When looking at or visiting (which I highly recommend, if at all possible) a seminary campus, here are some other items for your discernment and reflection:
• The faculty — What are their credentials? Where did they study? What degrees have they earned? How do they reflect their love for the Lord? Are they a diverse group? What is their past experience in ministry? Have they written or published either scholarly or practical and/or helpful literature? Possibly most importantly, are they accessible to students? You will want to learn from the faculty in the classroom setting, but you also want informal, personal interaction and discussion with them about both theological and ministry issues and questions. Some faculty will hold small-group meetings or prayer meetings with students on campus, in their homes, or in other off-campus locations. These unstructured meetings provide valuable encounters for seminary students as they interact with faculty members on a deeper level outside the classroom.
• Mentoring opportunities – Try to inquire about the availability of faculty mentors or local mentors, influential people who become a part of your life while you attend seminary. Some seminaries require a matriculating student to have at least one pastoral mentor while journeying through the seminary experience. I know of at least one seminary that requires the student to have four mentors, most of whom they supply. Whether required or not, seek out a mentor. If the seminary is in a city filled with churches, you will likely find a local pastor to mentor you during your seminary years. The best mentor may be the local pastor who takes you under his wing and exposes you to all he knows about ministry.
• The Library– This is still one of the most important components of the seminary experience. Any premier seminary will require you to study, think, read, research, critique
ideas and write quality academic papers. You will want to be confident that your seminary library has adequate resources for your research — books and scholarly journals, both in print and online. Inquire about an inter-campus library loan system or partnerships with other local libraries. A helpful, degreed librarian and library staff is also a very important asset to your seminary education, as they are trained to help you sift through the sea of information out there and find what is useful. Ask present students about their experiences with the seminary library. In addition, walk through it to see if it offers good places to study, as there is much to be said for studying in the same building where you find the resources you need.
• Tuition cost and financial aid – Education is expensive, no matter where you attend school. Graduate school is particularly pricey, and seminary is no different. All seminaries try to be competitive with tuition costs, truly wanting to assist those called to ministry, and their primary means of assistance is through financial aid or scholarships. Tuition can range from a low cost due to denominational help (usually assuming you belong to the denomination that sponsors the seminary) to a high cost due to geographic location (perhaps the seminary is located in an expensive city or area of the country). Realize that even expensive seminaries try to compensate for higher tuition by providing prorated scholarships.
Don’t let tuition expense hinder you in your choice of the seminary you prefer to attend. Ask the appropriate person (the admissions director or the financial aid director) for real help in the form of financial aid and/or scholarships. Also, be sure to ask your home or sending church to help you with the tuition costs. They may have some funds designated for seminary training on behalf of those called to the ministry from their congregation.
• Housing and facilities – Not all seminaries provide student housing, and those that do offer housing might only offer it for specific purposes. Some seminaries may have housing for married students and not much for single students, or vice versa. Usually seminary housing is going to be less expensive than other local, non-seminary-related housing options. Living on campus can be a blessing since it gives you access and proximity to campus life and classes. On-campus housing might also provide access to professors who live on or near campus, as well as foster seminary community (shared life you enjoy as you live and study with other students). However, living off campus might be
“Living ‘in the world’ while not being ‘of the world’ can be a fantastic asset as you learn to befriend, minister to and evangelize those outside of Christ’s kingdom while you engage in the growth that seminary training provides.”
less expensive if you come across a church or family that makes a spare bedroom or garage apartment available for a special rate. Another advantage to living off campus is potential interaction with unbelievers. Living “in the world” while not being “of the world” can be a fantastic asset as you learn to befriend, minister to and evangelize those outside of Christ’s kingdom while you engage in the growth that seminary training provides. In considering the campus facility (if you are able to visit), seek to observe or ask about the community on this campus among the students, places for people to eat together, student lounges, recreation areas or facilities, technologically modern and up-to-date classrooms.
• Church/ministry opportunities in the area –As mentioned earlier, involvement in a church while attending seminary is crucial. Seek out and join a local church body as quickly as you can. This search may take as long as one full semester of visiting various church possibilities and revisiting your top choices. But once you find the church to which
you believe God is calling you to join while in seminary (possibly for three to five years), you should eventually find a place or role for service in that church. As you visit a potential seminary, find out how many churches that sympathize with the seminary’s vision, purpose and/or theology exist in the vicinity of the seminary, and if there are ministry opportunities (particularly seminary internships) available to the students in these local churches.
