Shortly after my conversion, I felt called to ministry. But the summons landed on me as less-than-urgent; more eventual, like the aim of a determined tortoise down a winding path. The game plan was that I would work for 25 years in my vocation, retire happily and then dedicate myself to full-time ministry. When the planter who started our church approached me about joining the staff, I was dumbstruck. My “wish-dream,” to borrow a phrase from Bonhoeffer, was coming true at the age of 26. Who knew where calling-train was destined to go!
This much I knew: Though I was college educated, I was also theologically lite and methodologically heavy. Formal training seemed essential if I was going to serve with effectiveness and longevity. Over the next 10 years, I moved in and out of seminary as I stumbled down my academic path. This included Westminster Theological Seminary for a Masters in Missiology; Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary for my M.Div. equivalence classes, and then back to Westminster for my Doctor of Ministry.
Doing seminary while in pastoral ministry was a “best-of-both-worlds” scenario. It allowed me to measure what I was hearing by life in the local church and integrate what was helpful into a working model. I think doing it this way over a decade gave me a sense for where seminaries are helpful and where we must acknowledge their limitations. If you’re considering attending one or serving someone else traveling in that direction, maybe more specifics will help.
What I Learned in Seminary
First, seminary faculties play an important role in protecting the borders of sound doctrine. Doctrine is essential to the life of the church and should be central in the teaching of pastors. It cannot be seen, however, as the exclusive purview of pastors. After all, the one who trains the pastor defines the doctrine. The one who teaches the biblical languages, conveys biblical history, and writes the books used in seminary classes shapes the church. The unique proficiencies of these veterans are necessary, not only to equip others but to detect the threats to the integrity of the gospel. The seminary, therefore, becomes a bulwark against the danger of “being tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14).