will simply never get if you confine yourself to working in a local church apart from seminary training. In seminary, you will study subjects that will better equip you to minister to others. So my suggestion to you is this: Continue to minister in the local church context. You are right about the experience you gain there. Seminarians who do not work in their local churches in some sort of ministry capacity are probably not fit for ministry. You are right about that. But you are wrong that adding seminary on top of ministry will teach you less. That’s a mathematical impossibility.
2. I might lose my passion for Christ in the dusty old classrooms of the ‘cemetery’ (seminary).
Really? You’re afraid that by studying the Bible, learning to read the Bible in its original languages, learning to interpret the Bible properly, applying the Bible through courses devoted to the Christian worldview and life, and surrounding yourself with godly professors, pastors, missionaries, and other Christians pursuing a theological education you might…lose your…passion…for Christ? Apparently your passion was never about Christ! Granted, seminary can be a spiritually dry experience. So can ministry. But drawing near to Christ through your studies does not take you away from Him.
3. I cannot put my family through the relocation, busyness, and trials involved with seminary.
Then the ministry may not be for you. To be fair, of all of the excuses for not going to seminary, this one is perhaps the most understandable. Your family must come before seminary. But it is unlikely that you will never relocate in ministry. It is unlikely that you will not be busy. And it is unlikely that you will not go through trials. (Like, extremely unlikely…meaning: if you are not busy and tried then you are not ministering to anybody but yourself.) Seminary can serve to prepare you and your family for the realities of ministry. This is a family ‘business,’ as it were. You must learn to devote time and effort where time and effort are needed through hard work, discipline, and most importantly, love. God’s grace is at work in and through you in all of these.
4. I cannot afford to go thousands of dollars into debt just to go to seminary.
Do you use the same excuse when it comes to houses, vehicles, and expensive toys? Seminary might be more important than all of the above. Nevertheless, you are right to want to avoid debt. You are just going about it the wrong way. Seminary does not equate to debt. Before going to seminary, make sure to wisely examine all of your available options. By the time you factor in denominational support, state funds, scholarships, discounts, proper course load, savings accounts, good jobs, hard work, and financial wisdom you may be much closer to graduating from seminary debt free than what you imagined. In fact, so many opportunities for affordable seminary education are available now that you definitely should think twice before leaping into a seminary situation that would cause you to incur debt. You will not get out from under it easily when you graduate. If things do not work out for you to move in order to attend seminary, then consider looking into local seminaries, Internet based courses, and programs which follow the increasingly popular modular classroom format. God’s provision is at work in and through you in all of these.
5. I am doing just fine without seminary, thank you very much.
You may be doing just fine without seminary. But since when were the ministry and the decision to go to seminary about you? Men, our ministry positions can prop us up in front of people in such a way that we become significantly susceptible to the sin of pride. Pride is often associated with the decision to go to seminary. Pride is often associated with those who graduate with a string of letters behind their names and the ability to read other languages and pontificate for hours upon the finer points of theological discourse. All of that is true, and dangerous, and disgusting. But a man does not have to go to seminary to learn how to be prideful. You can do it yourself at home! Pride is why passionate young ministers just full of zeal fancy themselves so attuned to the Spirit that they don’t need all of that silly learning other ministers have had. They imagine themselves taking the helm at a large, well-established church without facing the difficulties of previous ministers, because they have the benefit of a close walk with Christ that the older minister or seminary-trained pastor must have just mysteriously lacked. Oh please! They imagine they are capable of doing a better job than those who preceded them – without age, without experience, and without schooling – because, well, Jesus just loves them more. This type of mindset is not wisdom or actual righteousness, but foolishness and self-righteousness that stem from pride. Pride is what leads intelligent young evangelists to justify themselves by proclaiming that “Charles Haddon Spurgeon never went to seminary” when they are not capable of reading – much less understanding – an eighth of his works. Pride is what causes young preachers to skip homiletics because a little old lady told them their preaching is Billy Graham even though their preaching is billy goat. By all means, skip seminary if you are doing well. But you had better re-evaluate your entire ministry first, because it is not supposed to be about you. Don’t rob your people. Seminary and ministry are not for your sake. They are for the sake of God’s people and for the glory of God, not your own.