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You’ve felt it—a desire, a pull, a call to ministry. Where do you start? Who do you talk to? Should you go to seminary? Where? Which one? M.A.? M.Div? PhD? How long will this take? Will go into debt? Do I have to learn the languages? What about my wife? Husband? Kids? Where do I go from here?
H. Daniel Zacharias (Acadia Divinity College) and Benjamin Forrest (Liberty University) have written Surviving and Thriving in Seminary to provide the budding future minister/academic/exegete with a guide to not only survive seminary, but even to thrive within its classrooms, cafeterias, and late night Greek dormitory study sessions.
There are three parts to S&TS: (1) Preparation, (2) Managing time and energy, and (3) Study skills and tools.
One must understand that he does not know everything, and he will hear and learn new ideas in seminary. It can be overwhelming (especially when the languages are added to the mix). Those who have either received their bachelor’s in theology or have read a lot will likely not be greeted with such a shock, but there days will be consumed with work nonetheless! Not all classes are about “the Bible,” per se. Counseling and leadership classes are based off of the Bible and will require you to think in ways you haven’t before—especially if your forte is in the theology or music department—and vice versa.
There is an important section on the languages as most people will have to learn them. Start learning early! It will give you more breathing room when you begin your classes to know that you at least know the alphabet (and maybe even a few nouns too). Knowing the alphabet (along with nouns and adjectival forms) ahead of time certainly gave me some breathing room in Hebrew.
But all of your reading cannot replace Bible reading and study. Hopefully you will have good Bible teachers who require you to read the Bible for their class (maybe they’ll require you to read the Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel in a week each—along with the rest of you usual class reading). In seminary, you’re digging a well. You don’t want your thirty year ministry to be only one inch deep. You need to have something to say from the pulpit each week and to those whom you counsel and help throughout the week while still growing in your relationship with the Lord (and your family!). It is vital.
(2) Managing time and energy
If you have a spouse, and if you have kids, both your time and energy will be divided. Whether you are married or single, it’s a good habit to get started on the big projects as soon as you can. If and when possible, front-loading your semesters will bring great ease to the end of your semester when you are tired and ready for it all to be over. In four chapters, Danny and Ben help you to see that you need to keep your family first, set up your calendar, work hard, eat well, exercise (see below), find friends who will work instead of play around and who can critique your papers. Be on top of your classes and always take responsibility. Danny and Ben give helpful tips on managing seminary with the ministry.
(3) Study skills and tools
This section sets you up with some skills for the library, reading books (and remembering what you read), and with writing essays, book reviews, and papers. The final chapter informs you about some of the right tools to use—different apps, word processors, bible software, flash cards, citation software (extremely helpful), and more.
- Choosing a Seminary (What does my spouse think? study on campus? online? where to go? who are the professors? cost? will I have to move?);
- Paying for Seminary (who will work? part time? full-time? how many years will this take, and are we really willing to wait? Make a budget; if you’re tight on money, consider avoiding a car and using public transportation);
- A Word to Spouses (root for your spouse, remind them to work and rest, keep your date night, pray for your spouse, and more).
Two sections which stood out to me were those on exercise and grumbling.
Exercise: Students have so much going on in seminary—classes, reading, papers, exams, work, food, family, sleep—that exercise, for many, is on a post-seminary graduation to-do list. Yet exercise will actually focus your mind more and help you to be more disciplined (and your back will thank you for it). This is important because my back has been causing me problems, yet the nature of seminary requires a lot of sitting. A good swim, plenty of breaks to walks, healthy food and plenty of water make for a better seminary experience (and it will give you more energy and make you feel better).
Grumbling: Before seminary, I had two years of Bible school, one year and a half of teaching the Bible (with plenty of reading), and another year of just reading. I don’t know it all, nor could I explain everything with perfect clarity; at the same time I have been easily frustrated with the classes my degree requires. I’d rather theology, books of the Bible, and language classes than ministry classes. I’d also rather just take a PhD, but that’s not the nature of how this works. While not every class can be a gem, there have been a few that were surprisingly enjoyable (and others that, if nothing else, taught patience).
What should you do when the grumbling, self-pity temptation arises? Remember the Lord’s graciousness in saving you. Remember how he led you to your seminary, the doors that he opened, the jobs and funds he has given you to pay for this, the wonderful friends you’ve made, the church you attend, and for the opportunity to be there, work hard, and learn as much as you can. One day it will be behind you, and you might even miss the days where that one boring class actually turned out to be a nice break for you.
If you are planning to head to seminary, and you aren’t sure what to expect, pick up this book. It won’t solve all of your problems, but it will be your guide on ways that will make your seminary experience. Yes, you will still have to do the work, but you can either have a lot of work and a bad seminary experience, or you can have a lot of work and a great seminary experience. Space out your work, make new friends, enjoy your family, meet your professors and don’t be afraid to ask them questions. Make the most of the time while you have it, for one day you will be serving somewhere else, and you won’t be able to walk into that professor’s office to ask for his or her discernment over your theological dilemma. Instead, others will be coming to you doing just that.
- Authors: H. Daniel Zacharias/Benjamin Forrest
- Paperback: 208 pages
- Publisher: Lexham Press (April 19, 2017)
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Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.