If there are a lot of churches in general proximity to the seminary (within a one-hour radius), you will have a greater opportunity to learn ministry “on the job” and in a real-life context. Whether or not paid internships are an option, meet with a member of the pastoral staff of your church, and volunteer to help serve in some area of ministry, particularly an area in which you have some interest or gifting (don’t volunteer to preach regularly, however!). A volunteer position could eventually become a paid position, even if only part time! The local church is where you often find the best context for personal growth, spiritual growth, personal and family support, and actual mentoring by a seasoned and caring pastor. Seminary professors can be effective mentors as well, but be sure to find a pastor who will know you well and prepare you for life and ministry in the local church. One word of caution about working or doing ministry while in seminary: it is wise to avoid working full time while taking classes full time. Something vital in your life will suffer, whether your health, your marriage, your ministry or your walk with the Lord. If you are working, take your time going through seminary if possible.
• Geographic location – The location of a seminary campus is an important factor in the choosing process. RTS has a unique perspective in this regard, since we have multiple campus locations. We have discovered that most of our graduates are hired within the
general area or region in which the campus is located. This process is created by various factors: 1) You will probably join a church or come under care of a regional church body that will get to know you well for three-plus years. Your church or a nearby church might hire you because they have gotten to know you over the previous years. 2) Through your years of your seminary training, you will do a lot of networking, either through denominational connections or general Christian contacts in the area. Those local or regional contacts may be the means to your first full-time ministry position. 3) You may fall in love with or gain a greater vision for the city or region in which your seminary is located. The Lord may move your heart to minister there as you see the needs of the area. 4) Your professors may be very influential in their seminary locale and could provide a strong and respectable recommendation for you among the churches in the immediate area.
“You may fall in love with or gain a greater vision for the city or region in which your seminary is located. The Lord may move your heart to minister there as you see the needs of the area.”
Obviously there are exceptions to this geographic consideration. Students may be connected to a distant city or church of origin. Or they may be led into foreign missions, church planting in another area of the country, campus ministry or the chaplaincy, all which may take them far away from their seminary location. But here at RTS, we’ve observed that a high percentage of graduates end up within a few hours of our respective campuses.
• Student life and the student body– Another consideration would be the nature and makeup of the student body. Is it mostly male students (as typical of conservative seminaries)? If so, how many female students attend? What degree programs are the
students in, and how do the numbers break down? Is there a diverse character to the student body? Are other ethnic groups represented? Are there international students? Are multiple denominations represented? Diverse ethnicities, nationalities and denominational backgrounds can help create a healthy, dynamic seminary environment, as the status quo may be challenged or at least properly questioned. They also expose students to the various needs of the world and the church. These distinctions become a daily reality in the seminary setting when international students are a vital part of the student body.
Additionally, you may ask about the average age or the generational makeup of the students. Are they mostly married or mostly single? How will you fit in, whatever demographic you fill? Is there a sense of community among the students (particularly if there is no housing on campus)? Do the students appear to enjoy each other and the seminary community? Does this campus look like a place where you can find friends, especially potential ministry friends you will keep for life? If you are a woman, you want to know if there is a ministry for women students on campus. If you have a spouse, you want to inquire about whether there is a seminary ministry for the spouses of the students.
• Consider the graduates– Lastly, you want to inquire about recent graduates of the seminary, and any overall patterns that might follow the graduates. Who are the graduates? Where do they serve? Are they serving primarily in a particular denomination? Are they mostly pastors, missionaries, campus ministers, chaplains, youth directors, etc.?
Do the graduates reflect the personality of the seminary? Are there any significant leaders or authors who attended? Is the seminary known for producing solid, steady pastors who reflect longevity in the ministry? Is it known for producing preachers, and if so, do the graduates reflect a specific preaching style? Do all the graduates appear to do ministry and preach the same, demonstrating a “cookie cutter” style of training? Is there a narrow view of methods, philosophy of ministry, theological persuasion or preaching style? Is there narrow or highly critical thinking, or conversely a compromising spirit (extreme tolerance), among the graduates? Are the graduates mostly happy with the training they received from the seminary (beware the unreasonable critic who could be simply too hard to please)?
Find out if you can contact an alumnus or two, and then ask them about their impressions (strengths and weaknesses) of the school. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions about the placement process and placement success of the graduates, particularly the most recent graduates. Feel free to ask the placement director (if there is one) or the admissions director what the placement process is like, if the school will help in the process, and about the school’s placement percentage for the past couple of years.
In conclusion, I hope this quick excursion (OK, not so quick) has helped you as you choose a seminary to attend. Every seminary isn’t for everyone. You should pray for discernment of God’s will as you consider His calling in your life. Seminary training is a valuable asset to any ministry. When you begin to look at ministry leaders throughout the world, you will find (with some glaring exceptions, of course) that the men and women who lead in the kingdom of God usually have had some seminary education. This training has made them more effective leaders wherever the Lord has led them.
May the Lord bless you as you seek to humbly serve Him in His kingdom. He has promised to be with you always, even unto the end of the age. Be strong and courageous, and walk by faith, living secure in the finished work of Christ and in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
If I can assist you further in any way, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.