“So, You Want to Go to Seminary?”
Choosing a Seminary and Preparing for the Seminary Experience
Dr. Rod Culbertson
As a faculty member at Reformed Theological Seminary and as the RTS dean of student development, I frequently meet potential seminary students. These prospective students pose many relevant questions, such as:
- “What do I need to look for as I consider choosing a potential seminary?”
- “What advice would you give me as I prepare for future enrollment in seminary?”
- “What do I need to be doing prior to attending seminary?”
These questions should be upon every prospective seminary student’s mind, as I hope they are on yours. In answering these pertinent questions, here is some helpful advice.
1. Be a Student
That admonition means that prior to attending seminary, you should be studying, you
should love to study, and you should seek to study. You should not just study books, but you should become a student of life. Of course, if you are still in college, you should continue to focus on your present major or field of study. Wherever you are, develop good study habits and be conscientious in all you do. But beyond that, fall in love with studying both God’s Word and God’s world. That means you should attempt to broaden your knowledge beyond your primary academic focus.
2. Read and Think
Read about life and think big about life. Recognize that you will be integrating a biblical world and life view into every arena of life and helping others to do so as well. Realize that in your ministry you will be dealing with people who themselves will be engaged in all sorts of diverse callings. It would be a great help to understand something about their professional pursuits. So study life from a mentality that flows from understanding that this is God’s world. Of course, you will always be limited in understanding God’s big world, but if you become a student of life, you will also be preparing to learn how to apply God’s Word to God’s world as well.
3. Focus on Theological and Biblical Studies
In addition to being a student of life, it would be crucial for you to begin focusing on topics that assist you in your own personal sanctification and growth in Christ. RTS provides a list of recommended reading in which you can engage prior to attending seminary. I always tell prospective students to consider reading the modern classic Knowing God by Dr. J. I. Packer. This book is a marvelous blend of biblically based theology written so that the reader is moved to love God more. If you can handle Packer’s thought-provoking style and depth of reasoning, you will be ready and eager for a seminary experience that gives you a greater love for the living, personal God you want to serve. Also, accessing and listening to courses on iTunesU is a great introduction to the seminary classroom environment.
These three suggestions deal primarily with “academic” preparation. Of course, as an academic institution, any seminary would expect an incoming student to want to study, so reading is an important prerequisite. However, you may wonder what else to do to prepare for the seminary experience.
“Whatever and wherever, you need to be with people who need Jesus and His powerful gospel so as to share the love of Christ and the message of the gospel with them. And if, in the process, you can use speaking and teaching gifts, that would be a bonus.”
An obvious, but sometimes overlooked, answer would be this: practice! That is, be sure to do ministry of some type. If you have not been or are not already involved in some type of ministry, find a place of service where you can be exposed to and grow in practical ministry. You might find this hands on ministry experience in your home church, the church you attend wherever you are presently located, or in a local parachurch ministry. Whatever and wherever, you need to be with people who need Jesus and His powerful gospel so as to share the love of Christ and the message of the gospel with them. And if, in the process, you can use speaking and teaching gifts, that would be a bonus.
Speak with your pastor or some other Christian leader to discover how you might volunteer (you probably won’t get paid, but that really isn’t the purpose). Seeing the reality of people as sinners in need of the gospel is a vital means of growing in your passion for
more training. Over the years, I have learned that the most motivated seminary students are usually those already involved in ministry in some capacity. For these people, the need for seminary training becomes more relevant and precious as they learn and refine newly discovered skills.
On a personal level, the primary preparation for anyone planning to attend seminary is to seek Christ and the Christian character that follows from a daily walk with Him. Make your personal sanctification (Christ-likeness) your absolute priority. Spend time in God’s Word and in prayer. Study the Word, but be sure to reflect and meditate on the personal implications of Scripture in your life. Make time to seek Christ and to worship Him. Practice daily devotion with heartfelt passion. Your relationship with Christ must be your most focused relationship. It lasts forever, whether you attend seminary or not. A quote from St. Augustine best expresses this: “This Lord, our God, the Word of God, the Word made flesh, the Son of the Father, the Son of God, the Son of man, exalted that He might create us, humbled that He might recreate us, walking among men, suffering what is human, concealing what is divine. Let every sigh be a panting after Christ, let that most beautiful One, who loved even the ugly that He might make them beautiful, let Him be longed for. Hurry to Him alone, sigh for Him.” Oh, how we want to have students, professors, and staff members with a passion and a longing for knowing Christ Jesus!
One final thought regarding preparation for seminary may be sensitive and awkward: If you are not already married, strongly consider finding a mate committed to ministry. Of course, this doesn’t need to happen prior to attending seminary, but I believe that a married person going into full-time ministry needs a spouse 100% committed to being a minister’s (or Christian worker’s) spouse. A minister’s wife, for
instance, doesn’t have to be 100% committed to involvement in the life of the local church, but she should be committed to 100% support of her husband as he serves the church. Often a spouse who comes to seminary with her husband is reluctant to do so or is reticent toward entering the ministry with him (because of the fears or unrealistic expectations often placed on the spouse of a pastor).
I think this situation needs to be remedied in time; often it is solved during the seminary experience, as the vision for both the demands and the benefits of the ministry are realized and accepted by the previously unwilling spouse. From my vantage point, however, I only see problems for a graduating seminary student who heads into ministry with an unsupportive spouse. Ministry is a team effort. Of course, you may be called to minister as a single person, like the Apostle Paul, but if you desire to be married, I am simply attempting to provide wise counsel to a critical consideration in ministry. Ultimately, this is a matter for serious prayer.
(As an added, helpful resource, please see Learning at Jesus’ Feet, by Dr. John Frame.)